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2011 WEEK 3

FLOAT RATINGS Landing on water for the first time

Welcome TO WEEK 3




“IT really is unlike anything I’ve done in aviation and hugely satisfying,” the 30-year-old airline pilot, Mawgan Grace tells me. “Flying floatplanes is the flexible, no bullshit pure aviation that we all dream of.” And he’s absolutely right that we dream about it. Even those of us who don’t have a pilots licence will be able to understand the appeal of flying over stunning scenery. If anyone reading is considering an adventure in Alaska then I’d recommend you to look up a local pilot and ask them take you to the places which aren’t in the guidebook. Pilots in Alaska have a local area knowledge that can easily extend to a 200 mile radius and they can make whatever trip we have in mind - a downhill mountain bike, a remote hike or even some off piste skiing - the most memorable one of our lives. Seaplanes are used in Alaska simply because landing areas on the ground are restricted due to vegetation or rough terrain but there are lakes aplenty which make great runways. Seaplanes also let us get to destinations which cannot be reached though other means and it’s likely that some of the 50 remote islands which author Judith Schalansky has written about in a new book (see page 14), have been visited by an adventurous pilot at some point along the line. For me, seeing where these remote islands are located, particularly in the Pacific Ocean, makes me really start to appreciate the sheer size of the world. More importantly, Judith’s Atlas has made me re-think how vast the oceans are and that all my focus has been on the mountain ranges in the world. We may not ever be able to go to these remote islands but I agree with Judith that a map or an atlas win out over a guidebook. No matter what adventure I have planned, I find getting out a map in the first instance takes away any uncertainty and really lets me see the lay of the land. Read the guidebook after looking at the map and suddenly all the place names you see in the guidebook start to make sense because you have a picture in your head of how everything is orientated. Try it for yourself this week. Pick up an Atlas and see where it takes you.




RAB MOUNTAIN MARATHON Entries are now being accepted for the event in September…best get training for it!


Time spent route planning at the start can pay off at the end


STRATEGY and route planning is as important as fitness in the Rab Mountain Marathon. Although the word marathon suggests a 26-mile slog over mountains, it’s actually up to us to decide the best route to take in the checkpoints. In simple terms, we need to consider how we can get the most amount of points within the time limit of six hours on the Saturday and five hours on the Sunday - the actual distance we’ll end up running depends on our route selection. Most of us probably won’t want to work out the exact distance; the ache in our legs the next day will be enough to tell us that we’ve covered some miles. This year’s marathon takes place in Northern England over the Saturday and Sunday of the 24th and 25th September but the exact location

isn’t given until one month before the event which helps build up the anticipation. Numbers are limited too which is why this week’s announcement that registration is open is such big news because you can expect those spaces to fill up quickly. Fitness wise, the organisers, Dark&White events, have created a variety of runners classes and even a walkers class for those who want a bit of an easier time. If you’re looking for a reason to run this year, then the Rab Mountain Marathon is a great goal to aim for. Before then there are also three Mini Mountain Marathons (MMM) in February, March and April which last for three hours. To enter see


MAIN The orange and

white flag marks a checkpoint. Some of these are not that easy to locate...


It won’t go into production but Yamaha’s concept bike lets us in on the company’s vision for the future


The square boxes show the types of terrain that the Worldcrosser can cope with INSET TOP

The Worldcrosser features an advanced navigation system INSET BOTTOM

Riders won’t find it hard to load up the Super Tenere - it has a massive range of luggage accessories




AKE the Yamaha XT12000Z Super Tenere, make it weigh even less using exotic materials and add a few specialist parts and you get this, the Worldcrosser. It was built with a single aim; to make adventure motorcycling look more exciting and to tempt riders away from sports bikes and onto machines that will let them see more of the world. The standard bike the Worldcrosser is based on, the Super Tenere, is already finding favour with adventure motorcyclists in the UK thanks to traction control, ABS, adjustable suspension and an adjustable seat height. The key attraction though is the amount of kit you can carry on it and owners can heavily modify the bike with side cases, skid plates, headlight protectors and other accessories. The traction control is particularly useful, allowing us to have confidence on wet, concrete roads but then also us to turn it down or completely off depending as and when we want it. Where the Worldcrosser concept improves on the Super Tenere is the Ohlins suspension and an Akrapovic exhaust system, a lighter chassis (the Super Tenere weighs 261kg with a full tank) plus a navigation suite integrated behind the front screen. This GPS system may give the biggest hint about where the future of adventure motorcycles lays better technology to help us to navigate over large distances. For now though the real challenge is in making an adventure bike which remains light, reliable and comfortable to ride. With BMW leading the market, the Worldcrosser is a nifty way of drawing attention to the Yamaha range particularly at a time where other manufacturers are trying to get in on the action. Suzuki has recently unveiled the V-Strom XPedition (shortened to XP) and Triumph is also heavily marketing its Tiger 800. We then have Ducati’s Multistrada and the KTM Adventure to consider too making the choice of which bike to go for that bit harder, but surely that’s just part of the adventure too? See more of the Yamaha range online at:



Contour’s new video camera lets us record our skiing and boarding in HD and see where we’ve been on a map too

RIGHT The slim profile of the Contour is part of its appeal and other attachments for wakeboards and mountain bikes are available


LEFT Examples of how

the map display is shown next to the video can be seen on Contour’s website

HERE’S a flood of snowsports video footage appearing all over the internet this season and it’s thanks to this piece of kit - the ContourHD video camera. Skiers and boarders are finding that this lightweight video camera, which shoots HD, is easy to mount onto goggles, a helmet or even a boot binding. The resulting footage from the wide angle lens can make even a routine ride down an green run look like a great adventure. The company behind the device has made it very ‘snow’ friendly. Even with a pair of gloves on, users can slide and lock the camera onto a set of rails which then fits on your goggles of helmet. Turn the camera on by pressing a rubberised button at the rear and to record you slide a switch forward and to stop you slide it back. Footage is stored on a microSD card and there’s a mini USB port which is used for charging up the battery and for downloading the video to a computer. Both of these are covered by a rubber seal to stop the snow getting in. There’s also a Hi/Lo switch and set to Hi, the Contour HD films 1080p at 30fps. There are even two lasers which we align to ensure the camera lens is filming the best field of view. Although You Tube and Vimeo remain popular sites for uploading videos, Contour is encouraging its own site which they say is “the only adventure sports online community where you can share and watch GPS video captured around the world”. And its growing in popularity. What has really transformed the videos is the ability to view a map of where the video was filmed but only if you use the higher spec camera called the ContourGPS. This beauty has a GPS receiver so as you ski or board, your position data is recorded once every second. Using Contour’s ‘storyteller’ application you can then show your video alongside a map where you can see a symbol of your location, speed and elevation. Marrying this up to the footage is a great way to show others where the best un-mapped and un-charted runs are…and the exact location of an amazing view. There’s no way to replay movies on the camera until you’re back at a computer so if we want to see the results of an awesome run, we’ll just have to wait until we’re back in the chalet. See more great videos online at

LEFT Buy the goggle

attachment and the Contour slides neatly on the side




HE part of GA flying I least enjoy today is dodging around busy controlled airspace and the expensive landing fee you get when you reach your destination. Most light aircraft today are kitted out more like an airliner and a simple flight from A to B requires a lot of button pushing, careful navigation and altitudekeeping to avoid an unpleasant


telephone call from the local SATCO. We have strayed along way from our childhood dreams found in books such as Richard Bachs’ Jonathan Livingston Seagull and the exploits of early pioneers. However my eyes have just been opened to a very different type of aviation and I think there will be no going back for me. I have always been curious with the look and idea of float planes and beautiful aircraft such as DH Beavers

FLOAT RATINGS There’s no going back for Mawgan Grace as he discovers the thrill of flying floatplanes

MAIN Misty mountains,

glassy water and two beautiful aircraft waiting to be taken into the air

and Otters parked on remote postcard mountain lakes filled my imagination. When I found myself in Anchorage, Alaska for a 48 hour stopover I remembered an advert I’d once seen for float training at a place aptly named “Moose Pass” and I called up ‘Alaska Float Ratings’ from my hotel room to see if they could fit me in for a flight. I hired the cheapest car I could find - an ex-police Ford Taurus and the 90 minute drive to the lake led me though

some of the most beautiful and remote landscape I’d ever seen. I drove along the Seward Highway and around the Cook Inlet amongst mist shrouded forests, past Alyeska and Portage glaciers and wild moose. This was turning out to be quite the adventure already. Arriving at Alaska Float Ratings I was warmly met by the owners Vern Kingsford and his wife Laura. Vern is one of the most experienced bush



TOP Be careful not to fall

in the water when stepping into the cabin of the Super Cub BOTTOM It’s views like

this which make flying in Alaska so breathtaking


pilots in Alaska with over 35 years of mountain and float flying. The school has a very warm family feel and Vern and Laura’s house is right next to the club house that includes the office, briefing rooms and a well stocked fridge. Memorabilia adorns the walls such as signed pictures from astronauts thanking the school for memorable experiences. The garden leads down to the aircraft parked on pontoons on Trail Lake and whilst sipping a cup of tea with my instructor Joe we discussed some of the standard operating procedures of the Super Cub on floats. I asked those questions which had confused me for years about float flying and I hoped the answers I got would all make sense soon. I signed an indemnity waver and was handed a fisherman’s life vest and a pair of huge waders whilst Joe placed his Glock 9mm pistol in his holster. Feeling like I was on an extreme Salmon fishing course rather than a flying course we tramped down the garden to our waiting Cub standing proud on the glassy milk coloured glacial lake. It soon dawned on me I was totally out of my element. Even though I had quite a few hours on Cubs but this one had sprouted two huge floats fitted with various wires, braces, struts and bilge holes. My first piece of advice from Joe was that when flying floats you have to think much further ahead of the aircraft. I should be aware of the wind, the surface current and the possible obstacles and debris in the water. I levered myself into the front seat (not helped by the waders) and was handed a central line of rope connecting us to the dock whilst Joe untied the bow and stern lines. As part of the pre-start checks I had to make sure the water rudders were down and our seat belts were unlocked in case we had to get out quickly. I was getting the feeling we were certainly more boat than aircraft. Selecting the fullest fuel tank, master on, mags on and mixture set I started the engine and immediately held the stick back. After casting off we taxied out under idle power; any more power and the propeller would get damaged by water spray. The water rudders on the back of the floats seemed amazingly

responsive and I suddenly realised we had dispensed with all radio calls and taxiways and were making all our own decisions. We were free. After years of wondering about the take off we set 1700rpm with the stick held fully back. The bow wave under the floats kept our speed to a fast walking pace; all very controlled. Joe talked me through the takeoff and felt I should be able to handle it. So with a fast beating heart I completed the checks: area clear, water rudders up, stick back and full throttle. As we picked up speed there was a very obvious second rise of the nose or the ‘hump phase’ as a wall of water is created under the floats. This signalled us to make a gentle push on the stick to the neutral position and suddenly we rose up onto


the wall of water, called the step, and entered the acceleration phase, planing across the top of the water. At this point I felt like I was balancing on a knife edge. If I pushed too far forward I’d dig the floats into the water, but if I had the stick too far back we’d loose our most efficient planing angle. Soon enough we were airborne and the aircraft felt like it was back in a more familiar world. The scenery was idyllic as we flew down a valley to Kenai Lake. Joe looked outside for bears, wolves and moose for fun yet I was all-consumed thinking about our imminent landing on to the lake. Joe offered to show me a landing first and I followed him through on the controls. We overflew our landing site just on the edge of the shore and looked at the wind streaks on the surface to gauge the wind strength and direction and of course look out for debris. Joe said to plan every water landing with power off, but plan to use power just in case. We flew a normal curved approach selecting flap and maintained 70mph. As we neared the surface, he made a very gentle flare to the takeoff attitude and closed the throttle. I felt a slight sink and immediately Joe trickled on some more power and we touched down very softly onto the water. I extended the water

MAIN Mawgan Grace

takes a moment to look back at Joe for a photographic reminder of his adventure in Alaska

rudders as we sank into our wake and we seemed to stop on the spot. For three hours we practiced glassy landings and takeoffs, confined area takeoffs and step taxiing all broken up by a couple of rests on the shore chatting as we strolled along the uninhabited wilderness whilst our Cub was tied up. This was, as Joe said, what it’s all about. Pure flying was the way in the 1930’s where you made your own decisions and your own judgment, not clouded by busy ATC and complicated airspace. It really defines freedom in an aircraft

where you can literally go anywhere where there’s water. Fishing and camping opportunities really open up too. Float flying is certainly an art and there is so much to learn and master. Yet after my days training I was literally buzzing for hours afterwards. I can honestly say it was the most fun I have ever had in an aeroplane. Book a basic course with Vern for $1999 which lasts three days and includes six hours of flight time, three to five hours of ground time and two nights in a cabin.




RIGHT St Helena makes the top 50 of remote islands

BOTTOM Full page spreads inside the book show the locations of the islands so we can see just how truly remote they are

T’S the sub-title of this book which really grabs the attention, ‘Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited And Never Will’. We all fascinate over places which we think we’ll never get see and this round up of islands which have fired the imagination of author Judith Schalansky is one way of becoming a true armchair adventurer. Judith, now in her thirties was brought up on the other side of the Berlin Wall and because the Soviets wouldn’t let anyone travel she learnt about the world from her parents’ battered old atlas. She says she prefers an Atlas over a guidebook any day. “Anyone who opens an atlas wants everything at once, without limits – the whole world,” she says. “There is no more poetic book in the world.” She eventually became a novelist and a graphic designer so it’s no surprise that she’s put together this beautifully crafted Atlas detailing fifty of the world’s loneliest islands. Judith doesn’t just give us spectacular maps to look at though; she’s also an excellent story teller. Alongside the maps, she gives us tales of these remote places which will have us reaching for the model of the globe to see exactly where in the world they are. The real treat is the bizarreness of some of her stories; tales of rare animals to marooned slaves, lonely scientists, lost explorers to confused lighthouse keepers and forgotten castaways. If winter seems to be dragging its lonely butt then rest yours in a chair and escape to a island you never knew existed. On sale at Penguin Books for £25.


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