Day 14 - Friday 4th

There is talk of CB activity on the launch field meaning a risk of lightning from cumulo-nimbus storm cloud which can form frighteningly quickly and which are highly dangerous to balloons. The inflated mass of the envelope contains up to 3.5 tons mass of ionised hot, moist air and is an ideal track for a strike. Given that the stainless steel stranded suspension wires are also excellent conductors it's not hard to see why there are nervous faces. Embedded Cu-Nim lurking within ordinary cloud can't always be spotted and no-one has brought the detectors that some of us use in the UK to listen for discharge activity. A decision is made to fly, based on the observation that the skies between us and the mountains are clearing, although wind speed is up on yesterday.

Richard gets us aloft smartly to clear the water tower that seems to be an obligatory feature of the majority of our take-off sites. Like me, he has clicked with the burn control and enjoys the low flying that is so hard to do now in England. Later there will be talk of going for our PPL (Private Pilot's License) Balloons, but this may just be holiday euphoria. For now, the flight is the fastest so far as I register 13.2 knots on the GPS. It slows to 7 knots after about twenty minutes as the sun comes up and we feel its heat. We are flying over a vast plantation of sugar-cane, which stretches almost literally as far as the eye can see from this height, the uniformity broken only by huge dry canal-like channels (which we assume are for irrigation) and the odd grove of feathery trees.

After an hour of flight a few landing options present themselves as Zodiac and Sky are down on the road. There appears to be a chemical smoke generator running and we see the white fumes billowing from it. Not having seen this before, we assume that it's some form of disease or insect control. The approach is over the sugar-cane and we travel through the stem tops to lose some speed, the stems opening around the basket and re-closing behind us like a zip-fastener as if we had never been there. There is a strong smell of propane as we cross the road and we start to drag - I'd forgotten how excitingly uncontrolled this feels - and we slow and stop as the hot air rushes out of the parachute vent. We realise that the strange smoke generator seen just before landing was actually the basket and burner assembly belonging to the Belgians 105. They've been venting liquid propane and we've flown with live burners through the vapour trail. Norman is furious and stomps off to remonstrate, muttering about stoichiometric mixtures and flashpoints, as well he might, as it's a bloody dangerous thing to do and would earn many penalty points if this was a Nationals competition. I can't believe anyone would do this and leave the thing unattended with other balloons still flying nearby. Norman does not return before all is packed away and seems calm and suspiciously cheerful when he does. The explanation is simple.

The Belgians were venting liquid propane to chill their champagne bottles that mark the end of each flight and Norman has been plied with the contents of said bottles and has totally forgotten what his complaint was. We say nothing. This is sport ballooning.

Back for breakfast, shower - you know the drill by now! - a quick cool in the pool and our massage. The sun is hot on the beach, but the sea breeze and the shade under the palm-thatched open shelter beneath the trees is pleasant. I lie comfortably on soft sheets on the platform listening to the sound of the waves breaking on the sand, while a Thai girl smooths and rubs scented oils and herbs across my shoulders, back, neck, arms and legs. Look, it s a dirty job, but someone has to do it...

The afternoon catamaran session is much livelier today and we achieve a fair turn of speed in the onshore breeze. We discover that it still won't tack, despite all our efforts using combinations of speed, rudder angle, sheeting in and out on both main and jib. We're both dinghy helmsmen and find it frustrating. (For all you experienced cat sailors, yes we now know how it's done, thank-you!). Lots of advice from our party, who also have never handled a cat - all wrong as well, so we're in good company. Fortunately the cat has good manners, so I gybe turn instead of tacking.

The evening meal is taken on the terrace and is enlivened by an epic poem composed for the occasion by Dawn, describing the exploits and praising the hosts. Norman has been told that as senior pilot he must make the reply. We await events, cameras discreetly at the ready, because we know something that he doesn't. Halfway through Norman's reply, Nigel strides up to him and flips him delicately across both cheeks with a soft leather flying glove and challenges him to a duel, at dawn, on the launch field.

Some years ago, in a chateau on the Loire, Norman was instrumental in smuggling an inflation fan, video camera and a back-up team into Nigel (Trust Me I'm a Doctor)'s room while he was sleeping and started it up. The resultant gale blasted most of Nigel's possessions, clothes and bed-linen over to the far side of the room, leaving the occupant starkers on the bed. Nigel has neither forgotten or forgiven this and Norman has been anticipating some form of retribution for nearly five years now. He is almost relieved. Seconds are named. We retire in anticipation of the morrow.

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