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Hello Sailor

Back to Le Touquet with Bob yesterday to collect his eleven-year old daughter, Phoebe and her friend from a week's stay in France. From the start, the weather looked decidedly "iffy" with the remnants of the previous night's thunderstorms dropping heavy rain in the morning with accompanying strong winds.

Finding a short gap between the gusts, we rolled-off towards Dover, a great opportunity to test my instrument skills before my two-yearly IMC exam next Tuesday. To the South were thick lumps of dark grey cloud, which forced me down over the English Channel to fifteen hundred feet to avoid as many of them as possible and maintain what little good visibility there was among the dark cauliflower clouds.

Out over the sea, the wind appeared to be blowing the green waves backward, with glimpses of ferries and container ships being battered in the Channel. The wind in fact was so strong that I had to steer twenty degrees to the right of my course, just to stay on it. Nearing Le Touquet I found the localiser for the runway 14 ILS and started following the needles blindly down to the runway ahead. At this point, Captain Bob, being a good friend, decides to spread the map over my side of the windscreen so that any chance of seeing the runway is reduced to zero. "Good practise", he tells me. Le Touquet is giving a twenty-five knot crosswind, which even in a large Cessna 172, makes life interesting. At this point, I'm trying to balance the needles on the glide slope and keep the aircraft in a staight line, while completing the landing checks. At fifty feet above the runway, I hand the aircraft back to Bob on the basis that he can see where he's going and I can't, even if I am on the centreline. I haven't the courage to put it down by feeling for the concrete with a white stick.

Shaken but not stirred, we retire by taxi, with accompanying French taxi dog for a lunch of Moules au creme in the town as the weather finally lifts into warm but windy August sunshine. Fortunately, by the time we are ready to fly back at five O'clock after a very long meal, the weather has cleared, leaving only a small gale to reckon with. Flying the powerful fuel-injected Cessna 172 back to Maypole takes only thirty minutes with a following wind of this magnitude and I'm home inside the hour. Not bad for a quick trip back from France. Mind you, looking down at the ferries racing across the English Channel below me, their bows diving into the rolling waves, I'm rather glad I'm not a sailor.


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