On 14th December 1990 Marlborough Gliding Club member Ray Lynskey flying
his Nimbus 2 Golf Lima Alpha became the first glider pilot to acheive 2000km
non stop. In fifteen hours his marathon flight took him from Blenheim's
Woodbourne airport to his southern turn point of Lumsden (in Southland), then
north up the Southern Alps and onto the North Island to his most northerly
point near Wairoa in Hawke Bay. From there he returned to Blenheim after some
15 hours of flying covering a total of 2026 km. His average speed was 135km/hr
at heights of up to 28,500ft . As part of this epic journey he crossed the
notorious Cook Strait twice in one trip. Ray went on to become World Champion
at the 1995 Worlds held at Oamarama in southern part of the South Island.
competition is featured in the video Champions of the Wave.
This is Ray's account of this record breaking flight.
The soaring season had started well in the South Island, but November arrived
and surprised everyone with its low temperatures and frequent heavy rain. The
westerlies which followed in early December were very disturbed, ruling out
long flights but often providing excellent soaring conditions for relatively
On Saturday the 8th of December a moist north—westerly flow spread onto New
Zealand, giving heavy rain on the West Coast and hot dry Foehn conditions to
the east of the ranges. This heat wave lasted about 5 days, scorching eastern
plains while ironically rivers fed from the high country were in flood, closing
some roads. Rain spread east off the mountains at times with the passing of
each front, but dried out quickly.
On the evening of December 13 the forecast indicated that the wind had
generally backed further to the west, and appeared to be less disturbed by
fronts than had been the case previously during this weather system. An active
cold front was not due to move onto the South Island until later on Friday. It
looked a possibility for a 2000 kilometre attempt, so we raced around getting
rigged and making the usual preparations for an early start.
Up at 0430 on Friday morning, the wind was blowing at about 10-15 knots
north-west, and first light at Woodbourne showed 2/8 stratocumulus on the tops
and some scruffy roll cloud in the Waihopai Valley, but no high cloud or
lenticulars. It was worth a go.
We were airborne at 0600; Jamie Halstead seeing me off and John Sinclair towing
in the old Cessna 172. We really appreciated the length of Woodbourne’s runway
as the Cessna worked at getting the heavy Nimbus into the air.
Releasing overhead the field at 3000 feet, I headed directly for the ridges to
the south, following a vaguely marked wave which allowed a slight climb. I was
then able to climb slowly in ridge lift and turbulent wave—induced thermals to
4000 before moving across to the western end of Blarich and climbing to 6000.
Normally from here the choice is to drop downwind into the Awatere wave or
follow the ridges further west, but the best option appeared to be to head
straight north-west to the roll cloud in the Waihopai and hope to get there
high enough to contact the wave. I actually reached the rough lower part of the
wave at 4000, and thermalled back to 6000, straightened up into wind and
climbed rapidly, at up to 8 knots, until lift weakened markedly at FL 140.
Looking to the south, waves were marked by lines of cloud which were more like
stratus than roll cloud, but it looked reasonable. It took about an hour to get
established in the wave.
The wave clouds were aligned more to the west than north-west, and did not
parallel the upwind ridges. I flew south just west of the Awatere, descending
to 10000 before climbing to FL 150 over the Acheron River. Continuing on, I
hoped that conditions would be stronger to the south, allowing a higher average
My track took me east of Hamner and out over the Culverden Basin, remaining
between FL 120 and FL 170, but it was not possible to cruise fast in steady
lift for very long. Alas I was forced to stop and climb frequently.
Entering Lees Valley heading up slowly through FL 165 above all the cloud
except some cirrus. Suddenly I flew into violent clear air turbulence. This
unnerving and very unpleasant air took me by surprise and for a few minutes the
cockpit was a mess with all sorts of things flying around. I immediately slowed
down but it was impossible to hold any set speed - it was fluctuating between
about 40 and 90 knots. This "rolling" turbulence made it difficult to
descend, and in fact I was climbing. 1 guessed that it was the shear between 2
different wind velocities or interference between a higher and a lower wave
system. Whatever it was, I just wanted to get the hell out of it. Back down at
FL 150 it was smooth again.
I followed small wisps in the lee of Torlesse and Hutt, and climbed in quite
strong lift to FL 210 at Mt Somers. This bit was good and it looked like an
easy glide to an obviously active roll cloud in the north Fairlie Basin. I
misjudged this and ended up using weak lift at 11000 behind the Ben McLeod
Range to avoid getting stuck. This slow climb was frustrating, but I needed it,
and as soon as possible left it for the growing roll cloud further south. It
looked great, and as I sped off towards it I expected to pull up into at least
10 knots. But no Nothing. Another small wisp forming further upwind. Off again,
flat out. This time yes!
Reducing speed in anticipation I flew just over the top of the developing
cloud....and again nothing except less sink. Yet another wisp upwind and other
small clouds drifting in a line off the top of the Two Thumbs. I was baffled.
Ok no more heading upwind I tracked south at about FL 130, trying to pick out
the wave by carefully observing the scattered wisps. Eventually I stumbled into
a reasonably good climb near Burke’s Pass, which took me to FL 170. From here
it was straight for a flattish cloud in the middle of the McKenzie Basin which
was weak but allowed me to maintain height past Simons Pass.
Looking ahead things were pretty broken and mixed up so the best option,
something I would have preferred to avoid, was to take the gamble that the
scruffy looking Ben Ohau wave was working.
If the sink was any indication, it should be booming. Down to 7500 west of
Twizel, the cloud looked very rough but there was a short straight shadow on
the ground from the cloud’s leading edge. It took a few minutes in very
turbulent air to climb in the strong gusts to cloud base and then settle down
in a steady 8—9 knots. About time too. By FL180 iIt had reduced to about 3
knots 50 I headed to the next well—marked wave west of Omarama where another
good climb allowed me to fly over the top of the extensive cloud upwind to
Merivale, and on to FL 200 in the excellent Pisa wave.
A Queenstown weather report passed on by Christchurch Control earlier said that
the rain had stopped and the sky was clearing. Luckily for me it was not
completely clouded in further south. It looked even better from FL 250 in the
As usual, the wind velocity in the south was markedly higher, and it took 10000
feet to penetrate the sink to cross the next lot of cloud to an edge west of
Kingston. Lift here was much weaker, not quite strong enough to maintain height
at the airspeeds necessary to make any progress.
My turn point at Five Rivers Garage was under cloud so I pushed on further
southwest until it was visible through a gap for the photos- I did not want to
descend and risk spending time trying to climb up again, it was already 1200. 6
hours and 650 kilometres so far. The trip back up the island better be faster.
Once northbound, I reduced speed to 70 knots, making good progress with the
tailwind component and climbing slowly. Near Kingston lift improved to 5 knots
and I climbed back to FL 160 before diving downwind over the cloudmass to the
Nevis wave. This took me to FL 180. From there it was simple to run along the
leading edge, go downwind into the Pisa wave, climb to FL 200 and on to the
cloud west of Omarama. This was still working, but not as well as earlier.
I lost a lot of height getting back into the wave at the southern end of the
Ben Ohau's. Further north the cloudmass and rain had spread out across the
McKenzie, so I stopped for a top up climb to FL 170 before heading for a flat
looking line of cloud at Tekapo. This marked a weak wave leading over the
Tekapo skifield, but what I really wanted was stronger lift to fly faster.
With things looking poor ahead to the north, I flew east to what was now a good
wave in the lee of the Two Thumbs. FL 160 here allowed me to continue
north—east following wisps to the Mt Hutt wave. By now the waves were clearly
marked to the north, but not strong enough to climb high, but at least it was
warm and pleasant cruising along between FL 120 and 150.
As I went further, conditions began to deteriorate and the sky appeared to be
just a jumbled mass of wind-blown cumulus. Wave became difficult to find but I
kept going, thinking that the more defined clouds in the Clarence valley would
work. I was down to 8000 before finding worthwhile lift, but once above the
clouds again the lift went up to 8 knots. I stayed in this lift until reaching
FL 200, then flew slowly on, maintaining height.
At this stage in the flight, approaching Lake Grassmere at the northern eastern
most point of the South Island, I was trying to ascertain what conditions were
like in the North Island.
The time was 1500; it had taken 3 hours to return to the Blenheim area. A
little less than 6.5 hours of daylight left, over 700 kilometres and 2 Cook
Strait crossings to go. Hmmm.
The haze made it difficult to gauge conditions. Most of the North Island
appeared to be covered by an extensive cloudmass; the only clear areas being
the southern coast and a gap in the eastern Wairarapa, which with a large dose
of optimism took on the appearance of a roll cloud. A pilot report relayed by
Wellington Control said that Napier was clear.
To me it looked terrible, but the flight was not impossible to complete at that
stage. I still had time, enough oxygen, was not cold, and generally it had been
going quite well up to now. There were no high lenticulars in the Wairarapa,
normal a necessity to cross back to the South Island, so unless something
developed the chances of finishing were remote. It certainly did not look
inviting, but having completed the southern leg I decided to continue regardless,
even if it meant gliding across Cook Strait and landing at Masterton. There was
still a chance.
Advising Wellington Control that I intended to carry on, I set off across Cook
Strait for Wairarapa. As I approached the coast it became clear just how much
cloud there was. Right across the divide and out toward the east coast.
Fortunately the gap over Martinborough was quite wide and looked more like wave
cloud now. I crossed the coast at FL 120 and soon found weak lift, enough to
maintain height at 60-70 knots. Approaching Masterton I decided that it would
be better to penetrate upwind to where
a more developed cloud seemed to be working. This wave, the primary, was good
for FL 140, so I continued cautiously northward, toward what looked like total
overcast, the plan being to turn back to Masterton when it became obvious that
it was not sensible to continue.
It was interesting that in places gently undulating stratos had formed above
the bubbly-looking cloud below. This marked weak but reliable lift. At the
bottoms of the layer the cloud was quite thin and had some small gaps, the main
problem being that the ground was under heavy shadow and was quite dark, making
it difficult to locate features. In the lee of the Manawatu Gorge there was an
area with no gaps tempting me to turn back for Masterton. I decided to keep
going another couple of miles to a more lenticular-shaped cloud. Luckily it
worked, up to 3—4 knots. Stopping for a while to climb to FL 150, I could soon
see that there were better gaps further on, within easy gliding range. In fact
it looked much better, about 7/8 cover, Out to the east it was clear so I
continued on between FL 130 and 160, finding lift up to 4—5 knots. This was
encouraging, and I hoped that the cloud would tend to clear rather than fill in
Soon the cities of Hastings and Napier came into view to the east, and cloud
cover reduced to 4/8. Lift was 3—4 knots at best, but reasonably steady and
well marked. Wind speed was now much lower, still with some tailwind component
going north. The sun was getting lower, and the cloud shadow spread further
I had never seen the Willow Flat Bridge turn point before and hoped I could
find it. Lake Waikaremoana came into view in the distance to the north and
Wairoa was just to the east. I was sure that the winding river amongst the
undulating countryside below was the Mohaka, so followed it until I spotted the
bridge. It stood out clearly in the sun. Great. Turnpoint two. Took the photos
from FL 130.
Right. Time was now 1720. 4 hours daylight remaining — it was actually still
possible except for small things like the weather and Cook Strait.
Losing 2000 feet, I pushed back to the wave used earlier, and followed a
similar track southbound. The cloud was definitely increasing. Soon it became
very slow going, although the lift was still there. When I reached the
Norsewood it was obviously totally closed in to the south, but I was in 4—5
knots lift —the best for some time. There were 2 wide wave clouds with small
gaps between them to the east, and beyond that it clear.
And what was most intriguing was that even further downwind to the east a long
thin high lenticular-shaped cloud had developed. Earlier it had appeared to be
only a thin cirrus line, however now it took on the right shape. Contemplating
this cloud for a few minutes the choices were clear: return north to land at
Hastings or take the chance on this lenticular and if it didn’t work, well
Waipukurau was not far away.
Turning south—east, I stopped briefly in the 2 waves to top up to FL 160, and
then kept going. The lennie was right over the east coast, and closer I got the
better it looked. Sure enough just like magic. Smooth and 6—8 knots up. I could
barely believe it.
Maintaining a south—westerly heading at 55 knots, I climbed in front of the
best looking part to FL 2S5. Further south it was not so well defined, but I
was descending only very slowly at 80 knots. The only part of the North Island
that I could see was the east coast. The rest was covered by a great glaring
white mass of cloud. It took time to progress south and I was very uneasy about
the lower cloud spreading further east. My intentions were to follow the lennie
all the way south, and then push upwind to Lake Wairarapa to see if there was
any possibility of making a return Strait crossing, but I really wanted to know
if Masterton was clear enough to safely reach.
Nothing changed for some time apart from getting very cold, but passing Castle
Point I was reassured to see that the southern Wairarapa had only 4/8 cover,
and Masterton was no problem. With a good safe diversion available , all
concentration was focused on how to "cross the ditch"
Over Lake Onoke there was a vague roll cloud/lenticular. It appeared to be
"blurred" around the edges. I would head for that. There weren’t many
Before leaving the lenticular I climbed slowly back to FL 280. I could not yet
see the South Island apart from the Seaward Kaikouras way off in the distance,
due to the haze and low sun in the west. Time was almost 2000.
After the push into wind I flew just south of the wave cloud and at FL 190
found lift, 3—4 knots initially, where I stayed until it was less than one knot
at FL 215. I was now becoming a little optimistic because the upper wind was
not too strong, although it was around to the west, and I did not anticipate
the heavy sink associated with an upper wave system. There were also clouds out
in Cook Strait which could possibly help. I had made 6 double crossings
previously and thought that FL 215 should be enough to get home, but without my
normal safety margin. To allow the abandon decision to be left until much later
I requested that I be able to use the commercial airport at Wellington as an
alternate rather than returning to the Wairarapa. Not you usual glider landing
spot. Within a few seconds this was approved and I was on the way.
To the left I could see Lake Grassmere shining in the sun, and ahead part of
Arapawa Island, but still could not pick out the southern coastline. The glide
went well for a while but soon the sink was on the stops down. I passed about 3
miles south of Karori Rock at FL 150, watching the altimeter unwind at an
alarming rate, and heading for the south side of a line of cloud slightly lower
than I was and aligned west—east. It appeared to be caused by some convergence
effect rather than wave, but would it help? Yes!!!! Remarkably, heavy sink
turned to zero sink and I could even climb a little at 65 knots. This continued
for some miles and did make the glide look better. I was reasonably happy with
how it looked at mid—straits, even with the headwind and more sink expected.
But the fact remained that I HAD to reach one coast or other, and Wellington
was getting further away. Very soon I would be committed to continuing on to
the South Island.
The whole southern coast was now quite clear, and the surface of the sea showed
a moderate northerly at low level.
A final glide to the south coast remained a reasonable prospect and I made the
Tracking directly for the White Bluffs east of Blenheim I could see several
scruffy westerly roll clouds straight ahead and they worked advertised: quite
strong sink and rough but useable lift. I stayed between 5—6000 until there was
only 3 miles to go then flew at 130 knots toward the northern faces of the
Bluffs. Reaching them at 3000 feet I could then slow down to maintain height
before pushing into wind and onto the Wither Hills and home.
Finally it was a very short, very comfortable final glide to Woodbourne and in
a couple of minutes I had made a finish and landed. The time was 2100; 20
minutes daylight left. Done!
John and Jamie were waiting, and quite a number of Marlborough Gliding Club
people arrived within minutes, knocking the tops off bottles. The party was
about to begin.
With the completion of this flight, it is a most appropriate time to thank all
those who helped during this and previous attempts, and a special thanks to the
Wellington and Christchurch air traffic controllers.
Brief details of the flight:
Distance: 2026 Kilometres.
Time taken: 15 hours.
Average speed: 135 kph.
Glider: Nimbus 2B.
Date: 14 December 1990.