Gliding down to Durbs

Guy Leitch

It used to be traditional for many Joburg families to pack up their buckets and spades, load up the kids in the family Chevrolet and drive to Durbs for the Christmas holidays. Jeremy Taylor even wrote a famous song about it; “Ag pleez daddy…

However, this is a flying magazine, so for the Christmas holidays I want to share a wonderful story I dug up about doing what many thought was impossible, at least in the early 1980s, and that is – to fly a glider from Johannesburg to Durban.

The story comes from the SA Aeronews magazine of March 1988 by Granville Dunbar and Geoff Tabner. The story starts with the typical angst of glider flying:

Granville writes: “The adrenalin is beginning to flow as I desperately peer ahead through the gloom for a first sign of the coastline. According to my final glide computer, its only 30 km away, and the fact that I have 1000m more height than I need to get there is little consolation. I inform Geoff of the fact that I’m passing west of a dam (which I hope is Hazelmere).

‘What dam?’ comes the reply from Geoff, who is 5-6 km behind and 300m lower. At this stage I’m not sure whether to be more scared for Geoff or myself.

Geoff continues, “I was trying desperately to slow my racing pulse. If I looked down to the ground it seemed far too close, dark wet hills of sugar cane and deep river valleys. Was my course accurate? Every time I checked features that I could see with Granville, we did not agree. Where was I and where was Granville?

At the last climb north east of Greytown it became serious. This was the final commitment to a glide into the unknown, over desperate country. I had visions of a pile of fibreglass and sugar cane and wondered what Steve Matchett, my partner [in the glider], would have to say.

Granville and I couldn’t help one another now. The teamwork that had brought us this far was over. It was every man for himself: best glide, patience and accurate navigation were the key.

The problem with final glides is that they take so long. You want to know how it’s going to end but you must sit there patiently, eyes glued on the McCready ring, airspeed and compass.

“Try not look at the terrain and calm down,” I kept saying to myself.

How did we get into this situation?

It all started many years ago when a great pioneer of gliding, Helli Lasch, had a vision that the ultimate achievement in gliding would be to fly from Joburg to Durban. Helli was responsible for a great deal of the development in early glass fibre gliders and was in fact the founding chairman of our club.

He made many attempts to complete the trip from Joburg to Durban, but thwarted by weather, terrain and difficulties in navigation, never quite made it.

Over the ensuing years, many others took up the challenge and soon recognised the difficulties involved. For those who are not familiar with gliding, here are some of the reasons that make this trip difficult in a glider:

A) The weather changes dramatically between Joburg and Durban. Normally good, unstable but dry conditions prevail over the highveld. High humidity, low cloud and even mist are typical of the escarpment, and beyond that stable marine air which penetrates well inland in the later afternoon, when a glider would be arriving looking for altitude to make a final glide.

B) The terrain over which such a journey would take place is daunting, particularly in its latter part where an outlanding is most likely to occur. The prospects of a safe arrival in the Tugela Valley or the Valley of a Thousand hills are slim.

C) Gliders and controlled airspace don’t normally mix. The thought of interfering with commercial air traffic or trying to follow a prescribed route at prescribed heights is discouraging. To stay airborne, you have to follow suitable weather and clouds, which are unpredictable. In the actual flight the helpfulness of the controllers, both at Durban and Virginia was greatly appreciated.

D) It’s a long way and an expensive exercise to retrieve a glider if you don’t make it. It was really our Chairman, Dick Bradley, who was to blame for our present predicament. Three weeks earlier we had an unveiling ceremony of a portrait of Helli in our clubhouse at Donaldson. To cap the evening, Dick announced in tribute to Helli’s pioneering spirit, that a RI,000 prize would be given to the first glider pilot to fly from Donaldson to Virginia.

The prize now paled into insignificance as we pressed on straining our eyes for sight of the coast. Will it end okay?


We had often talked about how we would tackle the task and had concluded that the best track would be via Bethlehem, along the Drakensberg to Giants Castle, then east across the high country to Greytown and then on to Durban.

We received some unusual encouragement for our proposed course when John McGloughlin related a dream that he had the night before the unveiling ceremony. “I dreamt I was talking to Helli,” said John” about the flight to Durban. “The mistake they all make,” he said, “is to fly straight over Van Reenen’s Pass. It’s like a waterfall. What you should do is fly along the Berg.”

Normally the good weather happens between Monday and Friday, so when the preceding week was so miserable, we knew that there had been a reversal in the weather pattern, and a gloomy wet Friday afternoon saw us putting the finishing touches to our plans, oblivious to outside conditions.

Things looked more promising with the weather forecast for the weekend on Friday night. Sure enough, Saturday dawned clear and warm. We met at the airfield at 09:30 and started rigging and ballasting our gliders, still not convinced that we were going, and fairly certain that all we were going to achieve was a very long retrieve.

Our two resident club members Hector and Tracey offered to take on the onerous task of retrieving us, just before Geoff launched in his Kestrel at about 11:40. He was singing, ‘Oh I do like to be beside the seaside,’ and this fairly let the cat out of the bag. Up till then we had kept the fact that we were going reasonably secret. We didn’t want the whole club tailing us. I launched about 10 minutes later in my Ventus and after releasing at 7,000′ ASL, I climbed slowly up to Geoff at 9,500′ ASL.

We set off slowly on our decided track and found conditions not quite as good as they looked. On numerous occasions we found ourselves forced into taking weak thermals at 7000′ ASL or lower. Also visibility was not good, and this coupled with low altitude, made navigation difficult. [This was before GPS].

At one stage we were trying to decide whether we were over Petrus Steyn, or lost, and had just concluded that it was indeed Petrus Steyn, when Geoff came over the radio and said he was positive that this was where we were because it was written on the hillside in what must be 40 ft high white letters.

About 5 km up the Reitz Road from Bethlehem, it all very nearly came to an end in a cloud of dust. The skies looked good, but the whole sky was going down. When we eventually found a 4 m/s climb we decided that this would do under the circumstances.

Just past Bethlehem we realised that the Berg was most definitely not the way to go. We diverted across Harrismith in an attempt to follow the rapidly disappearing sunlight between this and more storms to the east.

As we passed over Platberg, the sink again claimed our hard-earned altitude. Eventually we found reasonable lift over Van Reenen’s Pass. At this stage there was only one possible route open to us, which led about 30 degrees east of track. We followed the west edge of a storm, keeping relatively high for about 100 km, with the blow off from the west rapidly closing off prospects for getting back onto track ahead.

Eventually we were faced with the choice of deviating further east to a reasonable looking patch of cloud or heading about 40 kms under the cirrus back onto track where there was only a low, miserable and apparently dissipating cumulus. We had passed over a lot of evil looking ground by this stage and were getting uncomfortably close to it, so it was a great relief to find 1.5-2 m/s lift when we eventually arrived at the ‘last cloud’.

This last thermal was kinder to me than it was to Geoff. I eventually climbed to 11,000 ASL. The thermal died when Geoff got to 10,000. We were about 15 km east of Greytown at this stage and estimated 90 km from Virginia. After some debate we agreed on 180 magnetic as the heading and settled comfortably for a long, nerve racking and very smooth final glide.

Fortunately the air was generally buoyant and my glide computer was showing me between 50 & 80 to 1 glide.

After passing Hazelmere Dam and, with still no apparent sign of the coastline, I started recognising built-up areas ahead. The hotels at Umhlanga Rocks make a very good landmark and a few minutes later I was looking down onto Virginia with plenty of height to spare.

Geoff meanwhile was not faring so well. He was only a few km behind but 1000′ lower. He could not see any of the landmarks I tried to point out and I was not particularly enthusiastic about the close look he was getting of the ground. Fortunately he didn’t have to worry for too long. The same sights quickly came into focus and 5 minutes, later, there he was.

We landed amid quite a bit of excitement at Virginia – the trip had taken just on 5 hours. As excited as we were, I don’t think either of us was sorry it was over. It was hard work and very nerve racking.

The Natal Flying Club members gave us a very enthusiastic welcome and made certain that we wouldn’t be doing any flying for at least the next couple of days.

I’ll spare you the story of the drive back.


  1. I was wondering if you ever considered changing the structure of your website? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

  2. I have been checking out some of your stories and i can claim pretty nice stuff. I will surely bookmark your website.

  3. Great awesome things here. I am very satisfied to see your article. Thanks a lot and i’m having a look ahead to touch you. Will you please drop me a mail?

  4. Fantastic goods from you, man. I have take into account your stuff prior to and you are just too great. I actually like what you’ve received right here, really like what you’re stating and the way in which through which you assert it. You are making it entertaining and you still take care of to stay it sensible. I can’t wait to learn far more from you. That is really a great site.

  5. Hi, Neat post. There is a problem together with your website in internet explorer, might test this… IE still is the market chief and a huge part of other folks will leave out your great writing because of this problem.

  6. Thanks for every one of your work on this blog. My aunt delights in doing investigation and it’s simple to grasp why. My partner and i notice all regarding the lively way you deliver both interesting and useful techniques by means of the web site and as well as boost contribution from some other people on the area of interest then our favorite daughter is actually starting to learn a lot of things. Take pleasure in the remaining portion of the year. You’re carrying out a pretty cool job.

  7. Thanks for sharing excellent informations. Your website is so cool. I’m impressed by the details that you have on this site. It reveals how nicely you perceive this subject. Bookmarked this web page, will come back for extra articles. You, my friend, ROCK! I found just the info I already searched everywhere and simply couldn’t come across. What a great website.

  8. Hello. magnificent job. I did not expect this. This is a excellent story. Thanks!

  9. You are my inhalation, I own few blogs and very sporadically run out from post :). “Never mistake motion for action.” by Ernest Hemingway.

  10. I’m impressed, I must say. Really not often do I encounter a blog that’s each educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you could have hit the nail on the head. Your thought is outstanding; the problem is one thing that not enough individuals are speaking intelligently about. I’m very comfortable that I stumbled throughout this in my search for one thing referring to this.

  11. Just desire to say your article is as astounding. The clearness to your put up is just excellent and i can suppose you are a professional in this subject. Well along with your permission let me to clutch your feed to stay up to date with impending post. Thank you one million and please keep up the gratifying work.

  12. F*ckin¦ awesome issues here. I am very glad to see your article. Thank you a lot and i’m taking a look ahead to touch you. Will you please drop me a mail?

  13. Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be coming back to your blog for more soon.

  14. Some genuinely nice and useful info on this website , likewise I conceive the design and style holds excellent features.

  15. Hi there, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam comments? If so how do you stop it, any plugin or anything you can advise? I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any support is very much appreciated.

  16. Lottery Defeater Software is a digital tool designed to assist individuals in improving their chances of winning in various lotteries.

  17. WeJiJ is here to help get you the best gaming setup, gaming PC and guide you through the games you like to play with news, reviews and guides.

  18. Find the latest technology news and expert tech product reviews. Learn about the latest gadgets and consumer tech products for entertainment, gaming, lifestyle and more.

  19. FitSpresso is a natural dietary supplement designed to help with weight loss and improve overall health. It contains ingredients that have been studied clinically, which work together to promote healthy fat burning and enhance your metabolism!

  20. ZenCortex Research’s contains only the natural ingredients that are effective in supporting incredible hearing naturally.A unique team of health and industry professionals dedicated to unlocking the secrets of happier living through a healthier body.

  21. BalMorex Pro is an exceptional solution for individuals who suffer from chronic joint pain and muscle aches. With its 27-in-1 formula comprised entirely of potent and natural ingredients, it provides unparalleled support for the health of your joints, back, and muscles.

  22. GutOptim is a digestive health supplement designed to support your gut and stomach. It restore balance in gut flora and reduce the symptoms of digestive disorders.

  23. Dentitox Pro is a liquid dietary solution created as a serum to support healthy gums and teeth. Dentitox Pro formula is made in the best natural way with unique, powerful botanical ingredients that can support healthy teeth.

  24. GlucoFlush is an advanced formula specially designed for pancreas support that will let you promote healthy weight by effectively maintaining the blood sugar level and cleansing and strengthening your gut.

  25. Alpha Tonic is a powder-based supplement that uses multiple natural herbs and essential vitamins and minerals to help optimize your body’s natural testosterone levels.

  26. Progenifix is designed to help maximize weight loss results using a mixture of natural, science-backed ingredients. The formula also has secondary benefits, including promoting overall wellness and vitality and assisting your immune system.

  27. AquaPeace is an all-natural nutritional formula that uses a proprietary and potent blend of ingredients and nutrients to improve overall ear and hearing health and alleviate the symptoms of tinnitus.

  28. FoliPrime is a simple serum containing a blend of vitamins designed to boost hair health. FoliPrime has 100 percent natural substances that enhance and supplement the vitamins in the scalp to promote hair growth.

  29. Gut Vita™ is a daily supplement that helps consumers to improve the balance in their gut microbiome, which supports the health of their immune system. It supports healthy digestion, even for consumers who have maintained an unhealthy diet for a long time.

  30. Neuro-Thrive is a brain health supplement that claims to promote good memory and thinking skills and better quality sleep. This nootropic supplement achieves its cause with its potent blend of natural compounds and extracts that are proven to be effective in sharpening mental acuity.

  31. Fast Lean Pro is a herbal supplement that tricks your brain into imagining that you’re fasting and helps you maintain a healthy weight no matter when or what you eat. It offers a novel approach to reducing fat accumulation and promoting long-term weight management.

  32. Unlock the incredible potential of Puravive! Supercharge your metabolism and incinerate calories like never before with our unique fusion of 8 exotic components. Bid farewell to those stubborn pounds and welcome a reinvigorated metabolism and boundless vitality. Grab your bottle today and seize this golden opportunity!

  33. Zoracel is an extraordinary oral care product designed to promote healthy teeth and gums, provide long-lasting fresh breath, support immune health, and care for the ear, nose, and throat.

  34. Cerebrozen is an excellent liquid ear health supplement purported to relieve tinnitus and improve mental sharpness, among other benefits. The Cerebrozen supplement is made from a combination of natural ingredients, and customers say they have seen results in their hearing, focus, and memory after taking one or two droppers of the liquid solution daily for a week.

  35. GlucoBerry is one of the biggest all-natural dietary and biggest scientific breakthrough formulas ever in the health industry today. This is all because of its amazing high-quality cutting-edge formula that helps treat high blood sugar levels very naturally and effectively.

  36. Introducing TerraCalm, a soothing mask designed specifically for your toenails. Unlike serums and lotions that can be sticky and challenging to include in your daily routine, TerraCalm can be easily washed off after just a minute.

  37. Gorilla Flow prostate is an all-natural dietary supplement for men which aims to decrease inflammation in the prostate to decrease common urinary tract issues such as frequent and night-time urination, leakage, or blocked urine stream.

  38. Keravita Pro™ is a dietary supplement created by Benjamin Jones that effectively addresses nail fungus and hair loss, promoting the growth of healthier and thicker nails and hair. The formula is designed to target the underlying causes of these health issues and provide comprehensive treatment.

  39. Abdomax is a nutritional supplement using an 8-second Nordic cleanse to eliminate gut issues, support gut health, and optimize pepsinogen levels.

  40. Arctic blast is a powerful formula packed with natural ingredients and can treat pain effectively if you’re struggling with chronic pain. You can say goodbye to muscle cramps with this natural pain reliever in less than a minute. It helps with arthritic pain, blood circulation, and joint pain. It gives long-lasting effects that replace the need to go to surgery.

  41. ProstaBiome is a carefully crafted dietary supplement aimed at promoting prostate health. Bid farewell to restless nights and discomfort with ProstaBiome precise strategy for addressing prostate concerns.

  42. PotentStream is designed to address prostate health by targeting the toxic, hard water minerals that can create a dangerous buildup inside your urinary system It’s the only dropper that contains nine powerful natural ingredients that work in perfect synergy to keep your prostate healthy and mineral-free well into old age.

  43. Cacao Bliss is a powder form of unique raw cacao that can be used similarly to chocolate in powder form but comes with added benefits. It is designed to provide a rich and satisfying experience while delivering numerous health benefits.

  44. Utilitylatest provides news and analysis for energy and utility executives. We cover topics like smart grid tech, clean energy, regulation, generation, demand response, solar, storage, transmission distribution, and more.

  45. Ellajon provides news and analysis for construction industry executives. We cover commercial and residential construction, focusing on topics like technology, design, regulation, legal issues and more.

  46. Sudaten provides in-depth journalism and insight into the news and trends impacting the energy, sustainability and governance space.

  47. Huzad delivers the latest news in the grocery industry, with articles covering grocery delivery, online food shopping, shopper behavior, store formats, technology, and more.

  48. Grpduk provides news and analysis for human resource executives. We cover topics like recruiting, HR management, employee learning

  49. Marketing Dive provides in-depth journalism covering the most impactful news shaping the marketing industry. We cover topics like social media, video marketing, mobile, data and analytics, technology, and more.

  50. Christside provides news and analysis for retail executives. We cover topics like retail tech, marketing, e-commerce, logistics, in-store operations, corporate retail news, and more.

  51. Janmckinley provides news and analysis for waste and recycling executives. We cover topics like landfills, collections, regulation, waste-to-energy, corporate news, fleet management, and more.

  52. Sugar Defender is the rated blood sugar formula with an advanced blend of 24 proven ingredients that support healthy glucose levels and natural weight loss.

  53. Sugar Defender is the rated blood sugar formula with an advanced blend of 24 proven ingredients that support healthy glucose levels and natural weight loss.

  54. You have brought up a very fantastic points, regards for the post.

  55. Hi there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it’s really informative. I’m going to watch out for brussels. I’ll be grateful if you continue this in future. A lot of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  56. Excellent blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any suggestions? Thank you!

  57. What¦s Taking place i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered It absolutely useful and it has helped me out loads. I am hoping to contribute & help other users like its aided me. Good job.

  58. F*ckin’ remarkable issues here. I’m very satisfied to look your post. Thank you so much and i am taking a look ahead to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?

  59. My developer is trying to persuade me to move to .net from
    PHP. I have always disliked the idea because
    of the costs. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type
    on several websites for about a year and am worried about
    switching to another platform. I have heard
    excellent things about Is there a way I can import all my wordpress posts into it?
    Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!

  60. I beloved as much as you will obtain performed right here. The comic strip is attractive, your authored subject matter stylish. nonetheless, you command get bought an edginess over that you wish be turning in the following. unwell unquestionably come more in the past once more since exactly the same just about very often inside of case you shield this increase.

  61. I?¦ve been exploring for a little bit for any high quality articles or blog posts in this sort of area . Exploring in Yahoo I eventually stumbled upon this website. Reading this information So i?¦m satisfied to exhibit that I have a very good uncanny feeling I came upon exactly what I needed. I such a lot for sure will make sure to do not omit this site and provides it a glance on a relentless basis.

  62. We are a bunch of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your site provided us with helpful information to paintings on. You have performed an impressive task and our whole neighborhood might be thankful to you.

  63. Heya i’m for the first time here. I found this board and I to find It really helpful & it helped me out much. I’m hoping to give something back and help others such as you aided me.

  64. I just couldn’t depart your site before suggesting that I actually enjoyed the usual info an individual provide on your guests? Is gonna be back continuously in order to investigate cross-check new posts.

  65. Thank you, I’ve recently been searching for information about this subject for ages and yours is the greatest I’ve discovered till now. But, what about the conclusion? Are you sure about the source?

  66. Hello would you mind letting me know which web host you’re utilizing? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different internet browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most. Can you suggest a good web hosting provider at a reasonable price? Cheers, I appreciate it!

  67. I have read some good stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to create such a fantastic informative site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *