Day 2 - Grounded in Dubbo YSDU
You don't win 'em all.
We got out of Sydney a day early to try to beat the lousy weather, and we were smart enough to get past Bathurst and off the Dividing Range. We overnighted in Dubbo, and when we got up this morning, Dubbo had a cloud deck at 2800 MSL (and the field is at 935 MSL). So less than 2000 feet of clearance, when I have to remain 1000 feet over structures and 500 feet below the clouds. Our next leg was a 170 nm jaunt to a town called Bourke YBKE and then another 160 NM in a straight on line to Thargomindah YTGM.
We headed out to the airport to have a look.
The clouds were still low and very fast. It looked like unbroken cloud deck between 2000 and 3000 feet as far as we could see. Unfortunately YBKE and YTGM don't report cloud heights in their automated weather systems, but the main AirServices NAIPS forecast called for clouds at 3000 MSL at YBKE and scattered at 4500 at YTGM. We thought about it quite a bit while hanging around the tiny airport terminal, playing cards and generally shooting the shit.
I finally decided that I'm not a very high time pilot, and that I don't consider it safe for me to undertake a 300 nm trip under a 2000-2500ft AGL cloud layer, especially with winds above 15 kts (which they were). There wasn't much turbulence, and there isn't much sticking up between here and there, but...I was just too on the line about it, and I couldn't help thinking about all those bad stories which started 'Well, we really wanted to get there, so we..."
Of course, as soon as we made the call after hanging around the airport for 4 hours or so and headed back to town, it started to clear up. In the US, that might mean I'd consider going, but here I'm not allowed to fly after sundown (last light, really). That's at 6:08 pm local. That meant we might have made it to YTGM, but the forecast for YBKE showed the cloud deck dropping from 3500 to 3000 by 6pm, and I had no additional data on clouds past that point.
This does put us behind the tour. They made it to YTGM today, because they were coming from the southwest, behind the weather. Tomorrow, they're going to Longreach YLRE - and they'll have 275nm to fly. From here, we'll have 570 or so. But if the wind has died down, SDN can make an easy 135 knots, and we're planning to be wheels-up by 8am. That means if we're lucky, we'll get into YLRE only a couple hours after they do, maybe less since they have slower airplanes. Worst case - so long as we make it there sometime tomorrow - we lose out on an afternoon of touristy stuff in Longreach. Unfortunately, the Qantas museum is there, and they have a 707 and 747 done up in Qantas livery for tours, not to mention a couple of older airplanes - and I'd like to see those. Still, managing to join up with the tour will be a win.
So. This is flying VFR! The weather, it matters. While I wish it had cleared up early today or last night, I am firmly fine with my decision not to proceed.
We went back to town, got rooms, and immediately went to drown our sorrows in hot, fresh Donut King cinnamon donuts. These things are turning into a trip meme. They are so very damn good; Dunkin Donuts can suck it. I want my donut made in front of me from cake batter and dusted with cinnamon sugar. Thank whatever these don't exist in New York or my diet would be doomed. DOOMED.
We toured the Old Dubbo Gaol - the first regional prison, built as a lockup around 1847. It was in use until 1966, and has been turned into a nice little museum. It had one of Australia's few gallows, and the stories of the eight men hanged there are told. A fine way to spend an hour or so.
Tonight - quiet evening, a bit of writing, let my unhappy left foot recover a bit - it's swelling up fairly significantly during the days. I suspect my shoe. Bleah.