We’ve been getting pretty crappy weather in the coastal areas of Queensland for the last couple of weeks, and it doesn’t look like things will get better anytime soon. Not only did the weather conspire to shorten our holidays last week, but it will most likely mean the cancellation of my two flying lessons planned for this week.
So if I can’t fly I’ll do the next best thing, blog about flying. And if I get really desperate I’ll resort to going solo to the training area in CAVOK conditions using the flight simulator at home.
About a week ago we left Brisbane on well-deserved holidays to the other side of the tropic, yet still in Queensland. We flew to Mackay in a Jetstar A320 then made our way to Airlie Beach in a Greyhound bus. On December 24th we embarked on Whitsunday Magic, a 113ft three-masted Schooner, for a three-day cruise around the Whitsunday Islands. We had an awesome Christmas Day on Whitehaven Beach followed by a not-less-awesome Christmas lunch onboard. The weather was good, but as you can see on the picture above, clouds were starting to come in.
Boxing Day was really bad, with continuous rain, big waves, and the ship oscillating in pitch pretty badly (I’m sure sea people have a proper name for that). We managed to go snorkelling in the rain in the morning, and I went diving in the afternoon at Cave Coves near Cook Island. As expected, the visibility underwater was bad with low light, but I was happy I could spot a few species of fan coral not found in the (relatively) colder waters near Brisbane. We also saw a few beautiful nudibranchs and flatworms. One good thing was the water temperature at 28 degrees.
On Thursday the rain didn’t stop for the whole day. As my girlfriend’s father would say, Heute regnet es nur einmal, i.e. it only rained once today. We were back onshore in Airlie Beach around lunchtime and later hopped on the Greyhound back to Mackay. The driver chose to screen the movie The Rundown. For some weird reason, the title of the movie was changed in Australia and the UK to Welcome to the Jungle. Suffice to say the only redeeming feature of the movie is a fantastic flying scene over moutains in the Amazonian Jungle in a small high-wing taildragger.
Now, the initial plan was to take a short 10-minute flight on Friday morning from Mackay to Keswick Island and spend two nights at Keswick Island Guest House. When we showed up at Australasian Jet in Mackay we were told that all flights to Keswick Island had been grounded for the last two days, and that today was probably not going to be any different. We still waited a couple of hours in the hope that winds would fall but by about 10AM we had to give up. We decided to shorten our holidays and get back to Brisbane. The pressure chart for that day shows a strong low over the Coral Sea. This low is the east-most point of a monsoon trough whose west-most end is another low off the coast of North-Western Australia that would become tropical cyclone Melanie over the next days.
We could have taken a Jetstar flight leaving in the next hour but $500 per person for a one-way flight is more than I am ready to pay for air travel, however convenient. So we decided instead to take a later Qantas flight for less than half the price. But the bargain came with strings attached. Flight QF2307 is actually flown by a Dash-8 and could be called the Queensland Flying Omnibus. It leaves Cairns at 12:40PM and stops in Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton and Gladstone before reaching Brisbane at 6:05PM. Needless to say, my better half was a lot less excited than I was at the prospect of spending the next three hours in a turboprop with a fair chance of turbulence and two more landings and take-offs than necessary.
The flight was one hour late in Mackay and we had to perform the infamous “dash for the dash” under the rain to board the plane. The runway was wet as we took off. The flight to Rocky turned out to be very smooth, cruising at 17,000 ft between two layers of clouds. I had a window set with a great view of the right engine and landing gear, which would have turned into a rather spectacular and dangerous vantage point if the right landing gear had collapsed like in this recent SAS flight. A very good write-up was written by Sam of Blogging at FL250, who is himself a former Dash-8 pilot.
We refuelled in Rocky and then took off again for the 25-minute leg to Gladstone, and after that it was off to Brisbane. We arrived from the north-west, flew abeam Redcliffe on our left, then followed the shore of Bramble Bay and finally landed on Runway 14.
Since we came back last Friday I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather forecast. And it does not look good for flying tomorrow Wednesday and on Friday. The low over the Coral Sea that shortened our holidays is still there and produces rain and strong south-easterly winds in Redcliffe. Remember, winds blow clockwise around a low pressure area in the Southern Hemisphere.
Today the weather observation in Redcliffe gives SSE winds of 25-30 knots gusting at 35. Given that the runway orientation is 07-25, this means almost a direct crosswind. The maximum crosswind component for the 152 is 15 knots, to say nothing of my own ability to deal with crosswinds, so that in itself means no flying tomorrow.
If that was not enough, the forecast for Area 40 reads:
STRONG TO GALE FORCE WINDS IN THE LOWER LEVELS SEA, COAST AND ADJACENT RANGES, WITH ISOLATED SEVERE TURBULENCE.
and the visibility in showers is forecasted at 3000m and 4000m in drizzle. That’s not even VMC which requires at least 5000m visibility below 10000ft.
So that’s probably a no-go for tomorrow. My hope for Friday is that, with the wind as forecasted at 20 knots from the east, the crosswind component will be acceptable. On the other hand, heavy rain is forecasted too, which means we may have to part with VMC.
Fingers crossed that I can fly at least once this week, otherwise I will have time to perform an upgrade on my home PC (the first one in four years) to bring it to an acceptable level to run X-Plane. More on flightsims in future posts hopefully.