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15 September 2003

Take-off report by the Belgica2 crew

The Belgica2 (BEL1) crew yesterday sent in a report about the start of the race... Read and ... shiver ...

Lunch Sunday September 14, 2003 15:44

After a very short night (4:00 - 7:30) we left to the south. But first some more news about yesterday. WHAT A START !!! At 10 o’clock in the morning we already were in the launching area because we had to start inflating at 13:00. First we wanted to take a copious breakfast in Hotel ‘De Hoop’ but … too late, so we had to find another solution. With a bread from a genuine French baker, meat from our own fridge, coffee prepared on a small camping-cooker, and two borrowed seats we organised a pleasant, healthy and very tasty breakfast. Our catering department thought this to be essential as preparation to a - hopefully - long flight.

Infrastructuur After this we went to the gorgeous historical setting that had been chosen as starting-place for Gordon Bennett 2003. As the crew had been very industrious the day before there was no need to fill sandbags. So we had time to lay out the balloon very carefully to be ready in time for the inflation. After the first briefing the inflation was already postponed till 19:00. So we would certainly not be able to take off at 21:00. Philippe went to take some rest to be fit for the night while Ronny took care of the technical aspects in and around the basket.
And we sat in the sun and waited like the pigeons… The remaining time our pilots studied the equipment of the other teams, they watched the 3 super light American balloons and discussed with Michel De Meyer (our meteorologist) the possible trajectories. In the mean time our supporters had also arrived from Belgium.

Inflating... finally By 18:00 the inflation of the netballoons really started, followed by the inflation of the first netless one at 20:30. By then we were very hungry and went for a good meal.
The inflation of our balloon progressed smoothly. As it grew later the weather became more unstable, strong winds forced us and our visitors to cling to our basket to keep it to the ground. More sandbags were filled and attached to the basket. The wind retarded the whole program and pushed the take-off to the midnight hour. The balloons were swaying so badly that the basket of SWI1 completely deformed. The Swiss team was forced to let the expensive helium gas escape and to abandon. Some time later the third Swiss team also decided not to participate, so 15 teams remained. We had attached our balloon to the winch of our car. Finally the launching of the balloons neared around 1:30.
Ronny + Crew The start certainly did not go smoothly. For safety reasons all the balloons had to be moved to the middle of the field (the surrounding buildings would have caused problems). They remained tethered to the cars and a lot of people were needed to keep them down. The launching was hectic and at moments really frightening. The take-off of the Americans even made our flesh creep: with an enormous speed they narrowly missed another balloon and went across the buildings. Also the position of the balloons on the field caused the starting order to be fully disturbed.

Our pilots were second to take off and everything went very well. Our crew then lent a helping hand (or better some body weight) to the other Belgian team. They also got in the air safely, which is something to be very proud of under these circumstances, and this being their first GB.


The crew (Ron, Tony, Sofie, Conny)

Posted by Marianne at 9:45 AM

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