Last weekend was a busy one for the crew of Paradise Hang Gliding, Inc. By the time the week started on Monday, we all needed another weekend to catch some rest…!
Charlotte Harbor’s 20th Annual Lighted Boat Parade on the Peace River was quite an affair. We were there in force and seemed to make quite an impression. Then on Sunday, we had a full day of tandem hang gliding on Charlotte Harbor, which is what we do best.
The annual boat parade was postponed due to unfavorable weather on Saturday, Dec. 5, but was rescheduled for 6 pm, Dec. 12. This was a good decision by the event organizers, and reflects the safety consciousness which has helped make this one of the top Christmas Boat Parades in the nation.
We worked all afternoon to get the Reel High decked out in full holiday lighting, hang glider and all. There are many good viewing areas along the 6.2 NM parade route, both on land and out on the water. Announcers described each vessel and crew from 4 different locations, and the event was broadcast live on 102.9 FM as well. Capt. Travis, MaryAnn and myself had a great time. It was akin to taking a drive to view the Christmas lights, but having everybody in their lawns to look at us.
The estimated crowd of 12,000+ spectators watched from just about every vantage point imaginable. Many backyards along the canals were highly decorated with large groups having parties and watching the parade. Numerous boat lined the route in the sections of open water in the Harbor, and all 4 public viewing points where the announcers were stationed had very large crowds.
Capt. Travis Elms really hammed it up, and as the spectators cheered our “float”, we all gave them the “I can’t hear you” gestures, which brought even more applause from the crowd, which seemed about as well lit as the boats and houses.
The highlight of the weekend was, of course, the flying activities. Sunday dawned clear and warm, with a gentle southerly breeze; it was obviously going to be a good day for flying.
As we finished removing the lights from the boat and glider, the participants were beginning to gather. I was pleased to welcome them all aboard, particularly none other than Alexander Cuddy, the latest part-time addition to our staff. Although he is only here for the winter season, Alex is a 21 year old up-and-coming competition pilot, as well as an accomplished tandem hang gliding instructor, and just all around good guy. After the usual flurry of paperwork and briefings, we cast off.
After a quick solo check flight of the glider, I let Alex take the controls for a quick familiarization tandem flight, with me as the passenger. It was fun just relaxing and letting him do the flying, I can see why all of our guests enjoy the experience so much…! It was pretty obvious that Alex was right at home flying the glider over water, so I turned him loose for a solo flight of his own. The grin on his face upon landing told the tale.
The wind was starting to finally blow enough to help us out, so the tandem flights went beautifully. Alex gave each of the 2 students a tandem flight to 2,500′, then we took a break for lunch aboard Tim Coons’ “A Fabulous Affair”. While Tim grilled some snapper and amberjack, which he had speared himself a couple of weeks prior, we enjoyed the facilities. Everybody used the restrooms, MaryAnn lounged on the sun deck, Capt. Travis caught up on the footbal games on TV, and the rest of us drank cokes at the bar. All in the middle of Charlotte Harbor, with dolphins jumping and sailboats all around us. The food was awesome, and with our bellies full, we returned to the “Reel High” to continue the flight lessons.
The breeze had become very consistent at about 10 knots out of the west-southwest, so the tandem climbouts were once again super-easy, we never had to run the boat hard. With 3,200′ of spectra line spooled off the tow winch, the glider looks pretty small up there ! Both students did 2 more flights each, with Alex putting them through their paces, teaching basic glider control. Landing on the soft saltwater is always fun & easy, not to mention more forgiving than land.
On the last flight, we on the towboat were treated to the sight of thousands of waterfowl of some sort, taking off as we approached. They were in front and on both sides, running across the water as they gained flying speed, clouds of webbed feet splashing silvery trails as their silhouetted wings climbed skyward. It was truly a moment where hang gliding meets National Geographic, we were all speelbound for a few magic moments.
All in all, it was a stupendous day of tandem hang gliding, boating, and sightseeing.