The Dynasoarers

Hang gliding & Paragliding on the Surf Coast

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The coast run - Bells Beach to Apollo Bay

By Geoff Coombs

Bells Beach to Apollo Bay. For pilots who fly the Victorian coast it's the Holy Grail of hang gliding. The flying is challenging and the views fantastic. It is very rarely done. Up until a few years ago less than ten people had ever succeeded. Now seventeen people have managed the run for a total of thirty-five times completed. The first guys to make it were Peter Muffet and Angus Walker [Angus in fact flew all the way to the Cape Otway lighthouse -Ed.] back in 1990. Then it was four years before it was done again! The undisputed king of the coastal run is Ted Remeika who has succeeded an amazing thirteen times. Sitting in the Aireys Inlet Pub is a trophy documenting all the people and dates the run has been completed. If you are passing by it's worth a look and it's a good excuse for a beer.

Why is it so rare? Well, for a start, you need a SE to East wind around 15 to 20 knots which is unusual for the West Coast. For instance, up until a month ago we hadn't had a suitable wind for more than a year! Secondly, it is very challenging. For a newcomer, you'd have to fly with a local who has done it before. After you've bombed along the way a few times and figured out your mistakes, felt comfortable flying low with limited landing options and coped with a tail wind, low altitude run along Fairhaven beach, well then, you've almost made it half way! Of course, then you've got to get past Lorne which is quite likely to be harder than getting past Fairhaven (but not as scary)! Thirdly, you have to be there when it's on. And finally, a bit of luck helps!

The total distance as the crow flies is 73kms. You can fly further, down to Cape Otway, another 17kms (it's been done) but I don't like your chances of getting picked up. It's another ¾ hr drive to get you!

The launch at Bells Beach (coast faces ESE) is now rated as advanced, not because the launch is hard, in fact it's one of the easiest around, but because there is nowhere to land at the bottom, unless its low tide and you want to land on rocks (it's been done). There is a top landing area but if the wind is strong (15-20knots) it is a little turbulent and not a big landing area. Basically, in a strong wind you fly southwest and land at Anglesea or beyond.

After launch, you generally fly down to the cliffs near Jan Juc (north), get high (over 550ft), then fly back and cross Bells Beach itself and on to the cliffs at South side. Usually, unless it's a very high tide, there is plenty of beach to land on if you have to, but it's a bit of a walk out. After gaining some height, it's down to Pt Addis where you want to get as high as possible to cross inland (minimum around 900ft) onto the cliffs at Eumeralla (coast faces SSE). The general consensus these days is to try to cross in lift and drift down wind onto Eumeralla, maintaining height as much as possible. From there you fly across to Anglesea and Pt Roadnight lookout. Now, if you've been patient and flown down wind in buoyant air, you've arrived at Roadnight high enough to again cross inland to the cliffs at Urquhart Bluff without having to stop (coast faces S between Roadnight and Urquhart). If you can't do that then you have to hang around Roadnight until you can climb to a minimum of 600ft. And I mean minimum, I don't know of anyone who has managed to cross to Urquhart and stay flying after leaving under 600ft (plenty have been higher and still landed on the beach). Besides it's 4 ½kms and fairly flat ground, 1000ft doesn't seem enough!

From there you fly along the cliffs to Aireys Inlet Lighthouse (coast faces ESE). There are very few landing spots, so you need to keep an eye on the wind (wind lines and white caps). Sometimes the wind can drop off as you fly along the coast and a few people have been caught out and landed in the water. Luckily, no one has been hurt.

Once at the lighthouse area it's important to get as high as you possibly can (what's new you might ask), anywhere over 400ft, as this is one of the toughest areas of the flight. As the wind is round to the east the well known flying area of Fairhaven, or Spion, as most people call it, (coast faces S) becomes very tough to get past. The wind is between 45degress and 70 degrees off, sometimes more if it is closer to east. Also the first part of the flight is over very low sand dunes. Here you are flying with a ground speed around 70-80kms/hr at less than 300ft with an airspeed around trim! If your heart rate isn't up you must be dead! Also, it's a good idea to have your harness unzipped just in case you have to do a hurried 180 degree turn back into the wind to land. Now comes the tricky part. You have to fly along the ridge at Fairhaven and then turn very sharply back into the wind just before the launch area, which faces more into wind and generates the best lift you are going to get. If you skid past launch in the turn then you will struggle back into wind and around the corner losing height as you go. Believe me, you won't have much to waste. If you turn too early you won't be in the best lift band and will struggle to maintain height. If you get it just right you will slowly gain enough height (500ft) to turn tail wind again and make it down to Cinema Point 3.5kms away (faces ESE). From here you can breathe a sigh of relief and climb easily, reflecting on how shit scared you were just a few moments ago.

After climbing to around 800ft you can then cross a small gap onto what we call Big Hill. Here again you want to get maximum height, over 2000ft if that's possible. This is the highest point before Lorne, so if you can maintain this all the way down it will give you the maximum chance of getting onto to Teddys Lookout, on the other side of Lorne. Now this is where the modern topless gliders make a big difference. To get onto Teddys you have to push 2kms into a strong headwind with no lift. Being able to do 80km/hr (or more if you need it) and still have a reasonable glide is a huge advantage. The Litespeed is fabulous for this. You have to get the glide right because before Teddys the landings are ordinary and once there the landing areas are just as bad. I guess you could put it down if you had to…

Once on Teddys Lookout you can allow yourself a smile because from here on its plain sailing, compared with what has gone before. The hills are high and it's usually an easy climb to over 2000ft. The views are spectacular and you have the time to enjoy them. Cumberland River, Wye River, Kennett River, you slowly pass them all, watching the tiny cars below, as they snake their way along the Great Ocean Road. As you approach Cape Patton it's a good idea to climb as high as possible again as the run into Apollo Bay is more tail wind and the hills are lower and not as steep. It's still 16kms to go and you don't want to blow it now.

After passing Cape Patton, you race the cars down past Skenes Creek to Apollo Bay. It's a great feeling getting there, something special. If you like you can fly onto Mariners Lookout, the launch site for paragliders and hang gliders, flying at Apollo Bay. It's a very pretty area, especially on a good day with plenty of sunshine.

The best landing area is crosswind on the beach near the Surf Life Saving Club where you can then walk your glider up onto the grass and pack up in comfort.

Time for a well earned beer and that's right, somehow you've got to get back! Hopefully somebody will be kind enough to come and get you. And put up with all the gloating and the “no shit there I was…” stories, all the way back.

If you're keen to try this flight keep an eye on the forecast and contact a local in the area. Try looking on the Contact page or look in Soaring Australia for contact numbers.