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Mike's Pilot Log: South to South Adventure

"Lets hit the road, Jack".

Olivier and I looked at each other from across the clubhouse and in unison said "lets hit the road, Jack". I had slept on my inflatable mattress on the floor and Olivier had slept on the couch. The wind had dropped which was a good sign.

By 7 am we were ready to go … after a quick breakfast with Francoise and Jacques, we donned our warm flying gear and took off for the southern bank of the St Lawrence River. The low clouds and bad visibility worried me a bit, but we had a tailwind of 15 km/h and there was almost no turbulence. Olivier stayed at about 400 ft agl, while I climbed to cloud base at 900 ft. It was great to fly with a tailwind again.

The clouds were lower near to the river and I was forced to descend to 500 ft. The countryside was incredibly beautiful, even on this grey day. We followed the southern bank of the huge St Lawrence river, heading north-east.

After 2 hours of flying we could see some blue sky and the clouds were scattered and higher and the haze disappeared completely. The day reminded me of those beautiful cold but slightly stormy days after a cold front weather system had passed, where it feels like you can see forever. The countryside was incredibly beautiful and Olivier and I talked to each other over the radio – commenting on the different sights that spread out around us. 

Just before the town of Riviere-du-Loup, we turned northwards to cross the river where there is a big island. Just before reaching the island, Olivier called me over the radio to say he had an engine problem and could I look for an emergency landing spot for him to land. I looked back at him and tried to judge the distance to the island. A picture of him disappearing down the river to the Atlantic entered my mind. I searched the island for a landing spot – but there was absolutely nothing, nothing, zip. Rocks and cliffs and some trees and lots of good crash sites. With my heart racing I asked Olivier what was wrong with his plane….. and he screamed with laughter to say that absolutely nothing was wrong. Bastard! He will pay a terrible price!!!

I started to get really cold just when we hit some pockets of light rain. I kept losing sight of Olivier as he swooped down over boats and fishermen on the bank. From my height of 1,000 ft I spotted schools of Beluca white whales and directed Olivier to a school of 11 whales where he circled over them taking photos. He headed straight for the shore afterwards at very low level and for the last 3 km his wake cast a line on the water behind him.

I saw 6 tourist boats near to each other and guessed they were looking at whales. I flew over them at about 500 ft and was delighted to see a huge Blue whale. I circled for a while enjoying the front seat view. The whale was really putting on a wonderful performance for its captive audience.

Sometimes when I get really cold in the air I find that the previous nights beer and the morning coffee need to water some grass somewhere. Ahead was a small airfield, and I landed as a few drops of rain spotted the windshield. After a few minutes stop, we leapt into the air just ahead of the small rain shower that was moving in from the west.

The first leg of the day's flight was 4 hours 10 minutes. We landed at the small private airfield at Baie Comeau Manic, where Gaby Chouinard, a local ultralight pilot had been waiting for us. While Olivier went with Gaby for food and fuel, I planned the next leg and called the St John's weather service for a forecast. I very carefully checked the wind and rain forecast and we decided that it was still good to continue. Our heading for the next leg was 35 degrees magnetic, which meant that the tailwind was going to be a crosswind and maybe slow us down a bit. We calculated the fuel and decided that it was the perfect day to go on.

The distance for the next leg was 460 km over hostile terrain. Ahead of us lay the northern uninhabited areas of Canada, where mosquitoes and black flies can drive you mad if you do not have the right protection against them. The terrain was full of fast flowing rivers, thousands of lakes, millions of trees and rocky outcrops. Our engines purred sweetly, although Olivier reported to me every now and then that his engine's oil pressure was oscillating and sometimes going up to 7.5 bar. I had swopped a relief spring from my engine to Olivier's engine because of oil pressure problems that I had been having. Now he had the problem. At least we now knew that the problem was the spring.

I noticed that the voltage had gone up to over 16 volts. I immediately switched my landing light and the strobe on to try to bring the voltage down. This had happened before and I guessed that the rectifier was getting too hot or suffering from vibration or maybe the power surges from the strobe were doing the damage. Luckily I had decided to take a spare rectifier regulator with me.

After an hour I noticed that Olivier was steadily climbing. He called me on the radio to say that at his height the turbulence was less and he had a tailwind of 20 to 30 km/h. I climbed to join him at 9,000 ft where I discovered that it was smooth and fast but very cold. I sat on my hands every now and then. It warmed my hands, but of course cooled my bum down! We stayed at 9,000 ft for over 3 hours. It was good practice for us – the crossing of the ice cap on Greenland will be at about 9,000 ft for a good part of the 8-hour flight.

I could see Wabush when we were still 75 km away and called them on the radio. The wind was 5 knots and the temperature 18 degrees C.

The flight had been great, but a little nerve wracking.  On parking we chatted about the flight and agreed that for the 4 hours 20 minutes that we were in the air, we had absolutely no good landing spot at all in the event of an emergency. More good practice! It was a good days flying. We had done 880 km in just over 9 hours.

We met Jim who is the co-pilot on a Canadair fire bomber, and he gave us a lift into Labrador City. We had a beer and food. Later, while I went with a taxi driver to get fuel, Olivier pitched the tent behind a floatplane out of view – we had been informed that airport security wouldn't let us sleep in the airport. Well, they were wrong – security didn't even know we were there.

The weather forecast for tomorrow looked bad. A cold front was about to descend on us. Cold winds gusting up to 60 km/h with rain and possible icing. Oh good!


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