July 10, 2016

Day Five – Epic Odyssey

After a string of early mornings, everyone is happy to have a later start today. Our friendly taxi driver, Arni, picks us up and tells us stories about his night. In fact, he is just wrapping up his unexpectedly late evening after driving the actor, Owen Wilson, around from midnight to 7 am! Celebrities love Iceland! While we don’t have to depart ‘early’, we do have to depart ‘on time.’ This is because the Wick (Scotland) Airport (EGPC) is only scheduled to be open that day from 2:15 – 4:15 pm due to airport construction. In that period of time, we have to arrive, clear customs, fuel six aircraft, file departure flight plans, and take off. As it turns out, we had to shoot seven non-precision approaches in a non-radar environment! Despite a promising forecast, the weather in Wick is typically Scottish, with low clouds and rain. That caused us all to ‘hold’ at successively higher altitudes (2,000 – 6,000 feet) while waiting for our turn to shoot the VOR Runway 13 approach. The first aircraft encountered heavy rain and had to go missed but was able to make it in on the second attempt. The other aircraft completed the approach safely on the first attempt. There is no doubt, this was a stressful situation, poor weather, holding position above an airport with lots of traffic and limited access. Everyone certainly earned their lunch that day! We quickly unload the over water survival gear, race through the rain into the FBO, and are welcomed by Andrew Bruce and his team with sandwiches, fruits, and salads. Their staff did a great job of refueling as we file our immigration paperwork and then we quickly return to our planes. Our weather-delayed arrival made it challenging for all six planes to depart from Wick within that two-hour window, but we made it through, with a bit of Scottish help. As we climb out from Wick, we are able to glimpse the majestic (and apparently haunted) Ackergill Castle, circa 14th century, perched on the northernmost edge of Scotland’s magnificent coastline.

Our final leg is a quick one-hour flight to Blackbushe Airport (EGLK) in Hampshire, England. Upon arrival, we are a bit surprised to see about two dozen local aviation enthusiasts, sporting flashing cameras, waiting to greet us. I chat with them, curious to know how they had discovered our schedule. They coyly indicate various information sources, including social media and chatter from air traffic controllers tracking our progress. In any event, it is a great welcome and an appreciative audience! Several even mention plans to attend EAA AirVenture, so we may encounter them again soon! Our transportation is waiting for the quick trip to the Four Seasons Hampshire Hotel.

I can think of a number of superlatives but am not sure they would do this place justice! Formerly a grand country estate, named Dogmersfield Park, it is notable as the site of the first meeting between Henry VIII and the first of his six wives, Catherine of Aragon. Surrounded by rolling green hills and manicured gardens, it has the elegance of a fairy tale. Among our first priorities: laundry! This is our first two-night stay, so important to take care of the wash (and try not to notice the prices!). We then retire to a lovely patio overlooking the gardens for cocktails. Pete takes a couple minutes to review the day, especially the Wick challenges, but primarily to congratulate everyone on a great accomplishment: a successful completion of the North Atlantic crossing. It is truly an evening of celebration and reflection, sharing thoughts and perspectives, accompanied by a superb Peruvian-themed dinner.