Tunisia – The Flights Home

Tunisia – The Flights Home

The return journey started well; although it would have been surprising to have bad weather in Tunisia in August. The controller directed us north along the low level IFR airways as is done with all VFR in these parts and after a couple of hours we were leaving the African coastline behind.

Back to the north, and Europe

A slowly lowering cloud-base had appeared across the water between Africa and Sardinia, and while it cleared up a little as we flew up across Sardinia, our destination Alghero proved to be unreachable behind cloud; it was the only part of the island that was closed in like this! By now we had been flying for 4 hours and only had a little over an hours fuel left so I quickly made the decision to divert to Olbia, on the northeastern side of the island. Air traffic control were happy to grant our request, and half an hour later we were parking up at Olbia and waiting for the handling agents to collect us.

The plan was to head to the GA Terminal, pay our fees, re-file our onward flight plan and continue to our night-stop at a little fly-in chateau in France. Alas, it was not to be; the flight plan ended up lost somewhere between the French and Italian systems and we spent a fruitless hour waiting in the aircraft for it to come through before giving up and calling for a ride back to the terminal. This proved troublesome as some jets had arrived and it turned out that we were lower down the pecking order than they were; another hour passed before Juan disappeared. I was concerned about her wandering off airside and was fairly sure I’d find her arrested by the Italian police for being too close to commercial jets, but she reappeared in a van driven by an excitable Italian baggage handler who she had charmed into driving us back to the GA terminal. He informed us that it was not uncommon for small aircraft crew like ourselves to be left hanging by the GA handlers, and apparently this was due to the fact that they were “all bastards”. We were instructed that we should tell them, from him, that they were “all bastards” but then he reconsidered, and decided to come inside and tell them himself. Marvelous. We thanked him and slipped away to the in-terminal travel agent who managed to find us a hotel room downtown and a taxi to get there.

We’d had no choice of hotel, as we were assured it was the last one in town with availability. Happily, it was extremely comfortable with views over the harbour and, less happily, the noisy funfair. Fortunately this shut down at a decent hour and we spent a pleasant evening eating pizza and planning the next day of flying before heading to bed. The new plan would take us first to Lyon for fuel, and then on to Rotterdam; a long day of flying, but at least we’d be home in time for work!

The day dawned bright and clear, and the “bastards” at Olbia had thoughtfully printed out the weather for our route. As far as Lyon things looked good; after that, not so much. We set out anyway to see how far we’d get, routing first up the East coast of Corsica and then turning West across the Northern tip of the island to follow the approved VFR routes back to the mainland.

We coasted in and turned North up the valley towards Lyon, and before long started to see cloud reaching lower and lower above the mountains to the East. We skirted a couple of torrential downpours on our way into Lyon le Bron and parked up next to a DA-42, the twin engine version of our own aircraft. A swift refuel and we were off again, trying to find a way through the weather to the North.

Battling the weather north through France

Our efforts were not terribly successful. The cloud-base lowered and the ground rose, and it was not long before we were informing the controller that we’d be changing our plans and landing at the nearest airport. This happened to be the small airstrip of Semur-en-Auxois. We were not the only ones caught out; the controller had sent a British PA-28 in their 30 minutes earlier on a weather diversion and had not heard back from them; he asked us to check that they were safely down and give him a call to confirm!

We landed safely at Semur, despite the runway being significantly smaller than we were used to up until now! The British PA-28 was parked up at the fuel pumps, with a family of four unloading baggage. They had been flying in Spain and, like us, were trying to get home. With the weather like it was, it was clear that none of us would be going anywhere soon. Before long a pair of Frenchmen arrived to see what all the traffic was about; they had been running a table-tennis club in one of the hangars for 15 or so local children. They sympathised with our plight and very kindly drove us into town to a hotel they knew, which had views across the valley to the airfield. We could even see our aircraft!

If you ever need to get stuck somewhere, Semur-en-Auxois is an excellent place to do so. We dressed up in our warmest clothes (Juan, with great forethought, had decided to pack a woolen hat for a holiday to the desert, in August) and ventured through the drizzle into town. The town is absolutely beautiful, situated on the inside of a wide river meander with slopes plunging 30m or so down to the water. The architecture is all extremely old, and here and there parts of the old town fortifications are still apparent. We walked a long, long way out the other side of town to the supermarket to buy some supplies, but found it shut. The only thing we found were more slugs than I have ever seen; thousands of them, rampaging (ok, slowly oozing) across the roads and pavements. Very strange.

We walked back into town to find some dinner. The only place open was an English-themed pub, serving a wide range of pizzas, and ice-cream for desert. It wasn’t quite the same as the previous nights pizza in Sardinia but it was pleasant nonetheless, and we returned to the hotel early to sleep. The weather forecast for Monday was not good.

The weather the next morning was even worse. Oh dear. On the plus side, I did have my work laptop with me, so I was able to work remotely. I placed a call to my boss to let him know that I was stuck out of the office because “my flight has been cancelled”. This was fine with him, although he did phone back half an hour later to say “Wait a minute, weren’t you flying yourself?” I explained the situation and he was, thankfully, very understanding! For lunch we made our way back into town to a small cafe, where we shared two toasted sandwiches and then, due to severe indecision, four desserts.

That evening we dined in the hotel, an irritating experience as a result of the baby monitor belonging to the table next to us. Apparently they were content to sit and listen to the baby cry (along with all other tables nearby) rather than going to investigate; their logic could have been that they’d only need to go and see what was happening if the crying suddenly stopped. The weather forecast for the Tuesday was slightly better, but still poor; we went to bed wondering if the next day we might be able to get home to Rotterdam!

We woke up, and looked out the window. At last, the cloud had lifted! Not much, but it was a definite improvement so we filed flight plans and set off on the walk to the airfield. Our first flight of the day took us a little north to apparently freight-dominated airport of Chalons. We were flying between cloud layers, out of sight of the ground a lot of the time, but three GPS units (not to mention the VOR instruments for further backup) gave us confidence in our navigation.

Fueling at Chalons was quick and easy; we didn’t even have to leave the vicinity of the aircraft, and were soon on our way again. The weather slowly improved as we crossed Belgium, gaining clearance through the airspace of the American military base at Chievres.

Before long we were crossing the Dutch border, and flying through decent weather towards Rotterdam. We made an uneventful arrival and tied the aircraft down, taking a few minutes to show the mechanics the problem with the canopy. With that, we headed home to rest; and start plotting our next flying adventure!

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