Stuffup, gale and fence and sheep.

Published by: Bryan Tuffnell on 3rd Mar 2017 | View all blogs by Bryan Tuffnell

Take three university students, one car, a bunch of toys, a bad idea, and what do you have? It could be the Cadbury Moro Lake Ohau Spectacular in 1987! One of those weird triathlon thingies that had been fermenting, possibly along with other substances, in the mind of some twisted individual with capitalistic intentions and a morbid sense of humour. Run up the Ohau Skifield, ski down to the carpark, fly (hang glide) to Lake Ohau, windsurf up the lake to the pub, scull a pint. For three engineering students it actually sounded like a good idea! Lets take a week - no, fortnight! - off studying, load up John's 53 Austin 8 with skis, climbing gear, flying gear, windsurfing gear, and beer, and chase those Ohau babes!! Yeah!! And I have this idea for a secret weapon for the race!! It so happens that Bruce Parlane, a skydiving mate of mine who makes parachutes for a living, has built something called a parapente or a paraglider or something.  It has fairly miserable performance apparently - goes down faster than Xaviera Hollander after twenty dollars - but for this race, by crikee, you want to fly something that sinks out of the sky like a polished brick. Besides, it'd be a great new toy to play with.

So John, Deano and I roll into Ohau, coughing and wheezing (John's car leaked black exhaust smoke into the cab) and laid siege on the local establishment. We set up camp on the Ohau airstrip - an imperial mile-long grass strip separated from the highway by a few grazing paddocks. With sheep in them. We cooked on an open fire. Climbed crags. Windsurfed on the bitter glacial waters of the lake. Skied. Flew down to the airstrip at the end of the day, and ran back up for the car. Spent time in the bar, worked on the car exhaust, played the guitar and drank ourselves to sleep late under a blanket of stars. Bars, cars, guitars and stars - I was a true ars man. By golly, life was good. We were unlovable boors, not so much irresponsible as young kiwi blokes with no responsibilities. And then the winds came.

And then the winds came.  It blew an alpine nor'west gale for a day, two days. We couldn't ski, fly, windsurf or climb. It blew a gale. It blew a riot. It blew a revolution. It blew from hell, and it blew the pale eggs of the beast.  etc. etc.

What could we do?  No sports, no girls to chase, beer isn't cheap, and I'm bored...

So here's our heroes, stuck in Ohau, camped out for days in the great nor'wester that blew storm force gales in the lead-up to the Great Cadbury Moro Ohau Spectacular. Frustration is brewing - we were renaissance men who liked our women hot, beer cold and steak rare - in our dreams, at least - and there was nothing to do.  Or was there?

Gottit you guys.  The paraglider... we could tether it to a tree or the back of the car or something... maybe tie it on with twelve feet or so of climbing rope... take turns at having a go in the harness, letting it fly kite-style... in this wind it should easily lift someone of the ground - waddya reckon?

Hey, good call... what can possibly go wrong? Hold my beer while I look for something to tie it to. How about that tree?

Nah, too many branches... the rope might snag... what about that corner fence post... that big one in the corner of the airstrip that keeps the sheep out?  Its pretty solid, and its braced by all that number 8 fencing wire running the length of the strip... should do the trick...

So, we tossed a coin. Deano won. He's a lucky tyke. Trust him to get first dibs.  So Deano gets into the paraglider harness, and John and I struggle to get the glider itself out of the bag and laid flat on the ground as the wind raged. No mean feat in that blast. The rope is connected between the corner fencepost and the paraglider harness, with Deano on board.

On the count of three, John and I fling the flapping canopy into the hurricane, the wind catches it and it snaps into life.  It rapidly plucks Deano off the ground, and flies overhead.  At this point several things occur to us: the wind is CONSIDERABLY more forceful than we had really imagined and was putting a huge strain on the glider, harness and rope; also that now that Deano was 3 metres up in the air we had not really considered how we might bring him down (30 square metres of sail in cyclone-force winds make quite a tow); it might not have been as good an idea as it seemed in the pub; and the whole ensemble, instead of flying "behind" the fencepost at an angle to the ground, is in fact nearly vertically over the fencepost... for a few seconds anyway... Then, the earth around us shuddered, a low moan joined the keening wind, 3 startled faces turned earthwards as, gently at first, but with increasing ease, like a Ducati pulling away from a green light, the fencepost pulls free.  Then Twang!Twang!Twang!Twang!Twang!  All the lighter fenceposts are uplifted by the viagra-like force of the gale, acting via the paraglider, a rapidly deteriorating harness and its now concerned human contents, the 11 mm climbing rope (Hey! Thats MY rope!!!) and a half-dozen strings of that famous number 8 fencing wire, until finally a mile of fence splits the Ohau skyline, anchored finally by the distant corner post at one end and a bright orange sail at the other, and OHNOWADDAWEGONNADONOW??????  Deano is hundreds of feet above the Earth, with a paraglider above him and a fence between his knees and the planet he loves. The paraglider harness is not coping with the strain; and if the final fencepost fails, he's going to be blown downwind over those wires with zillions of volts on them that run between them pylons there. Crap!

$#@$^%^&$$%in' GET ME DOWN!!!!!!  We can't hear the words, but the Deano's message is unmistakable. Oh good grief, Deano is trying to get out of the harness and climb down the fence before the harness rips - well, we can't help that but John, we gotta DO something!!!  We gotta tie that last fencepost to something, ‘cos if that goes Deano is dead meat!!!

So the rescue team swings into action, leaps into the car to try charging the low end of fence. The idea is that maybe we can drive 'up' the fence, pulling it down to the ground with the weight of the car.

Well, that startled the sheep in the paddock behind, and in fright they ran towards the low, tethered end of the fence. Sure enough, one of them (Britney Shears) is soon hopelessly tangled in fence wire. As is John's car.

So John and I are now out of ideas. There's still a gale blowing, a mile of fence in the air tied to a paraglider at one end, with a sheep and a car tangled in the other end, and an intrepid adventurer climbing down the fenceposts. Anyone with a trace of decency would have been deeply concerned about Dean and the sheep. Fortunately John and I didn't have any traces of decency so we watched.

Well, fortunately for us in general and Deano in particular, after a while the wind mercifully dropped and allows Deano, arms wrapped around a fencepost, to reach Mother Earth alive. However, Mother Earth organised it that the sheep, still stuck in the fence, got to experience flight in a couple of the more violent gusts, and apparently Britney didn't enjoy her little flights. She fell free from the fence just as Deano decided 'I can jump from here.'

Maybe it was seeing our mate survive, maybe it was the sheep's brief flight, maybe it was the fence still arcing into the sky beneath the paraglider, maybe it was Deano landing on the sheep. Maybe it was the whole situation, but John and I lose ourselves ingreat gales of hysterical laughter. The three of us were rolling around on the ground, holding our guts, tears streaming down our faces, out of control with laughing so hard. It took ages before we regained enough control to beat a retreat to the bar to drown a mighty thirst, swallow a little humble pie and generally hang one on. Boys, eh?

Post script:  On race day, the wind was so strong that only three of us got on the water to start the windsurfing section. Deano was rescued by boat an hour after starting that section, I went backwards so far that it became a major effort to get back to the car, and John managed to get to the bar by a combination of windsurfing and running.  

Deano bought the pattern for the paraglider from Bruce and founded Pacific Paragliders. John is recovering from a scuba diving accident. I grew up and am now a relaxed, responsible trike pilot. Mostly. So there.




  • Kurt Crandell
    by Kurt Crandell 1 year ago
    Bryan.... I loved the story!!! I had tears running down my face too. I was feeling a little guilty for laughing since I was not sure your friend Deano would live though it all. (I told myself he must have lived or you would not be telling the story). Gotta love looking back on the stupid things we did back when.
  • white eagle
    by white eagle 1 year ago
    Oh my
  • Glade Montgomery
    by Glade Montgomery 1 year ago
    What a great story, and what a great telling of it. I just love the picture in my mind's eye of Deano flying at the tail of all that fencing pulled into the air. Thanks Bryan.

    Did you guys get charged with having to pay for destruction of property?
  • Bryan Tuffnell
    by Bryan Tuffnell 1 year ago
    Glade, to my great shame we 'did a runner' at the time. It was privately owned, and there was a (now all but gone) unwritten law that allowed individuals access to farmland on a 'no impact' basis. Clearly we violated that understanding. After a year or so our consciences got the better of us and we duly found the landowner and confessed. He was gracious and there were no consequences.

    I wish we'd measured the length of uprooted fence. It remains my best story and is part of NZ's free flying history now. At the time I was afraid that I was laughing so hard that I might be doing some damage. I was having trouble breathing and had severe stomach pains but none of us could stop laughing.
  • white eagle
    by white eagle 1 year ago
    Bryan. You mean thats a true story .wow the things we survive when we were younger. The worst i ever did was blow some ranch kid 30 feet into the air holding down a 8man rubber life raft down on my hang glider rack trying to get to some lake after the ropes broke. They told me in austrailia you nz were an odd lot!
  • Joe Hockman
    by Joe Hockman 1 year ago
    Gee Bryan that was a great story and you seem to have the knack for telling it in such a way that it draws in the reader and captures their imagination. Poor Ole Britney Shears, what a predicament but she got a taste of flight. I'm sure she was bragging about that to her flock mates with a sheepish grin. Amazing that after such a traumatic experience Dean would go on to buy the pattern for that sail and start a paragliding company. Thanks for sharing your story.
  • Rizwan Bukhari
    by Rizwan Bukhari 1 year ago
    Bryan, I just read this story, loved your writing style and enjoyed the story. Thanks for sharing.
  • Bryan Tuffnell
    by Bryan Tuffnell 1 year ago
    Thanks for the kind comments, everyone. WE, your story is just as bad! ;-) Everyone has a few good tales from their past...
  • Noel Clifford
    by Noel Clifford 1 year ago
    Hey Bryan,

    Great story, well told. I am guessing Britney has probably had the most successful career of you all???
  • Bryan Tuffnell
    by Bryan Tuffnell 1 year ago
    Ha - mention a sheep and it doesn't take long before the Aussies arrive. ;-)

    Thanks Noel. Yep, Dean founded Pacific Paragliders and I started Aero Dynamics. After such auspicious beginnings, the smart money would be on Britney having more satisfied customers than either of us!
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