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|by Shyamala Sathiaseelan|
Three months ago we were having a peaceful summer lunch along the canal when I was talking to Joy about flying schools when I also asked whether the guys were interested in skydiving. Shetty and myself wanted to do skydiving long back. Shetty had given up because he found it to be expensive in Ireland and he was not happy about the height from which the jump was made in the Irish Parachuting Club.
I.N.Gar and Joy were thrilled and I decided that I would send a group mail to find out who else was interested. I did my job dutifully, as usual there were a few "I am not interested" mails, a few "I am interested but not available on the given dates" mails and a very few "I am interested" mails. The final list was made with Joy, I.N.Gar, Ykas, Molu and myself deciding to go for it. I did the booking for 7th July.
On 7th morning we all left nice and early and reached Clonbullogue at 8:30. We registered ourselves for the Tandem jump. We were the first to register. After the initial paper work we headed to the hangar for some training. We even got trained on a simulator (?). And then we had to wait for the weather to clear up. The clouds were 3000 feet thick and so we could not jump till the clouds cleared out. We played pool, tried to solve a million-dollar puzzle, ate loads, slept a bit, watched parachuting videos and then finally left at 7:30 without jumping. We fixed up the next date for August 5th.
The Irish Skydiving Championships were on Aug 4th and 5th. A bigger plane, which could fit in about 14 people, was expected. The bigger plane could fly at a higher altitude, which meant that we could jump from 13,000 feet instead of 9,000 feet. We were all eagerly waiting for the D-day. As the days approached the weather was very bad. We were not even sure if would make it this time.
On Aug 5th when I woke up the first thing I did was to look out of the window. The sky was so clear that I couldn't believe myself. I walked into DeePee's bedroom, woke him up and asked him if that was clear sky or cloudy sky. Sometimes the cloud is so thick and uniform that it looks as good as a clear sky. DeePee confirmed that it was a very clear sky and it couldn't be any clearer. I was thrilled. I got ready and waited for the rest of the crowd to come and pick me up. At 7:00 when the guys were supposed to come I got a call from I.N.Gar saying that they had not even left their place. When they reached my place it was almost 8:00.
We reached Clonbullogue at around 9:30. There were already 15 people in the list before us. That meant that we had to wait for a long time. We grabbed something to eat and lazed around in the lawn outside, as the weather was good. There was a huge crowd of skydivers practising their formations, packing parachutes or just chatting. There were a huge number of tents in the parking area and loads of kids were running around. One interesting thing that we noticed was that most of the skydivers were walking around juggling. We later on found that juggling and skydiving require high discipline and are really difficult to master and most skydivers (specially the Irish ones) practised juggling while they were waiting for the weather to clear.
All the people in the club seemed to know each other. It seemed like a big family. I felt it was like my very own Trombay club. Even the party in the night was like any of those Trombay club parties. At some point of time I even felt that it was like a big family gathered together for a wedding.
After getting roasted in the sun and troubling the crowd in the MANIFEST area by questioning them a hundred times when we were going to jump at about 6:00pm my name was called for the jump. I ran to the hangar, got into the jump suit, quickly ran through the procedures and was ready for my jump. When I walked into the airfield it had started drizzling. My tandem master Paul sat with me and we were waiting for the aircraft to land. Paul was surprised that I was not scared a single bit even though it was my first jump.
The aircraft landed and after waving to my friends I boarded the aircraft with thirteen others. All the time I was busy smiling at people and talking to them. Somebody was kind enough to tie my shoelace properly. I was told that if the lace is not tied properly then I might lose my shoe during free fall. All fourteen of us were cramped in the aircraft. There was a Olympic Gold medal-winning boxer with us. I was told later on that the only reason our jump went ahead in spite of the rain was because of this boxer. The tiny Cessna plane slowly gained altitude. All along my eyes were fixed on the altimeter. I wanted to go as high as possible but Paul had warned me saying that because of the clouds we may be able to reach only about 9000 feet. We reached 9500 feet before the pilot gave us the "Go". The solo jumpers with their video cameraman jumped first. It was strange to see someone just jumping into the clouds from a aircraft. Before I realised what was going on, it was my turn to jump.
As I was sitting in the plane with my legs hanging out and staring into the clouds I wondered for a second what I was doing there. And before I could realise anything my tandem master pushed me and I was out of the aircraft and free falling. It was raining quite a bit and my tandem master held his hands in front of my face to avoid the rain hitting hard on my face. I put my hands under my chin as instructed to avoid the rain and started enjoying the free fall. Within seconds, I was out of the clouds and the parachute opened with a jerk. I climbed on my instructor's feet so that he could loosen the harness a bit and then he gave me the yellow straps so that I could navigate the parachute.
Under the instructor's able guidance I was turning left and right and all along looking all around me and enjoying the ride. All good things have to come to an end and so I landed on the ground and walked towards my friends. Normally when I do something for the first time my leg shivers, but this time I walked confidently. I felt as though I've been skydiving all my life.
By the time I reached the ground it had started raining and the clouds had thickened quite a bit so they decided to stop diving for the day. Molu was ready to jump with her jump suit on but because of the weather change she had to forget about the jump for that day. After much thinking we decided to stay back in Clonbullogue overnight and take a chance, just in case the weather cleared up overnight then the rest of them could jump
We went to the nearest pub, got a few cans of beer and came back to the club. After the prize giving ceremony there was a barbecue. We had some burgers and salad and some beer/vine and then headed to the hangar for the dance. There was live music and it was good fun. After some dancing we left the place around 12:30 I guess. The B&B was just outside the club so music could be heard there. I hit bed as soon as we went in and was woken up by Joy early in the morning at 8:00. After a quick shower we had a long breakfast. The weather was still very bad and we were not sure whether to stay or not.
The guys had put their names in the list for the jump nice and early and were still only third, fourth and fifth. After hanging out a bit the B&B owners told us that it would be great if we vacated by 11:00 so we headed to the club to play pool, solve the puzzle, eat and laze around. We actually headed to the hangar instead and started learning how to juggle. We jumped around on the pogo stick, juggled a bit and then had our lunch. By then the sky was getting clear and the rain had stopped. I was ready for my second tandem jump if there was a slot, but unfortunately there were not slots available for the day.
We were very sure at that stage that the rest of them would jump. But as luck would have it though the sky was clear, the wind speed was about 35kmph, which was dangerous for landing. The first flight that day took off after 6:00pm with six experienced skydivers for a hop and pop (jump from low altitude). At 7:15pm we were told that they were closing for the day and we could all leave for home if were not interested in hanging around and watching skydiving videos which we were not so we drove back home.
Though we had got skydiving T-shirts we did not bother wearing them as we were not in a mood for anything. It would have been great fun if all four of us had managed to do the jump. But I've decided that when the rest of them go for their tandem jump I would also join them and get trained for a solo jump. I wrote to Dad about how I fell in love with skydiving and how I wanted to take that up as a hobby. He laughs at me and says that skydiving cannot become a hobby. My argument is if tennis can be a hobby then why not skydiving?
So ten years from now don't be surprised if you catch me sipping a glass of orange juice and watching skydiving video in the Irish Parachute Club.
Till then, it is Shyami signing off'
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