Morning Glory Clouds of the Gulf of Carpentaria

Morning Glory 2001

From: Frank Fontyne <frankfontyne A T>

Subject: Gloria

Sun 30 Sep:
I had taken off from the salt flats 20km north of town as this gets me closer to the Gulf where the Glories are generally better.  That morning Geoff and I found a reasonable Glory over the Gulf.  I had a fly along it for about 30 mins.  It was my first taste of this rare and strange phenomenon, and quite an experience - but there was better to come.  Geoff had a better ride further out over the Gulf.  Photos taken.

Mon 1 Oct:
After this limited success Alan and Steve joined me on the salt flats for motoring out towards a Glory looming towards us in the dawn light. I motored out a fair way over the Gulf and managed about a 2 hour ride on this huge cloud.  The experience was sensational:  It was a huge rotating cloud that looked eerie, with cues to about 8500ft extending from the top.  When about 2km from it the liftband started.  Motor off (over water!) and soared to 6500ft.  The cloud over sea extended as far as I could see.  It was smooth out over land as far as I could see.  There were 3 other waves behind it.

After surfing it out to sea further and then inland a fair way, it started to break up and also I was approaching tiger country.  I had difficulty restarting the motor, but relievedly got it going (Bob we need elec start!!).  I arrived at the Burketown airstrip after 3.5 hours flying!  I aborted a landing due to extreme turbulence in 20kn+ winds.  Second landing ok.  Ken trusted me with his new video camera and I shot a fair bit of footage.

Tired and excited I shared the experience with the other pilots.  Steve also managed to fly back to the Burketown airstrip.  Alan outlanded and was back in town after lunch.  All pilots that managed to fly it were very happy indeed.

Tues 2 Oct:
Geoff and I rode another Glory.  I motored out to about 50km East from Burketown.  There were 4 clouds beautifully formed over the land as far as I could see.  I rode the primary back while it was visible for about 40 mins.  It dried up slowly after hitting land.  I surfed the cloud for another 30 mins back to Burketown, during which I lost the lift band once and ended up in some turbulence; presumably on the trailing edge of the dry Glory.  I once again landed at the Burketown airstrip, this time in almost nil wind just before the seebreeze front hit.

Wed 3 Oct:
A rarer Southerly Glory came through while Geoff and I were setting up our equipment at the Airstrip in the dark.  After the system passed through Geoff and I went for a fly in case the more common NE Glory also came through.  We flew until about 8am with no Glory in sight.  The sky was hazy.  While I was packing up I noticed the NE Glory approach - too late!

Same day at 23:50 a South-Easterly Glory came through.  The strong wind under the primary woke me up.  It's been a privilege to have experienced this.

Keep in touch.
Happy Frank.

From: Dieter Stuempfl <>
Subject: glory 2001
Date: Mon, 29 Oct 2001

This late Sept/early Oct, I got there later than my usual "convoy" of zhimangos (a.k.a. Super Grob's) due to delays in fitting the newly majored engine back into ZAK. We (Liz & I) met part of the usual suspects at Hervey Bay on their way back, where we were told that this year would be a waste of time due to smoke haze, lack of bats, no dew on beerglasses etc....

Since my motto has always been that the journey is the adventure and the 'glory is a bonus, we carried on up via Emerald, Longreach, Mt. Isa and Lawn Hill (yes, all of these where overnights, 'cause Liz can't handle the thermals, so our flying was restricted to the smooth morning hours only). That way I got to experience some of the towns that we normally only see from the perspective of the refuelling bowser. Delightful interludes included a great botanic garden at Emerald, astronomy at Charleville (the historic pub there is not bad either), Undara lava tubes and some of the architecture of Lighting Ridge.

But I digress....
I got the feeling that Burketown wasn't going to be too inviting this year, what with Paul and Amanda closing down Savannah Lodge and Escott  and the pub being booked out, so we decided to stay at Sweers for a couple of nights instead. As it turned out, this strategy paid off handsomely in terms of accessibility to the 'glory.

We flew up to Sweers from Lawn Hill early on Saturday 29.Sept., after a day at Lawn Hill Nat. Park and a night at the camping ground at Adels Grove (highly recommended by the way, the new owners couldn't do enough to make the stay a pleasant one). We even spotted a great big croc during the obligatory canoe paddle up the gorge (photographic evidence can be provided!), just a few hundred metres from where we had just had a nice cool swim! However, having observed the utter cowardice of freshies last year on the Nicholson River, I felt reasonably relaxed, perhaps foolishly so. Liz had none of these macho hangups and firmly announced that she would never ever accompany me again for a swim in those waters.

But I digress....
After a more than successful fishing trip at Sweers (we were invited to share a boat with a couple of real fishing nutters and their Baron pilot from the Isa), we retired to our cabin after a magnificent barbeque. About 4 a.m. I sensed more than heard this faint whisper through the windows, got up and went outside to feel the moisture of dew underfoot and a now distinct rustle through the sparse bush of the island. Looking up into the moonlit sky, I could make out this gigantic and unmistakable shadow in the distance. A few minutes later, the 'glory arrived overhead with a great gust of wind, felt like 20 knots. It was the first time I had witnessed a 'glory from the ground, truly impressive. I counted seven successively weaker clouds going by overhead over the next hour or so (Liz politely excused herself after about number three and went back to bed).

But I digress....
Following another day in the paradise that is Sweers Island (a picnic on the beach where we saw great numbers of giant turtles frolicking in the swell, not to mention a small shark cruising by), I was quietly optimistic about our chances to connect with a 'glory the next morning, 1.October. Sure enough, an exploratory look outside our cabin at about 6 a.m. confirmed some dew on the ground. Tex had kindly offered us the use of the ute to drive out to the strip, where the Grob awaited us close to daybreak. By the time I had finished loading and checking the glider, the first light revealed some undulations on the horizon which could only mean one thing: a great big beautiful 'glory!

After lift off into the east, all was revealed by the time we got to 500 feet: about 20 miles away this magic great cloud awaited us stretching from horizon to horizon. Since the cloud was travelling towards us at about 1 mile per 3 minutes (20 knots) and we were approaching it at 15 miles per 10 minutes (90 knots), it only took about 10 - 15 minutes before we were confronted by this immense wall of cloud towering above us. We shut the engine down after confirming that we were in fact climbing at about 600 feet per minute in front of that magnificent cloud. Liz who had never flown in anything smaller than a 747 before coming along on this trip couldn't get over the smoothness of the glide ahead of this 'glory. We climbed in front of it to about 6000 feet, which represented the tallest 'glory I had so far been on, previous encounters being to about 3500 to 4500 feet. 

Arriving at the top of the cloud, it is hard to describe the vista which awaits you as you leave the gloom in front of the cloud and see the sun, which is not long above the eastern horizon, illuminate the tops of the primary 'glory as well as the entire downstream side of the 'glory system. On this occassion, we could observe four clearly defined but consecutively smaller parallel roll clouds and another three less well defined but still recognisable parts of the same wave system.

Riding the 'glory is an excellent exercise in relative motion: your seemingly linear track in front of the cloud in fact desribes a great arc as the cloud itself travels over the Gulf at 20 knots or more. We travelled outbound some 40 miles past Mornington Island, then turned around and found that our track now was becoming more and more parallel with the coastline. Back near the mainland, we realised we were not alone! After hearing him on the radio for some time, we eventually observed a glider coming towards us, which turned out to be Geoff Pratt in a Monerai motorglider from Cairns who is an annual participant in the hunt for the 'glory.

We followed the 'glory over the coast near Burketown, when we could see evidence of it breaking up in the convection which had now started. After exploring a secondary and tertiary roll cloud with progressively lower climb rates, it was time to start the engine and set course for Normanton, our next stop.

When we called Ray at Sweers on the radio to thank them again for their hospitality and for a brief description of our ride that morning, he summed out our luck by asking: "do you think you've been struck on the arse by a rainbow?"  - enough said, I think.

Best regards,

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