La Rochelle

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August 7, 2009

After the debacle of the perverse Dutch requirement for a fixed ELT scuppering our planned trip to Germany, the weather then dealt the double whammy by forcing us to cancel our alternative 10 aircraft trip to France on the weekend of the 17/18/19th July.

 

The final fall back weekend was the 7/8/9th August and although not as many could take part due to holiday commitments, it was looking like a good trip. The plan was to route out from North Weald to St Brieuc in Brittany to clear customs and have lunch before routing down to La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast. A full day in the town before returning on the Sunday via Jersey. After days of meetings pouring over forecasts with our nominated Met man, Phil ‘Fish’ Fellows we came to the conclusion that it was going to be a ‘go’ for the weekend. All the forecasts were good for the weekend and the tafs showed some low cloud and mist clearing early on the Friday morning. With all the ground work planning done and notifications sent to St Brieuc, we were ready for the off. Having suggested a slightly later start to allow the weather to clear, when I pulled the curtains back on the Friday morning I thought I had overslept and woken up in November. Not only dark with low cloud but thick fog, this is August in the South East! Being forever hopeful and with the tafs still showing clearing cloud by 10.00 local we met up as planned and prep’d the aircraft but held off filing the flight plans.

Phil managed to get the Archer in from High Cross at about 10.30 but couldn’t get above 700ft and reported patchy poor viz. The actuals were reporting poor weather all over the South East with lingering fog in northern France. By 13.00 it still hadn’t cleared and was now too late to go anyway as we would lose the hour time difference in France, so we abandoned it and decided to meet up early on Saturday. The cloud didn’t actually break up until around 17.00, great summer weather.

 

The Saturday dawned much brighter. Dinard was replacing St Brieuc as our first stop due St Brieuc having no ATC over the weekend and R/T calls being made blind in French only. More importantly their airport restaurant was also closed. Perhaps restaurant closures should be NOTAM’d as they stop me going!

Flight plans and Gen Decs filed, lifejackets donned, rafts stowed and we were ready for the off. The well trodden route around Gatwick and along the south downs brought the familiar lowish cloud and a bit of poor viz close to Tunbridge Wells but on clearing that it was blue sky and great viz all the way, just interrupted by the occasional few fluffy cumulus. Routing was to take us out to KATHY south of the Isle of Wight then the VFR route to GARMI, overhead Cherbourg NDB (MP), across the peninsula to avoid the prohibited areas, then Granville and direct to Dinard. Phil almost believed me that KATHY was the name of a ship that goes around in circles for the benefit of aircraft and we would see GARMI further down (I’ve still got the bruise!) Farnborough Radar, London Info, Brest Info and onto Rennes Approach was completely straightforward and all provided an excellent service. Listening to the Dinard ATIS confirmed good weather down the coast.

 

Great views all the way down the coast with Jersey clearly visible out to the West, the magnificent and picturesque Mont St Michel out of the other widow to the south. There is a restricted area up to 3000ft around the Mount which prevents overflying . With a change to Dinard tower and told to enter via reporting point NBD for a downwind join on a non standard right hand circuit to runway 35 we soon had the airfield in site. Great views of St Malo as we found the bridge which crosses the river and is the NBD point and within a few minutes had the wheels kissing the long tarmac after 2hrs 25 mins logged time.

It was a bit of a faff getting fuel, although quite straightforward once the first crew (us) had walked across the airfield to the fire station, got the key and code, walked back, refuelled, printed the receipt, parked the Archer and then walked back to the fire station to pay for the fuel and the amazingly cheap 12 euro landing fee. After a passport check at customs we had lunch in the airport cafe. Pretty simple stuff, but excellent coffee and baguettes etc but a bit pricey, 3 euros 50 for a coke.

 

Suitably refreshed we went en mass through the departures gate where we had to go through the ritual of emptying pockets, taking belts off and passing through the metal detecting arch. One of ours who shall remain nameless set it of so many times and took off so much we thought they would have to come through naked. I think the sight of the security man pulling on rubber gloves focused the mind on removing the offending article!

All mounted up and with start clearance we taxied out to the main runway. It was a left turn out and a direct routing down to La Baule on the coast before following the coastline past the port and airfield at St Nazaire to La Rochelle. Again great weather and great views over some very pretty coastal towns. ATC was extremely helpful and efficient handing us off as we travelled further south before our joining instructions from La Rochelle approach. In for a right hand downwind join for R27, being careful to follow the ring road onto short final as detailed in the plate had us touching down after a 1hr 45 min leg. Refuelling this time was simplicity itself with a one way system to the pumps and a very helpful young man to do the actual refuelling. Again just 12 euros to land and 6 euros overnight parking. I think a lot of our UK regional airports should take a leaf out of the French book in that respect.

 

We were a bit scattered by this time and got caught up in two Flybe arrivals so the airport was heaving. However we managed to grab a 5 seater taxi into town with the help of Alan Vicks good command of the French language, something that was more than helpful on a number of occasions. The IBIS Hotel in the very centre of town was good, simple and compact, very clean and as usual having the advantage of very late no penalty cancellations. Something we have used several time this year. Well recommended for flying trips!

Most of us regrouped for a walk around the lovely old town and port which was heaving being the middle of the August holiday season. As we enjoyed a very pleasant and well deserved beer or two(ish) in the very picturesque port area of the town, unbeknown to us Barry Ledeatte who was on his first fly out and couldn’t get into the IBIS had arrived at his hotel to find it double booked and had been moved to another. James Martin and friend Alle had arrived at yet another hotel to be told there was no record of their booking and eventually later ended up dossing down in bunk beds in Barry’s family room.

We found a nice restaurant in the port and spent a very pleasant evening over a decent meal but with incredibly slow service. Alan even produced a 500 euro note which we were all convinced was really Monopoly money but was in fact genuine and surprisingly was accepted as part payment for the not insignificant bill. All of ours not just Alan’s! Imagine doing that in the UK, paying with a £50 note is bad enough and then you need a reference from two people before it’s held up to the light and chemically tested. A few more beers at a pavement bar on the way back to the hotel and we were in for the night.

 

The following morning those of us that had survived and weren’t quivering wrecks after the most horrendous death defying drive by our female French Taxi driver regrouped at the airport for the trip to Jersey. A bit simpler getting through the GA security checkpoint this time. One thing worth remembering is if you visit either airport in the future, ensure you have your PPL licence with you when passing through the security check. Once again Alan’s French came in very handy as the flight plans needed to be passed by phone and not fax.

Take off was to the west with a climbing turn out over the Atlantic and north towards Nantes. A high layer of grey cloud made things a little dull at first but this rapidly cleared. Nantes ATC were very helpful and cleared us through their airspace but not through the CTR and we had to route around to the west. Rennes were far more obliging and allowed us straight through at 3000ft over the airport and VOR with a direct track to Jersey. Climbing to 4500ft in controlled airspace was no problem and allowed us to get into the clearer less bumpy air above the scattered cumulus.

Passing over St Malo as we coasted out gave a great view of the port and boats at play in the sunshine. A hand off to Jersey Zone and a SVFR clearance we tracked towards a somewhat hazy island in the distance. After several radar vectors to integrate with other traffic we were established on a long final for R27 at Jersey. Both FC and VB taking the opportunity to follow the ILS approach down in the slight murk.

Taxiing toward the Jersey Aero Club we could see Helen Saunders and Paul Weeks waving from the perimeter fence having arrived from North Weald in FA several hours earlier to join us for lunch. I think their blood was just circulating again after the long flight down in the cosy cockpit of the 150. We shut down on the grass parking area with another 2hrs 15 mins for the log book.

A very nice lunch was taken in the Hanger Bistro on the second floor of the Aero Club overlooking the airfield as some typically Channel Island low cloud started to appear over the airfield. This low cloud had resulted in James Martin and Ian Clayton in FG diverting to Dinard and unfortunately they were unable to join us for the very nice traditional Sunday lunch. Once again a very reasonable landing fee of £12 and even better, fuel at 99p per litre.

The return from Jersey was straightforward with a SVFR clearance out of the zone at not above 1000ft direct to ORTAC, so another good view of the fish! We were given a climb to 3000ft after clearing the Island but ended up with radar vectors that took us nearly 30 miles west of where we wanted to be to avoid incoming commercial traffic. Next time I think I will just stay low to avoid it. The initial very hazy conditions gave way to beautifully clear skies as we approached the Isle of Wight, and the route around Gatwick back to North Weald was uneventful.

North Weald were using R13 as the drag race day was using the main runway. All in safely with yet another 2 hrs 10 mins logged. FG being last in at 19.00ish due to having to take a long (3 hour+) route across France to avoid the low cloud.

Well, we finally made it to La Rochelle and although a pity we missed a day in the town it was an excellent trip with some great views, new airfields and routes explored as well as being great for nav and radio experience . Thanks to all who took part for your company over the weekend and especially to Barry Ledeatte, James Ousby and Ian Clayton who chose this adventure for their first fly out.

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North Weald Flying Group operate out of the Squadron at North Weald Airfield.

The airfield is 10 miles south of Stansted and can be seen from the M11. Follow signs from the A414 and on entrance to the field, follow the perimeter track all the way around the field until you arrive at the distinctive Squadron building.

email: paul.bazire54@gmail.com
phone: 01992522090