Pilots Blog – Helium Balloon World Record Journey

19 / 06 / 2007

The flight has a zero carbon footprint, the most basic form of flight. The helium is an inert natural gas and the ballast, or fuel, is sand which will be thrown out of the balloon to regulate height. David will be taking two tons of sand which will be mixed with salt so the water content in the sand doesn’t freeze.

David said, “The beauty of this flight is that it will be going purely at the mercy of the winds. It will be one of my quietest flights because there will be no burners.”

29 / 06 / 2007

Final Preparations

1400 UK Time
Ive packed my bags at the last minute which means I always forget my boxer shorts and toothbrush. I’m also waiting for my delivery of ginger nuts and pork scratchings. I’m ploughing through hundreds of emails from well wishers. Not many people realise I actually do work as a businessman so I have also got to clear my desk. I am very much not a full time adventurer. I’m going through the final check list and hope that I can stuff everything in my bags. As always, I’ll be overweight. In a few hours I’ll be on my way to Heathrow with Nigel Mitchell, the logistics director and my sidekick.

I said goodbye to my girls over breakfast and their last words were, ‘Dont forget my pocket money!’ Ive now got no cash left. Right now, the balloon designer, Bert Padelt, is driving up to St John’s, Newfoundland, with the balloon basket and equipment on a trailer. Clive Bailey, the flight director, is busy making sure the control room at Toshiba in Weybridge, Surrey, is ready. Kevin Stass, Air Traffic Control Co-ordinator, is making last minute preparations so I don’t collide with a low flying jumbo jet. Luc Trullemans, meteorologist, is checking the weather data. It looks like we may have a small possibility of a launch (10% chance) on the 1st and 2nd of July. Two problems: firstly, there may be high winds on take off so it will be hard to fill the balloon, secondly, I would need an altitude of about 9000 ft straight after launch which is not possible on day one with this balloon. We could get to this altitude but the sacrifices would be sand and duration. It is still far too early to know whether we will be able to launch. I will update tomorrow and once the balloon is in the air I will update on an hourly basis. The site will also have a roving map and hourly weather updates from Luc. It might be windy in St Johns, but at least Ill avoid the rain in England.

30 / 06 / 2007

One Way Ticket

UK 1300 hours I’ve now arrived in St John’s Newfoundland though immigration officials couldn’t understand why I only wanted a one way ticket. They took me to a cubicle and gave me a grilling. I tried to explain to them what I was trying to do but they didn’t get it. In the end I suggested they look at the Toshiba Challenge website and after that they were very charming to me and wished me all the best. It can’t be every day someone claims to be flying a balloon back home across the Atlantic! The journey was not without its problems. First, there was heightened security at Heathrow and then I found the five hour flight claustrophobic. I’ve got a sore shoulder due to a muscle injury so am on painkillers to keep the pain at bay. Should be fun in a balloon basket! As the plane approached St John’s there was thick fog and at one stage they didn’t think they could land. The good news is Bert and the balloon have arrived in town so we will be meeting up later today. The helium is on its way, due to arrive in the morning. The chances of launching have now increased to 20 % possibility for July 2. The surface wind is forecast to be slower which is good for a launch. However, it’s a northerly track which would take me in the direction of Iceland and Greenland. The one advantage is that there would be more daylight, but the disadvantages include the fact the sea will be a lot colder and it will be more remote.

At this stage, we’re looking at all possibilities. Here in St.John’s it is chilly chops, only eight degrees. There is low cloud and it’s very grey, not like summer at all, but it wasn’t very summery when I left England with all that rain and the flooding. As a pilot, I’m now not drinking any alcohol which is ironic as St John’s has the highest number of pubs per square mile in North America. It might help me lose some weight after all the ribbing I’ve had for not shedding the two stone in preparation for this trip. We’re staying in a central hotel where the management gave me a warm welcome and a welcome present of a picture of St.John’s in the summer. Today, we’ll be doing some last-minute shopping for food and drinks. We’ve got to get batteries, fill the sand bags, and check all the equipment. It’s going to be a full on day. But at least I made it here and the balloon is in town!

30 / 06 / 2007

Bert and the balloon

UK 2100 hours
It’s been a busy first day here in St. John’s Newfoundland. I met Bert with the balloon and we’ve been filling up sandbags all day. I counted up to forty and then stopped. We’ve checked the radios and they seem to be working well. Bert is putting all the equipment in the basket – and I think I’ll just be able to squeeze in. Nigel Mitchell, my logistics director, has been running around the local shops buying soup, drinks and food for the journey. I told him I was on a diet so fingers crossed I’ll lose a few pounds on the trip. I’m now feeling tired and am planning an early night. It’s blue skies here which, at least, must be better than torrential rains in Britain.

01 / 07 / 2007

Is David Hempleman-Adams a Polar Bear?

Last night, I received the latest weather information from Luc Trullemans. He said the surface winds were increasing to 12-16 knots which is too high for a launch. Also, the upper winds were breaking down and going up towards Iceland. However, the weather tracks look better for July 3 with a 25 % chance of a launch. That’s the highest percentatge possibility so far! We’ve had blue skies here. Sunset is at 9.30ish and sunrise 4.30am which would be great for flying as there is little darkness. In other words, it would be dark at 11pm and then light at 3am at altitude which isn’t so bad. Bert was busy all of yesterday stowing the kit into the basket: batteries, gps, radios, transponder, sat phones.

We checked out the Argos tracking system which will give a position back to the control room in Weybridge. This is a French system and they use these tracking devices for Polar Bears etc. When we phoned up Toulouse to see if they had got my position they asked me if Hempleman-Adams was a Polar Bear or shark! Nigel went on his shopping trip and came back with lots of tea bags, milk and soup. This looks like being the new David Hempleman-Adams liquid diet! I’ve only got to lose two stone in two days. That would make Bert very happy. Talking of liquid, St John’s is a hard place to come as a pilot when I’m no longer drinking alcohol. Everywhere I turn there is a pub and the lure of a drink. However, I’m a big boy, and it will be good to wake up with a clear head, clear blue skies and a good weather forecast.

01 / 07 / 2007

Where’s my helium?

The team went out for dinner last night for the first time and there was lots of tasty seafood on the menu. Given my need to diet I ate a small portion and didn’t have a dessert. I stuck to water and was a very good boy, first off to bed. I’ve now lost 1 lb in weight. This is better than nothing, and if I continue to lose 1 lb a day and am here for a few weeks I’ll reach my target weight. The meal in St.John’s was interrupted by a call from the driver of the truck transporting the helium.

He said he couldn’t drive the truck into the launch field due to overhanging trees! The guys around the table came up with a few options: we can try to find a tree surgeon in town at short notice, attempt to get hold of a longer helium hose or choose our alternative site. There’s nothing like an unexpected challenge. With any adventure like this you have to be open-minded and deal with things as they arise. I’ve learned from other trips that you can’t have set times because it’s so dependent on equipment and the weather. Talking of the weather, everyone in St.John’s has got an opinion on Climate Change. A local taxi driver (and we know taxi drivers are always right) said that because the Arctic is melting faster, the ice is coming down past St.John’s earlier. This is having a big impact on the weather, making it more changeable. Although I now have a possible launch date of July 3 I know from experience I can’t get too excited as the weather can change very quickly. It’s far better that I take off with certainty on the first day and that the weather doesn’t change halfway across the Atlantic. I may have the best safety equipment in the world but I’m not keen on landing in the freezing cold Atlantic in the dark. I know there’s a small weather window until July 4th – and then it’s too hard to predict. Hmmm.
Although I haven’t launched yet, I’ve been thinking about where I’d ideally like to land. Top of my list is Kew Green, near Kew Gardens, because I’d like to celebrate with a slap up meal for the team at Kew Grill, one of Anthony Worrall Thompson’s restaurants. I’ve eaten my best steak there. No doubt I’ll be dreaming of it when I’m on my liquid diet flying across the Atlantic!

01 / 07 / 2007

Canada Day

Today is Canada Day which means everything is closed. Poor Nigel has been running round like crazy trying to get last minute things. The boy done good and we’re pretty much sorted with all those batteries, fuses and flares. All the important things! We had a minor scare yesterday when one of the flight maps went missing over breakfast. Luckily, there is a strong police presence in the hotel. It’s not exactly the Secret Policeman’s Ball but it is a conference for retired motorbike policemen who go by the collective name of The Blue Knight Riders.

There are about 200 of these boys over 60 wandering around in their leathers with their motorbikes parked outside. I took the mickey out of Nigel all day for leaving the Very Important Flight Map on the breakfast table. He came up with a cunning plan to ask the organisers of the Blue Knight Riders Conference to see if any of the officers could sniff out the culprit. Well, would you believe it, but some geezer put his hand up and admitted he had it and immediately handed it in. Thank God for that. I stand a far better chance of ending up where I want to be with that map in the basket!

The weather forecast now looks like there is a 40 % chance of taking off on Monday night with a track heading towards England over Ireland. That would be good news. Luc Trullemans is the genius who will try to get me to Kew Green for that steak at the Kew Grill restaurant. However, we’re 24 hours away and anything can happen. At present, the weather forecast is for winds less than ten knots. I’d aim to get up to 5000 ft when I would hopefully get a great view of the icebergs out in the harbour at St John’s. However, I’ve learned not to get too excited until I get better confirmation.

The locals have been magnificent. A great guy called Nelson, in his seventies, came to the rescue over our Helium problem. He guided the truck driver into the field without any branches having to be cut off. I’m sure the tree conservationists will be pleased to hear that. The sand is all there and in my next posting I’ll tell you all about that. I’m planning to go to church later today as I always do before a balloon trip. It gives me a chance to take stock of the fabulous team and the huge challenge I face. Later there will be fireworks over the bay so I’m relieved I’m not taking off tonight or I might find a huge rocket up my backside.

02 / 07 / 2007

Bill & Jim The Sand Men

Bill and Jim, who drove to St John’s with Bert and the balloon kit, have done a great job filling sand bags. Each sand bag weighed 30 lbs and they filled about 40 in total. They had to find some silica sand which has no moisture in it and then they added salt. It you reach a freezing altitude level you don’t want water in the sand to freeze so instead of an ice cube you’ve got a sand cube.

They got all the sand from the local builder’s merchant who asked, ‘What do you want all this sand for?’ When they told him it was for my balloon trip across the Atlantic the guy laughed and shook his head. I must admit I do get some strange reactions from the locals. One guy at the hotel called me a ‘Crazy son of a bitch!’ I’m off to check the weather now and will let you know whether I stand a strong chance of launching in the early hours.

02 / 07 / 2007When will I fly?

The weather we got in last night meant it’s a 50 % chance of a launch in the early hours of tonight/tomorrow. It’s the coldest time – and the colder it is the more helium you can get into the gas cell. I’m slightly excited, but the problem with ballooning is you go through these incredible highs and lows. You get everything ready and, as we all know with the weather, it could change and we might have to scrap the launch.

Last night, the team went out to dinner at a restaurant called Vera’s. The locals have a tradition that you should either kiss a cod or kiss the bottom of a puffin so I’m expecting to be confronted with a wet cod today. Once again, I abstained from alcohol and ate a light meal of, yes, cod! I was the first off to bed at 10 pm. I can feel the pounds falling off me with this lack of alcohol. On the way back from the restaurant there was a great party atmosphere as everyone was celebrating Canada Day. There were parties in the streets and people were falling out of pubs. I was so determined to get an early night (as I might not be sleeping much when I’m in the balloon) that I even missed the fireworks! I’m now waiting for the latest weather update to see whether I’ll be leaving St John’s in a balloon soon.

02 / 07 / 2007

Countdown to launch?

I’ve checked the weather and it’s very likely we will be launching in the early hours of the morning around 1 am UK time. Of course, anything can happen between now and then! There are 3 things we still need to check: getting it launched, the track across and the landing. We’re confident with the track.

The local weather is causing a few problems, there is a high chance of rain this afternoon and we have to keep everything dry. At the moment the flight will slow going for the first couple of days but then I will be speeding up. I will be going south of the UK and then across towards France. However, I will still be trying to get to Kew Green! The winds are looking good and I’ll be getting my final weather information from Luc later on. I am now going back to the hotel to try and get a couple of hours sleep and do my last minute toilet duties!

02 / 07 / 2007

Ready to fly

The weather is looking good for a launch in just over an hour. We’ve had our last minute checks with Luc and we’re still expecting to get off at about 1 am UK time. I’ll be following the same track going south of the UK and it will take approximately four days to get to Europe. Luckily it didn’t rain this afternoon so everything is still dry. However, when I went back for a kip in the hotel I didn’t sleep an inch.

I’m apprehensive which is always a good thing. In about 40 minutes I’ll be getting into my bright orange immersion suit. I’ve got my prayer beads in my pocket which I always take on every trip. The flight director, Clive Bailey, and the Air Traffic Control Coordinator, Kevin Stass, are now based in the Toshiba HQ in Weybridge. We’ve checked and double-checked all the equipment. I’ve got the best team in the world and it’s now down to Lady Luck.

03 / 07 / 2007

A Successful Launch

At 00.00 GMT (01.00 UK Time) hours David launched the balloon after months of preparations. Nigel Mitchell, the logistics director, witnessed the event from the launch site at St. John’s. He said, “It all went extremely smoothly. All that preparation paid off. Bert, Bill and Jim did a fantastic job. We had Luc’s final weather in early evening. The local conditions were not great. There was a light mist – a cross between mist and drizzle, which made it a little damp. It meant that David was flying up into a milky misty murk. We phoned Air Traffic Control an hour before launch to confirm our plans and immediately before launch we phoned St John’s Tower to request final clearance which was granted. David was very calm and confident. He had spent some time in the basket before he launched going through everything and making final checks.

There was a great crowd with lots of kids. A little girl came up and gave him a Canadian penny for luck. The crowd cheered him on and off he went. Bert Padelt’s calculations were on the button and, at 53 bags, he was just floating. An extra bag off and he started to climb rapidly upwards into the mist. I’m now flying back tomorrow lunchtime and would very much like to be there to ensure David’s landing is as safe as possible. The track at the moment looks like it will get him over southern Britain and into central Europe. Bert did the balloon prayer just before we left. Bert said, “It went off real well and hopefully he’ll have a great flight. Before he left I recited the following prayer: May the winds welcome you with softness, May the sun welcome you with warm hands, May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter, And may you land gently and into the loving arms of Mother Earth. Bert added, “Everything was perfect on launch.

The winds were not an issue which had been a great concern of mine. The fact David launched so well it now allows him to take over and fly the balloon. I think he was relieved and anxious to get away. It was perfect according to my calculations. He went out with 53 bags. The balloon was designed to cut down as much weight as possible. He was aiming to go up to 5000 ft and then tomorrow he’ll slowly climb up to 6000 ft and then higher each day until, at the end of the flight, he can be up to 13,000 ft. The tracks show it will take about four and a half days, but hopefully it will be faster. I started building the balloon in March and it’s always an emotional moment when the pilot looks you in the eye before launch. There’s a long look, nothing is said, you cut the line and off he goes.”

03 / 07 / 2007What a Night

After a hectic few hours making sure everything was working I had a few minutes stood in the basket before inflation began. I mentally rehearsed the emergency drills should anything go wrong during take off. The thought of waving goodbye and then almost immediately entering cloud at night was leaving me cold with fear so the more familiar with the basket the happier I’d be. I climbed into the basket with my mind racing going over all the checks worried sick that I might forget something.

Just before I was ready to go up a young girl ran up and gave me a Canadian penny for good luck. Bert, the balloon designer, gave me the thumbs up and let go. I was on my way with a feeling of intense excitement and sheer terror. After what seemed like hours, but in reality was only a few minutes, I broke out of the top of the clouds into a hazy moonlight and started to relax (a bit). At 5000 ft the balloon levelled out and I talked to myself to calm the nerves. I made the first call to the lads at Toshiba headquarters in Weybridge on the sat phone.

The rule is that every hour I call the control centre, give my speed, height and track and they pass on any relevant information. Sitting above cloiud under the moonlight is eerily special when you know that there are several thousand miles to cover before the safety of land. In the middle of the night I heard the distinct sound of a diesel engine pounding underneath, a boat travelling somewhere, nearly a mile beneath. It did give me some confidence that if all went wrong then help would not be far away. It got rather chilly in the night but I’m in high spirits now as the temperature has picked up to about 16 degrees. The good news is I’ve travelled 238 km and am heading towards Europe. Fingers crossed I land near Kew!

03 / 07 / 2007Sat on a park bench

I’ve been going so slowly it feels like I’m sat on a park bench. It’s very frustrating as I’d really like to get going and pick up some speed. Anyway, I’ve been managing to cat nap a bit and put my legs out through the cat flap that Bert kindly designed for me. The inside of the basket is the size of most people’s coffee tables and I can’t stretch out at all. I’ve been getting by on pork scratchings and am about to brew up a cup of tea on my small camping stove. I have to be careful as I don’t want to start a fire in a basket flying over the Atlantic Ocean! However, I know I must drink a lot and it’s always nice to have a cuppa in a balloon.

Luc Trullemans, the genius meteorologist, has confirmed that the wind speed is low at all altitudes. He said that I’ve crossed a high pressure ridge where there wasn’t much wind. He’s also told me that the wind speed will increase later on when I will hopefully climb to about 10,000 ft. I’m currently flying at just 6,800 ft and still doing six knots which is the speed I’ve been going at for about three hours. It feels like I’m flying nowhere. The good news is that I’m going in the right direction and have covered 300 kms. I do have some fears: if the weather changes midway, if its gets icy or if I lose too much ballast trying to find the right track. I started out with 53 bags of sand and there are 39 remaining as expected at this stage. I don’t have any books for entertainment because of the weight issue so it’s just me singing and talking to myself!

03 / 07 / 2007

Balancing Act

This afternoon has been frustrating for me yet Clive in the control center is very upbeat. I am following some bad weather and do not want to catch it up. While it is very tempting to go against Luc’s advice and try to climb to gain some extra speed, this cost me dearly on a flight in America two years ago. We call Luc, our weather God, and that is what he is. If I varied from the instructions the control centre give me all hell would let loose so I just do as I am told and am currently cruising at 6,300 ft doing only 8 knots, but at least I’m on the right track.
So, how do you fly this thing? I always enjoyed playing with helium balloons at parties as do most kids. Here is a great party trick.

Armed with a toy helium balloon tied to a bit of string in the lounge, get a lump of bread that is too heavy for the balloon to lift and tie it to the end of the string. Bit by bit, pinch a piece of bread until the balloon is almost flying, then be careful to remove a bread crumb at a time until the balloon is in equilibrium. When the balloon is just floating, not going up or down, put your hands on the balloon to warm the helium up for a few minutes. The helium expands and the balloon will rise which is the effect the sun has on the balloon above my head at the moment. After a few minutes when the helium cools down the balloon will descend. That is the effect the night has, or flying under cloud. The effect of this is that during the day, the sun warms the balloon and I start climbing, exactly what Luc wants, and when night falls, I descend, which tonight is good because I need to remain slow to slip in behind the bad weather ahead.

The one thing I have is sand ballast which acts exactly the same way as removing the bread. The sand is like fuel and when the sand runs out that’s the end of the flight so I treat it like gold dust. If the guys in the control centre want me to climb 1000 ft, I chuck 5-6 pick ‘n’ mix scoops of sand out and slowly up I go. Tonight I will use about eight 15 kg bags of sand to keep me around 4,500 ft, about 1000 ft above the cloud below.

The only problem is, I will not be able to sleep because I will constantly be adjusting ballast to trim the height of the balloon. Tomorrow morning, if all goes according to plan, as the sun rises, the balloon will rise and I will have to throw some more sand out to get to 10,000 ft by 9.00 am UTC (10.00 British summertime) and hopefully pick up 25 knots of speed whisking me towards the UK. Try the above and see how easy it is and how much fun kids have.

03 / 07 / 2007

A Hercules and Helicopter

I had a rather eventful afternoon when I was visited by the Canadian Air Force who buzzed me in a Hercules transport plane. I heard this noise a way off and the next thing I knew it went straight below me which was a weird sensation. Shortly after, a helicopter flew around me. Things tend to come in threes so heaven knows what will turn up next. I’m flying far too low for any commercial planes but who knows what else might pitch up in the skies around here.

04 / 07 / 2007

Night Time Shenanigans

My work load was huge last night. As sunset approached I was shovelling sand over the side like a child digging a hole on the beach. I spoke to Clive in the control centre on several occasions and felt that the amount of ballast going over the side was going to jeopardise the flight. As I said earlier, ballast is like fuel to me. Clive spoke so Bert, who built the balloon, and reassured me that this was quite normal as sunset approaches.

I guess when you’re tired potential problems become magnified and I could not get out of my mind that each small shovel of sand I chucked over the side was reducing our chances of success and kept phoning the control centre to share my concerns.

Each time the reassuring voice of Kevin or Clive came back, ‘Don’t worry, this is normal. In an hour’s time the balloon will settle down and you will be able to relax.’ All I wanted to do was to scream at them, ‘It’s all going wrong, we’re not going to make it and worse of all I’m going to ditch in the Atlantic.’

As night fell I realised how tired I was as I could barely keep my eyes open and wished I had listened to the guys in the morning when they told me to nap.
‘You need to sleep Hempie.’ Yeah, yeah, yeah! Yawn. They were right. Clive insisted I put the altitude alarm on so if I nodded off it would wake me and that I also check my harness was attached.

I fell asleep on the North Pole flight in 2000 and then tried to climb out of the basket so, believe you me, I’ve been wearing the harness the whole flight.

During the night my speed picked up from 11 knots and has now reached 20 knots which is a big relief. The guys at HQ were right after all. My altitude has increased marginally from 6,200 ft to 7,300 ft. As the sun rises I should be able to use the solar heating to increase the altitude. Clive has told me that it is critical I now reach 10,000 ft and a track of 075 degrees. At that height, the guys have told me I’ll be on a faster track going in an easterly direction towards France. If I stay on my current track it will take me towards Portugal and a seriously bad weather track. The guys told me that I wouldn’t stand a chance of reaching Portugal if I stayed at my current height. I’ll be doing my best to get higher up. A hot drink with some sugar and another ginger biscuit will help to keep me going.

04 / 07 / 2007

Stomach Somersaults

Prior to take off I had a tummy problem due to nerves. I went back to the hotel to do my toilet duties. The one thing you must always do before a big flight is empty your bowels. However, nothing happened. On take off my stomach did a huge somersault.

There’s now a lot of internal ballast in this balloon. I’m now 8,600 ft and I need to get up to 10,000 ft to get on the right track to take me towards France. This means it’s time to use some ballast. Now would be a very good time to go!

04 / 07 / 2007

Things are looking up

It’s such a relief to get some speed up at last. I’m now flying at 25 knots and I’ve gone up to 9,600 ft which means I’m getting close to the 10,000 ft target track. That means I’m en route to northern France.
However, the best news I’ve heard all day is the release of the BBC Correspondent Alan Johnston. It really lifted my spirits to hear he’s free.

4 / 07 / 2007

Treble Speed

 

I’ve reached 10,000 ft – yeehaah! The guys at HQ sounded a lot happier.

I’m also going three times faster than I was yesterday – and am now flying at over 28 knots. I got down to 5 knots yesterday which was painfully slow.

Today, I’ve already flown as far as I had the whole day yesterday. Progress at last.

04 / 07 / 2007

Fish and Chips Please

I had to kiss a dead cod before the launch – a tradition for visitors to Newfoundland.

The other tradition is that visitors should drink a shot of screech (a brand of Jamaican rum) but I wasn’t drinking any alcohol before the flight. Apparently, it’s all part of being ‘screeched in’.

Local pilots Maurice Murphy and Rick O’Neil presented me with this dead cod. I had to give it a kiss – but no tongues. Believe it or not I discovered cod tongues are a local delicacy in Newfoundland when I ate some at a local restaurant before the launch.

My diet is far more basic now: ginger biscuits, pork scratchings and American hard gums. I’d love a portion of cod and chips right now.

04 / 07 / 2007

When I’m Half Way

I’m a bit tired as I’ve only slept three hours today. I’ve just dropped down to 9,750 ft and have gone under some cloud so will have to ballast a bit. For the first time I can see the ocean below which is maybe not such a good thing.

At least I’m now going at 29.8 knots so am making some good speed. I’ll be really delighted when I reach the half way mark which will hopefully be tomorrow.

04 / 07 / 2007

Back in the sun

Well I’ve popped out of the cloud, although I had to use half a bag of sand. The sun is heating my balloon again and I’m worried its taking me higher than the best wind I’m up an extra 150 ft to 10150 ft. Heck.

04 / 07 / 2007

Chris Evans Live

I’m going to be talking to Radio 2 presenter Chris Evans any minute so must go.

04 / 07 / 2007

Benoit’s message

I was very touched by Benoit Simeons’ message, especially as Chris Evans read it out to me live on his radio show. Benoit holds the record I am trying to break, so his generosity has made me even more keen to beat the record. In fact, I’ve now got a new target, Belgium, so I can get that free beer out of Benoit he promised me!

I’m very tired now, its starting to get dark and I’m finding it difficult to maintain my height. I’m going to brew up a cup of tea on the go to help keep me warm.

04 / 07 / 2007

30 kts!

Yeeeehaaa, through the 30 kt barrier for the first time!!!!

04 / 07 / 2007

Midnight

Made it through Wednesday (UK time). Getting very tired now although I seem to be busiest as it gets dark trying to stabalise the balloon. Clive is telling me to get some sleep, still haven’t managed to put my legs through the holes for a stretch, everytime I try to relax something comes up. Things are going well, Luc is keeping me on track. Looking forward to making progress tomorrow.

04 / 07 / 2007

Sunrise

Spectacular!

04 / 07 / 2007

Sunrise

Spectacular!

I don’t feel any wind, everything is so quiet, what a view.

Hoping the sun will warm me up, feeling very cold and wishing I’d brought the sleeping bag.

Still getting faster…..

05 / 07 / 2007

07:00 Now at 10,600 feet and traveling at 40 knots.
Clive and Kevin in the control center have given me the ultimatum, sleep or we bring you down at first landfall, so, I am going to try and get some sleep so will keep you up to date later

05 / 07 / 2007

Is it a plane?

I’m now over halfway across the Atlantic which is great. Even better, I’m going at 42 knots. Last night, I had some chicken noodle soup. After I finished and wished I’d been eating some sushi, I saw lights coming out of the darkness heading towards me. I thought for a moment it was a plane with its landing lights on. I got hold of my strobe light but the lights were still there. Very bright. Then I realised it was a planet! I’m blaming sleep deprivation on this. I certainly haven’t touched a drop of alcohol since well before the launch. God, I could do with a big glass of red wine and a nice meal.

05 / 07 / 2007

Falling out of the sky

I’ve just dropped from 11,000 ft to 9,000 ft. I nodded off! The guys in HQ have been telling me to sleep all day – and look at what happens when I do what they say. They now want me to get up to 10,000 ft. It’s been a busy day – I’ve traveled 903 km since midnight. Phew. HQ has told me I’ve gone 2324 km in total. I feel refreshed after my kip and have got my eye on that record. The guys have got the map and I’ve just got to cross the line. Sounds simple – but there’s still a long way to go.
Double click on the map

05 / 07 / 2007

What’s in my basket?

This basket is cramped. It’s four ft by four ft, smaller than the size of most people’s dining rooms.

People always ask me what I’ve got in it. Well, I’ve got all my safety equipment, inflatable life raft, life jacket, helmet, maps, oxygen bottle, sat phones, VHF radio, Argos satellite systems, flares, knife, food, drink, toothbrush, waterproof bag. No deodorant, soap or books.

My one luxury is toilet paper. I’ve also brought my reading glasses as I’m a veteran now – and all veterans wear glasses. If I didn’t have my glasses I’d be stuffed.

I’ve also got my prayer beads which I’ve used on every expedition and, touch wood, they’ve always got me home safely.

I haven’t got a parachute. Trying to parachute into the sea is very difficult. What you can do is cut some of the ropes and the balloon will act as a parachute. It’s a big ocean to get lost in and it still scares me.

The other thing I don’t have is a sleeping bag – and last night was chilly chops.

I’ve been told I’ll fly over land – northern France – in the early hours of tomorrow morning. If I’m lucky I’ll see the sunrise over the coastline.

05 / 07 / 2007

First time Landing this balloon

I saw my first ship two hours ago. The only one I’ve seen. It’s reassuring, but I know I’m still about 880 kilometres away from land.

I was uncontrollably freezing last night, shaking in the basket. I’m wearing an immersion suit but haven’t got my cold weather gear. It was like being in a freezer, a lot colder than on my recent trip to Baffin Island in the Arctic.

My shoulder’s also been killing me. I’ve got a muscle injury and probably shouldn’t be flying a balloon across the Atlantic.

I’m looking forward to seeing land in the morning but am apprehensive that there’s some bad weather ahead and I’ve never landed this balloon before.

I’m flying at 44 knots so at least the wind is on my side. I’ve only had a little sleep today. The guys in the control center warned me that I must sleep now because tomorrow is going to be the busiest day of the flight.

06 / 07 / 2007

Back out to sea?

I was pleased I broke the record but soon after I started to panic. I thought the balloon was heading back out to sea. I saw land and the next thing I knew I was going back over water.

Kevin said, “Trust me, you are not going back out to sea. It’s an island. Stop worrying.”

It was the scariest part of the trip. In my fog of tiredness, I got confused. But I didn’t sleep a wink all night so that probably explains it.

I’ve been flying at about 50 knots all night which is the fastest all trip. I’ve travelled farther in one hour than in the first day when I was going nowhere at about 5 knots.

The French countryside is gorgeous. Thank God I’m overland!

06 / 07 / 2007

2 More World Records

HQ has just reminded me that the distance record for my balloon class was the same as the one above it, so I actually broke both. So that was 2 right then. I’m very tired now and not thinking too clearly.

I have just broken another world record too for staying airborne longer than anyone else in this size class of balloon. The previous was 80 hours 18 minutes. I’m on 82 hours 52 and going well!

That’s 3! Fantastic.

06 / 07 / 2007

Bumpy Ride

Duffy in HQ has just informed me we have now got a total of 5 world records.

The 2 new ones are the AA-08 and AA-09 size balloon furthest distance. It used to be 3983 km, I’m well past the 4023 km 1% extra mark.

I know they’ll need to be okayed by the FAI.

But I’m too busy to think about records.

Clive wants me to get past the mountains and land near Dijon, the wind is less there.

Not sure about the mountains as I don’t want to get stuck in them. I’m tired. Just had a bad experience in some cumulus clouds, out of them now. Couldn’t see much and it got really bumpy.

Being in cloud and flying towards mountains is about as bad as the thought of ditching in water.

05 / 07 / 2007

What’s in my basket?

This basket is cramped. It’s four ft by four ft, smaller than the size of most people’s dining rooms.

People always ask me what I’ve got in it. Well, I’ve got all my safety equipment, inflatable life raft, life jacket, helmet, maps, oxygen bottle, sat phones, VHF radio, Argos satellite systems, flares, knife, food, drink, toothbrush, waterproof bag. No deodorant, soap or books.

My one luxury is toilet paper. I’ve also brought my reading glasses as I’m a veteran now – and all veterans wear glasses. If I didn’t have my glasses I’d be stuffed.

I’ve also got my prayer beads which I’ve used on every expedition and, touch wood, they’ve always got me home safely.

I haven’t got a parachute. Trying to parachute into the sea is very difficult. What you can do is cut some of the ropes and the balloon will act as a parachute. It’s a big ocean to get lost in and it still scares me.

The other thing I don’t have is a sleeping bag – and last night was chilly chops.

I’ve been told I’ll fly over land – northern France – in the early hours of tomorrow morning. If I’m lucky I’ll see the sunrise over the coastline.

05 / 07 / 2007

World Record

We’ve done it! I’ve just passed the distance I needed to get the world record for the class of balloon I’m flying. I can’t believe it. We’ve done it. I’m so pleased, thank you, everyone.

05 / 07 / 2007

First time Landing this balloon

I saw my first ship two hours ago. The only one I’ve seen. It’s reassuring, but I know I’m still about 880 kilometers away from land.

I was uncontrollably freezing last night, shaking in the basket. I’m wearing an immersion suit but haven’t got my cold-weather gear. It was like being in a freezer, a lot colder than on my recent trip to Baffin Island in the Arctic.

My shoulder’s also been killing me. I’ve got a muscle injury and probably shouldn’t be flying a balloon across the Atlantic.

I’m looking forward to seeing land in the morning but am apprehensive that there’s some bad weather ahead and I’ve never landed this balloon before.

I’m flying at 44 knots so at least the wind is on my side. I’ve only had a little sleep today. The guys in the control centre warned me that I must sleep now because tomorrow is going to be the busiest day of the flight.

06 / 07 / 2007

Back out to sea?

I was pleased I broke the record but soon after I started to panic. I thought the balloon was heading back out to sea. I saw land and the next thing I knew I was going back over water.

Kevin said, “Trust me, you are not going back out to sea. It’s an island. Stop worrying.”

It was the scariest part of the trip. In my fog of tiredness, I got confused. But I didn’t sleep a wink all night so that probably explains it.

I’ve been flying at about 50 knots all night which is the fastest all trip. I’ve travelled farther in one hour than in the first day when I was going nowhere at about 5 knots.

The French countryside is gorgeous. Thank God I’m over land!

06 / 07 / 2007

2 More World Records

HQ has just reminded me that the distance record for my balloon class was the same as the one above it, so I actually broke both. So that was 2 right then. I’m very tired now and not thinking too clearly.

I have just broken another world record too for staying airborne longer than anyone else in this size class of balloon. The previous was 80 hours 18 minutes. I’m on 82 hours 52 and going well!

That’s 3! Fantastic.

06 / 07 / 2007

Bumpy Ride

Duffy in HQ has just informed me we have now got a total of 5 world records.

The 2 new ones are the AA-08 and AA-09 size balloon furthest distance. It used to be 3983 km, I’m well past the 4023 km 1% extra mark.

I know they’ll need to be okayed by the FAI.

But I’m too busy to think about records.

Clive wants me to get past the mountains and land near Dijon, the wind is less there.

Not sure about the mountains as I don’t want to get stuck in them. I’m tired. Just had a bad experience in some cumulus clouds, out of them now. Couldn’t see much and it got really bumpy.

Being in clouds and flying towards the mountains is about as bad as the thought of ditching in water.

06 / 07 / 2007

Nearly there!

HQ just told me I’ve got 60 miles to go before I can start looking for a suitable landing site. I’m starting my slow descent.

Apparently, there is a helicopter on its way to get some airborne footage. Fantastic, the evening sun is just beautiful up here, the shots should look awesome.

Not long now, phew

07 / 07 / 2007

Back down to earth

What a landing! It was uphill and there were 20-knot winds. I was expecting it to be a lot slower.

At least I was able to walk away from the basket. Just. I looked down at my feet and noticed they had doubled in size. Not a pretty sight.

I phoned up HQ in Weybridge to let them know I was still alive and heard everyone cheer in the background. I felt emotional. A medical friend suggested I put my legs up, pump my calves and twiddle my toes.

I then ended up having to wait an hour for my pick up crew with only a few cows for company. Typical! The field where I had landed, near the town of Nolay in Burgundy, was not the easiest of places for people to find.

I also had to wait for the local police to be my official witnesses to sign off the FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale) file.

On Saturday afternoon I flew back to England and had to be driven home from the airport due to the sorry state of my feet. I’m very tired and feel like I could sleep for a week.

I vow NEVER to do a solo flight across the Atlantic again!

08 / 07 / 2007

Thank You

This was the luckiest flight I have ever had. I had a slow start, hit bad weather and froze my butt off – but I made it in the end.

It was good to get five records, but that wasn’t the objective. My aim was to break the record for flying the smallest gas balloon across the Atlantic. Some people told me I was mad to even consider it.

While I was the pilot and public face of the flight over 50 people were involved behind the scenes. We started making preparations a year ago and I’d now like to sincerely thank everyone who helped. They know what they did and all their efforts contributed to the flight’s success.

Since returning home last night I have been touched by the hundreds of messages of congratulations to the team. Thank you all!

I’d like to end with a quote from Robert Browning that inspired me as I flew across the Atlantic:

He said, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

11 / 07 / 2007

Media Frenzy

Since landing I’ve been doing a lot of media and answering hundreds of emails and texts from around the world. People have been very kind. One man said, ‘I lead a pretty dull life and have been leading my life through you’. Another said, ‘This is probably the most extreme balloon flight ever undertaken’.
Most people say, ‘You must have been crazy to do it’. There’s a fine line between success and failure. In Kipling’s poem ‘If’ he says,

‘If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same.’

On a lighter note, I’d been going from one studio to another and it got frantic.
I’d done a pre-record with BBC Bristol and was sitting in the ITN studio. I’d arranged with the Chris Evans show to go on air at 6.10 pm to be finished by 6.15 pm before going straight into the ITN studio live. My friend, Patrick O’Hagan, the ITN reporter, was standing next to me as I listened to Chris Evans who went and put on a Genesis track. I thought, ‘Oh no’. At 6.13 pm Patrick leant over and put the phone down. Both Clive any myself looked at each other in horror. Patrick said, ‘Quick, we’ve got to go straight into the studio.’ As I ran off I asked Clive to phone Chris back and pretend it was me!

I did my five-minute ITN piece by which time Clive had got Chris Evans back on the phone again. Chris asked, ‘What happened then?’ and I said, ‘Modern technology’.
Chris was fabulous. It may have been the Swindon connection (I was born in Swindon and Billie Piper comes from there) but he was charming and we had a good laugh. He said it was good I landed in the Montrachet region of France because the wine is so nice there.

During my media interviews one question keeps popping up: ‘How did I do a poo?’
Before I left St John’s I sat on the toilet for an hour to make sure I was as light as possible. I managed for three days in the balloon. My diet was a strange mixture of pork scratchings, liquorice allsorts and ginger biscuits. It got to the point when I thought, ‘I’ve got to go’. I had to put the bench in the balloon up, stow everything out of the way, get the toilet paper, pee bottle and black bag ready. It took me 40 minutes from beginning to end and I threw it over in a bio-degradeable bag. No sooner had I done it and the balloon went up 10,000 ft! I could see a big whale down below. Luckily for me, I had some antiseptic wipes. It was a great relief.

During the flight I had no problem with my feet. I put them out of the cat flap for the odd half an hour. As soon as I landed I could barely stand up or walk. My feet had swollen to three times the size they were. I was driven straight to Chippenham General Hospital where I had to wait an hour. I’d just flown half way around the world and sat in a queue. When I told them what I’d just done they said, ‘Ha, ha!’
At the landing site, Patrick said, ‘That looks like a lot of fluid on your feet. What you should do is take Ibuprofen, elevate your feet and keep them cool.’ At the hospital, the doctor said, ‘That looks like a lot of fluid on your feet. What you should do is take Ibuprofen, elevate your feet and keep them cool.’ What a waste of time! At least my feet are back to normal now.

Back at home, we had a bottle of champagne and all the girls clinked their glasses. My three daughters were delighted I was back to pay their pocket money!

I’m still busy thanking everyone and doing my Air Mail covers. I bought one hundred envelopes with a picture of the balloon and had them stamped in St.John’s, Canada and then near Nolay in France where I landed.

I contacted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to try to track down the little Canadian girl who, at the launch, gave me a Canadian penny for luck. I’d like to give her one of the envelopes and to thank her for giving me that penny for luck. It worked!

12 / 07 / 2007

Sunrise

I’ve been going through some of the photographs I took when I was in the basket and have picked out some favorites. This sunrise was stunning.

When the sunset it would get really cold straight away to the point when I’d be shivering all through the night until the sun rose. You’d see on the horizon the first blush of color and then the sun would come up. The sky would be quite bright before the sunrise. Then it would be warm straight away and the balloon would start to rise because of the solar heating.

I always waited until the sun came up at 7.20 (GMT) before dozing. It was the best time to sleep. I’d have a nice cup of tea, no breakfast, just pork scratchings.

Clive told me that I’d see the first blush of color at 6.00 and then sunrise at 7.20. The fact he was right gave me great confidence but not complacency.

12 / 07 / 2007

Groundhog Day

I took this picture to give everyone an idea of how small the basket was. The camera was just the other side of the basket!
I took it on the second day. As you can see I was tired and needed some sleep.
I’d had such a slow start I was feeling dreadful. In terms of emotions, the first day was by far the hardest because it was such a big ocean to cross and I was only doing five knots at 5000 ft. It needed a lot of strength just to hang in there.
Luc had ‘parked’ me so I wouldn’t catch up some bad weather going into Europe.
Towards the end, I was doing 50 knots an hour, going too fast.

12 / 07 / 2007

The Black Hole

On the fourth day, I saw the ocean. It was spooky.

Normally it was a full cover of cloud but on that day, when I was at 10,000 ft, the clouds were scattered below.
I much preferred to see the cloud because you couldn’t see the danger of the ocean.

I’ve been constantly asked, ‘What did you fear most?’ Well, ditching in the North Atlantic in the dark, trying to hold on to my dingy, and not getting tangled in the flying wires. Doing it in pitch black with a swell.

I rehearsed my ditching drill like a mantra every hour.

12 / 07 / 2007Sunset

 

I took this photo from inside the basket as the sunset.

Each night I pulled the plastic cover down to keep the basket warm. It made a huge difference.

Although it didn’t rain throughout the flight I was grateful for the cover. I didn’t bring a sleeping bag or extra clothes as the weight was critical.

Bert is a master craftsman at building balloons. His workmanship and skill is second to none. The basket he made for me was an exquisite piece of artwork. Everything was perfect, right down to that rain cover!

The sunsets were stunning: blues, oranges, and reds. I do miss those views.

12 / 07 / 2007

This is one of my favorite photos. Here I was – the international traveler. I had just got five records by flying across the ocean only to be congratulated by 9 cows! Not one local.

When Charles Lindbergh did the first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic he had thousands of people to greet him. I had nobody.
At least it gave me time to relax and chill out. It was poetic really.

The basket tipped over because of the wind on the balloon envelope. I just crawled out. I said hello to the cows and then shooed them away so they didn’t go trampling over my nice balloon.

I looked at the balloon and basket and thought, ‘If Bert could see it now!’
It looked like a large picnic hamper yet it had been my home for a week. I’m just so pleased it looked after me. I have a great affection for it.

13 / 07 / 2007

Fantastic Dream

It’s now one week since the balloon flight and it all seems like a fantastic dream.

I’ve been touched by the number of people who said they were living their lives through me and the team.

All this week everyone’s been asking me what I’m going to get up to next.

Well, I want to keep the team together and do another balloon flight – although they might not all know that yet!

Next year, I’m going to do the Last Degree with Rune Gjeldnes and maybe my daughter, Camilla. We will be skiing the last 60 miles to the Geographical North Pole. This trip will celebrate the ten year anniversary of the Grand Slam when I climbed the highest mountain on each continent and reached the North and South Geographical and Magnetic Poles.

I’m also organizing a trip across Baffin Island in northeast Canada for 2008 which is for anyone wanting an Arctic adventure. It’s one of my favorite places in the world.

Right now I want to seize the moment and celebrate this balloon flight.

I’ve been back a week but tonight will be the first time I get all my friends together to go down to the local pub.

Thank you all for following this balloon flight and farewell – until the next adventure!

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