Sunday, 24 January 2010

Italy to Marrakesh - Part 2 - Fog

I’m with my friend, Fulvio Audisio of, and I have been for a couple of days now.

I arrived in Cuneo on Thursday, and it’s Sunday now. And, would you believe it, it has been foggy foggy foggy ever since.

We plan to leave for Marrakesh on Sunday, but I have my doubts. On Thursday I flew the helicopter to the place we had arranged to have the stickers for the show put on.

The idea was to collect it on Friday, but, there was too much fog!

But hey, this means that there is more time to eat, and the Italians do this in style. I was the guest at Fulvio’s parents-in-law and they know how to cook a meal. Course after course of fabulously fresh, home-cooked food. It makes me embarrassed to be English – they would have got an Indian take-away at my place!

Saturday dawns to, errr, fog. I make myself busy with catching up with work, (mainly for our training academy and then we drive back to the sticker place – in the fog.

We clean the helicopter and put the stickers on. This is all inside the industrial unit, and at around 13:00 I take a peep outside. Just about flyable, slowly and with care.

Gingerly, I start up – Toni the designer has blagged a ride and against my better judgement I say OK. Then his girlfriend tries to get in the back.

Remember that it’s minus 8 here, snow on the ground, fog in the sky, the rotors are now running and I’ve got this girl begging me to get in the helicopter – these Italians are crazy! I say no, conditions are too bad.

So we creep back to Fulvio’s house at about 50 miles an hour – even at this speed it’s only a 5 minute flight.

Saturday night we have a quiet evening in. Fulvio – ever the optimist – declares that it will be fine tomorrow – the fog has gone (at night it did) and never, ever is it foggy two days in a row at Cuneo.

I’m not so sure, so I start looking at the EasyJet flights to Marrakesh!

Sunday dawns. Guess what? No, it wasn’t lovely and sunny, it was....... fog. This time, thick fog, so thick you couldn’t see across the garden to the helicopter.

Bollocks. I’ve just about had enough of this – I’ve struggled all the way across England, France, the Alps, into Italy and now I can’t even think about flying to Marrakesh. All that pain, all the expense and all the stress, for what? For sitting about, waiting waiting waiting. Maybe I’ll start selling cars instead of helicopters.

I look at EasyJet flights again.

But, pilots are optimists – they have to be -- so we put the kit in the helicopter. I start it up, just to make sure that it will start after a night out in minus 18 temperatures. It does, first time. G-BZMG is a fantastic R44!

It’s now around 11:00 and I have another sleep on the sofa. I’m getting pretty good at sleeping at any opportunity, it must be an age thing.

Suddenly, there is a flurry of excitement. Fulvio has rung his parents-in-law who live just 10km away. The sun is trying to poke through the gloom.

We rush to the helicopter, and I take off into far less than ideal conditions.

Discretion being the better part of valour, I won’t say how low we were as we followed the river bed through Cuneo towards the Alps, but it was low. Then, bang on cue, we could see both the sun and the ground – at the same time! I put BZMG into a gentle climbing turn to the right, always keeping the hole in the fog in sight, and POP – there we were basking in glorious sunshine, the ground ahead clearly visible with the Alps rising magnificently in front of us just 20 miles away.

So we set track for Beziers, in France near the Spanish boarder, our next re-fuel stop.

Over the Alps, it was a bit bumpy, but nothing we couldn’t cope with. As we tracked down the coast, we had to dodge the hills and the rain and the cloud, but all went well. French Air Traffic Control were ever so helpful and the guys at Beziers were waiting for us to expedite our onward journey.

I guess we were only on the ground for 15 minutes, which is pretty much a record for a refuel in a foreign country, and for this we were very grateful. We only had enough daylight to get to our next stop if we got a move on, so there was no time to fanny around with niceties like lunch or rest. We were off like the proverbial Bat Out Of Hell.

Nearly 3 hours later we arrived at Castellon, by Valencia, just after the sun had set. We closed our flight plan, organised fuel for the morning, and imposed on the local pilots to sort us out with hotel and taxi, which they did with enthusiasm and kindness. If you are an aviator reading this, remember this, and do anything and everything to help a visiting pilot. One day this visitor will be you.

Now, we are in a hotel. We’ve had Tapas and beer, and all is calm on a Spanish Sunday night. Fulvio is fed up because he cannot find the website to watch his favourite football team , AC Milan, play a “very important match”. Personally, I’m not that bothered.

I’m more interested on reflecting on the day, and of the week. It’s been a roller-coaster ride of emotional exhaustion, anxiety, relief, elation and achievement.

And it’s not over yet - tomorrow we head off to Malaga, and then across to Morocco. Weather permitting, of course............

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