Thus spake Seth Godin:
Everything doesn’t depend on what happens in the next ninety seconds. Ever.
Sure does when you’re about to jump off a plane at 14,000 feet.
Note: See also Paraturnee ’12, Part I.
Friday morning, Oulu airport. Wheels off at 8 AM, exactly as planned!
The weather, which at takeoff had been a balmy +6C and blue skies, soon turned to thick porridge. This was not a welcome turn of events considering we were about to jump at an airport none of us had ever seen, including the pilot.
Luckily the cloud cover broke just enough to let us hop’n’pop our way into Ranua. We had finally arrived in Lapland!
A quick pack and a cup of coffee (courtesy of Arctic Air Service, cheers guys), and our happy band of pachyderms was southbound. Dark clouds were gathering to nobody’s surprise, which meant a somewhat bumpy ride below cloud cover. And radar cover, I presume, since we were flying low enough at times to utterly confuse my altimeter. On the plus side, some of us spotted reindeers.
In contrast with Ranua, Pudasjärvi is a no-nonsense airfield big enough for pretty much anything you might wish to land there, which the Finnish Air Force does on occasion. It was definitely big enough for us.
Our next stop, Kajaani, turned out to be not quite big enough for all of us. Stella had a chop and landed smack dab in the middle of a swamp – in the only tree for miles. Luckily she wasn’t hurt, which was a good thing, seeing as nobody – except for Johan, who landed with Stella – had any idea where she was, including herself. Not much to do then except wait for them to make their way back to civilisation. This eventually happened, and we left Kajaani airport just before the Finnair flight was due to arrive. For some reason our flight was not shown on the Departures screen, though.
Rautavaara, depending on who you ask, is Finnish for either “Iron Hill” or “Iron Danger”. Sounds like a Charles Bronson movie to me either way.
Kitee is famous for being the moonshine capital of Finland. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to hook up with any of the local entrepreneurs.
Next up was Immola near Imatra, famous for being right next to the Russian border, so it pays to be extra careful when spotting. I am happy to note that our jump did not involve any international intrigue.
Our last jump was back at the DZ in Utti, an 11-way speedstar which was, to borrow a phrase, somewhere between beautiful and interesting. The jump ended in extra excitement for yours truly in the form of a pilot chute in tow, which fortunately resolved itself before too long.
Sum total: 14 jumps, 13 airfields, 2 days, 12 jumpers, 1 chop, no injuries, can’t wait to go again!
The plan was simple enough: get on the plane, jump everywhere we can, turn around when we reach Lapland. It didn’t take long for the roster for Paraturnee (Para Tour) ’12 to fill up.
Our plan for a 8am takeoff was soon found to be mildly optimistic: the fog was thick as. Not much to do then except wait and raid the DZ video vault for “Troy“, which I hadn’t seen, and am not in a hurry to see again, although I fully subscribe to Menelaus’s credo “May the Gods keep the wolves in the hills and the women in our beds!”
The weather eventually relented and we were treated to a surprise demo from our neighbours. I had in fact not seen anyone jump a roundie before (not going to use the “f” word here).
And so it was that finally, after waiting for the fog to clear for nearly five hours, twelve intrepid adventurers (11 jumpers + Lasse the pilot) piled into OH-DZF, affectionately known as “Possujuna” (“Piggy Train”, named after a high-adrenaline amusement park ride) or simply “Possis”.
First stop: Vesivehmaa. Apinahissi (“Monkey Lift”) was nowhere to be seen, maybe it was at Jämi. Land, pack, get on the plane.
Same again at Teisko (near Tampere).
My second time jumping at Alavus; my second time landing off DZ at Alavus. Really should start taking prevailing winds into account one of these days. Cheers to the local farmer for thoughtfully having harvested a nice little landing strip for me among his crops. Cheers also to the Alavus club for shouting us coffee.
Unfortunately we were pressed for time and couldn’t jump onto the “long sandy beaches and rolling dunes of Kalajoki Hiekat … worth seeing every season” made famous in the 70s by Tapani Kansa. The airport, such as it was, did us fine though.
We reached Oulu just before sunset. Our arrival was heralded by an awesome rainbow. If you’ve never seen one in freefall, it can be quite spectacular as you’re viewing it from above and so the horizon doesn’t get to cut it in half. Unfortunately you also tend to get hit in the face by raindrops at terminal speed in the process.
A quick pack, and those of us who weren’t happy with just 6 jumps for the day were off for a sunset load. Thanks to the joint efforts (much appreciated!) of Skydiving Club of Oulu and Skydive Oulu, we were able to enjoy sauna, beer, pizza (apparently a 60 km round trip for the driver!) and a good night’s sleep.
No, the title is not mispelled (sic). I am of course talking about Batchelor, NT, a tiny town on the edge of Litchfield National Park in the Top End, where Australia’s No 1 skydiving boogie (for my money anyway) takes place at the end of July every two years.
The turnout this year was smaller than in 2009. This seems to be a trend: I don’t think I’m just imagining that there are fewer and fewer jumpers around on weekends and at events. (Please comment if you think otherwise; I’d love to be proven wrong.) To be fair, 2009 was the 30th anniversary of Rel Week, so people probably were making an extra effort to be there.
The smaller turnout was mainly noticeable in big ways, or the lack thereof. I think the biggest jump all week was a 20-way, whereas 2 years ago 30-ways were happening all the time. Some of the smaller ways (16 or so) were done as formation jumps from two Caravans for practice purposes, which was still good fun – opportunities for formation loads being normally few and far between.
The jumps, however, are not and never were what makes Batchelor special. Imagine a place far from everywhere and everything, where the weather is always perfect, where the sky is always sunny, where you can catch up with old friends and meet new ones, all of them with a happy smile on their face. Where you can take a day off and swim with crocodiles (apparently someone saw a small freshie at Berry Springs). Oh, and where your mobile phone probably doesn’t work. That’s what Rel Week is. I realise this makes me sound like a soppy, sentimental idiot – guilty as charged.
I had two personal goals for the week. First, swooping the back lawn, as I didn’t have the jump numbers to be allowed to do so back in 2009. I am happy to report that the mission was successful, and I didn’t even hit any of the palm trees lining the landing area unlike some other skydivers who shall remain nameless. Second, jumping from a chopper, also a resounding success. Thanks to Helen, Bart, Terry, Jay and Phil for a great jump. It was also my second time ever in a chopper – the first being earlier that day, when a few of us were treated to a FREE (!) chopper ride which must have lasted for about a minute at an altitude of no more than 150 ft, but hey, a free chopper ride is a free chopper ride. Yes, I did ring the bell.
Big thanks to Darwin Parachute Club for yet another great boogie – hope to see you all again in 2013! EFS!