25 June 2014
I’m leaning on the rail by Tower Bridge, watching the river flow and reflecting on a quote by someone or other, probably Shakespeare, which goes something like; “There is a tide in the affairs of man which when taken at the flood, leads on to glory”
To which he could have appended “– or ignominy” if it’s to be fully appropriate for what we’re here for. On the 1st July, Lyndall and Simon Chisnall (see last month’s newsletter), Elwyn and I, Blake Pelton (USA) and Paul Reynolds (local) will try to fly a 14m wingspan Dragon kite called Toothless through Tower Bridge as a promotional stunt for “How to Train Your Dragon II”.
But on the 27th July, we must first show the Thames River Authority that we can do this without crashing, disrupting river traffic or other generally loutish behaviour.
Both the trial run and the attempt on the bridge are formidably challenging.
Not because the flying will be particularly difficult – Toothless is a very well behaved kite that launches and tows as well as any kite I’ve ever flown over water- but because we are subject to various regulatory constraints and the date and time for each flight has been determined in advance; no flexibility at all to pick kite friendly conditions.
26th June 2014
We’ve had a meeting with the clients, and they’re great; not short of shove, but willing to listen and adapt- quite different to some of the media people we’ve dealt with at times.
And we went for a run in the boat to check out the bridge from the water- excellent driver, no kite towing experience though, but strong odds he’ll be a quick study.
Launching is now fairly settled as being from pontoons that will be moored for us on either side of bridge.
We’re all more hopeful of success than we were even yesterday.
27th June 2014
The trial run was at the Erith Yacht Club, much further down the Thames. Unfortunately the wind was reasonably brisk offshore and there were no land or pontoon sites suitable for launching from. Instead, we dropped a bag containing Toothless into the water behind the boat, accelerated until the pilot kite lifted this clear of the water then pulled a pin to release the kite, which then inflated – a system we developed just the week before- and had only ever tested over land. Fortunately it worked this time and we then towed around for 30 minutes or so and landed the kite back on the dock at the yacht club. The conditions were difficult, and different to those we will meet at Tower Bridge- but we don’t seem to have done too much wrong, because the river authority observer eventually gave us the go-ahead for Tuesday- phew!
28th June 2014
Lolled around all day getting over yesterday. Elwyn and I spent the day with friends and family, Blake, Simon and Lyndall did some sightseeing and recovered from their celebrations of the night before.
29th June 2014
Blake and I went to the British freestyle kite buggy and land board championship at the Essex Kite Park near Southend. Great facility, great to catch up with old friends and an excellent catch-up on latest designs and trends. Elwyn stayed with Jane (daughter in law) and Felix (grandson), Simon and Lyndell did London.
30th June 2014
A day for final checking and worrying about things that we mostly can’t do anything about. Weather and wind conditional are our greatest concern of course: What if the wind’s the wrong way?- will we be able to launch downriver then turn in the narrow and obstructed river and get back to the bridge?-within the 20km/hr boat speed limit?
And what if there is not even enough puff to pre-inflate the pilot kite? Toothless will be blower inflated, but the pilot is an open cell kite and needs to be adequately inflated before the boat accelerates or it will collapse, taking Toothless into the water. If the first launch fails we can start over with the reserve Toothless- but the bridge can only stay open for 15minutes maximum.
But what I most worry about is that Shakespeare fellow; he said “-when taken at the flood”, but we’ll be making the attempt when the tide is on the ebb.
1 July 2014
Failure: At 4 am there was wind enough to fly the Pilot, so we set up for launching off the up-river pontoon.
Then, at 4.45am, the wind died; de ja vu all over again..
The bridge lifted on schedule at 5am but there was no realistic opportunity to launch. Just before the bridge was to close again at 5.15am the boat crew took the decision to go; but the main bridles snagged on the pontoon and Toothless tipped half off the pontoon into the Thames before Blake (on the boat) could pull the release. The pilot failed to launch anyway (my job), so this attempt wasn’t even a nearly.
Damn, I should have prepared with a balloon assisted pilot kite.
Options for the last chance 6am opening were then to either hope for wind or go for a bag launch. The wind was not looking promising, so at 5.25am we started rigging the bag. Our reluctance to take this option earlier was the time-on-distance challenge of hitting the bridge within such a narrow time slot from some kilometres downriver . We needed to launch while travelling away from the bridge, do sufficient distance at speed to get full inflation, then turn and get back to the bridge while it was open (for about 10 minutes) – with very little freedom to speed up or slow down- because the kite requires >15km/hr apparent wind to stay up, and the boat speed limit was just 5km/hr more than this. That there was by now an intermittent tail wind didn’t help.
This launch and turns were flawless.
Toothless did touch a wing on the water during the run back, but recovered.
The afterguard (Blake) and skipper (Dean) managed the time-on-distance to perfection
We were through and clear just before the bridge started closing.
But only 5/10 for me (much higher for everyone else), and it seems that Shakespeare is overrated.
And I guess we should never have expected it to go off without a Hiccup!
PETER LYNN. LONDON, ENGLAND, 1 JULY ’14