Morning Glory Clouds of the Gulf of Carpentaria

Al Giles - 1997 Morning Glory

Late October 1997 
Subject: Vainglorious not inglorious 

   Greetings m'sieur, 

                     You recall the lawyer's boast? - I came, I saw, I concurred. Or the headstone epitaph: 'Life's a joke and all things show it; I thought so once and now I know it'. Well, Huey has been playing cosmic jokes again and naturally enough, the joke's on us. 

   Following your flying snail imitation departing into the sou'easter from Burketown, we packed up the beasts and departed by road to the east. Beautiful road too. At Karumba we discovered that all of FNQ had the power off for maintenance and no fuel was then available; meanwhile an impressive cu-nim was dumping an inch and a half on the road north. That night three waves with clouds passed over Karumba at 0200, moving WNW to ESE at decent speed. These had been timed over Inkerman homestead 140 km to the north shortly before midnight. 

   Next day we set out north up the Burke Developmental Road. A road train or two had followed the storm and the road surface was something between glutinous and ruinous, a curious sensation in a leaf-sprung Hilux with a trailer, akin to going XC on a rigid Triumph with flat tyres, only less definite. At sunset we set up camp by an artesian bore on a sandridge on a saltflat (How to make Burketown look Beautiful ch. 7) and agreed on grounds of good airmanship that we were too buggered to fly tonight. At 1100, perfect soarable wave clouds swept overhead, still boiling from the release of latent heat of evaporation, with the concomitant blast of wind, one...two...three...etc. 

   Next day we went fishing in the company of Boof and Tony, two professional fishermen with a permanent camp on the south shore of the Nassau River estuary, a little patch of paradise. Here they live a Huckleberry Finn existence far from the woes of wives and kids in Karumba, living on fresh crabs and barramundi all through the season. A taildragger Cessna lobs into the grass airstrip outside their door now and then, picks up for their frozen offerings and returns to Cairns. As they said, "We didn't find out that Di was dead for days, and then only from the School of the Air!". 

  That night I settled down under the wing of the trike, snoozing fitfully in the bright moonlight while owls and bats fluttered, pigs grunted, roos thumped about and cows moaned. Every few minutes I'd start awake and check the north-eastern sky. At 2200, the sky suddenly bloomed with a fascinating sight: perfectly formed white feathers of cloud arrived from over the ENE horizon, covering half the sky. They were arranged like the feathers in the outer half of an eagle's wing, including the splayed feathers at the tip, which were at the westerly end of this apparition.  I have no idea of their height, although I was tempted to take off and find out. 

   Down the centre of each feather was a central dark grey line, and there were light grey cross-striations running from this to the edges, again exactly like a feather. There were perhaps a dozen or so of these all up, half in the splayed 'tip' and the rest all parallel to each other but perpendicular to their line of movement, which was rapidly from east to west. The slightest of northeast breezes briefly accompanied this spectacle. After ten minutes of heading west, each feather started to lose its crisp definition and as they headed out into the Gulf, they started to look like just bands of medium or high cloud. Half an hour later, at 2250, smooth rushes of air from the NE of about 5 -10 knots with slow onset heralded the arrival of several clear-air waves. Both inland and over the coast, a line of smooth cloud formed formed and moved slowly off to the south, growing in length and volume as we watched. Around 0300 the NE seabreeze from the east side of the Cape arrived, very pleasant. 

   Obviously this phenomenon is related to the formation of the Glory but just how and why has got CMac intrigued. It was the night of the full moon (the 17th), in case that has any significance. Next night, the waves came through as clear air waves again, no good to us humble trike and kite pilots, so we said bugger it for this year. At 0800 I took off for Karumba and with the NE seabreeze from Cairns behind me, covered the 200 km from the Nassau River estuary to Karumba in two hours, with an IAS of 35 knots. Yee hah! And yes, I landed across the runway...with no roll. 

  Now that very astute gentleman Geoff was smart enough to leave Burketown after the initial lot of waves and return just in time for the next decent lot. I suspect he would have been smugly in touch with you...has he mentioned anything specific about waves on the four days of October 15 to 18 inclusive? including how many waves, how good the clouds were and how far inland they went? 

  I've been thinking (stop laughing now) that although hang gliding on the wave is more enjoyable, for ease of launch (and if necessary, retrieval) by night, a trike has it all over a kite. I would also be happier to stay on the coast after Karumba (rather than head inland) in a trike. Of course, this no longer has the excuse of a record attempt to make it officially acceptable...damn. From the map of the Gulf I note that there a limited number of exits following roads west of Burketown, eg only Borroloola, then Ngukurr/Roper Bar. 

  What is the surface of the Gulf coast like west of Burketown and what is the vegetation inland of it? I gather the saltflats eventually become mudflats and the savannah grassland eventually becomes solid trees...any idea where? I'm having the Buzzard fitted with long range tanks but it would still be nice to know where the landable terrain is, since the noise can always stop (or not restart). Did you know that Karumba is getting a dedicated rescue chopper with ELT locator equipment soon? 

  Well, enough rabbiting from me. I'm going to wander off and look into Laverdas and three-axis control beasts...meanwhile fending off Justin Smith, who wants me to locum for him while he recovers from a complicated fracture-dislocation of the ankle...dangerous stuff, this daylight hang gliding. 

    Eh oop, 


FNQ Far North Queensland
XC Cross Country
Laverdas - Temperamental Italian motorcycles 

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