It took 15 minutes for the ‘plane to circle and climb to 12,000ft, during which I became more and more nervous. I was the only first-timer and, although I fully trusted Max, to whom I was firmly strapped (in the doggy position) when they shouted “12,000ft. Doors OPEN!” I thought “You’re all MAD!”
They were the British Free Fall Parachute Team and they all willingly clambered out and hung by their fingernails to the outside of the ‘plane, before nonchalantly launching themselves into the void.
We were above the clouds and couldn’t even see Terra Firma. Was it all a joke? It is strange; the thoughts that pass through your head in times of extreme stress. I suddenly realised that I was the only person in the ‘plane who was not wearing a parachute. Had someone who didn’t like me secretly paid to see me plummet?!
“Right. We’re going. Quick!”
“Nooooooooo…..” I thought, but there was no stopping Max.
And so it was that we parted company with a perfectly serviceable aircraft to take our chances free falling from 12,500 feet; more than two miles above the earth.
Max was the veteran of 2,400 skydives. On the safe haven of the ground, this had made me trust him implicitly for my tandem jump. Because I didn’t seem too nervous, he had said before we set off that it would be a jolly jape for him to flip me upside down as we left the ‘plane because “It’s quite funny seeing the aircraft above you as you fall away from it!” I saw lots of little heads peering out and waving at us as we plunged rapidly backwards through the void.
Back the right way up (falling face-first at terminal velocity towards the earth) all I could hear was atmosphere whooshing past me. The air was very cold against my face and I could feel my cheeks being pushed upwards into a deformed grin by the pressure. (Think “English bulldog in a wind tunnel.”)
We were travelling at about 150 mph. Max spun us around very quickly before causing us to dive rapidly. I suppose that if you stuck your hand out of a car window you can understand the sensation; I could feel real resistance from the air as Max pushed down hard on first my left and then my right hand to initiate the dives to each side. I felt like James Bond – or a peregrine falcon.
(When it folds it wings and dives (or ‘stoops’) on its prey, the peregrine can hit speeds up to 200mph. It is the fastest creature on earth!)
Max pulled the ripcord at about 5,000ft. It was quite a jolt as we suddenly seemed to halt in mid air. Everything changed. It went quiet. We took off our goggles and could quite happily chat. It was all rather serene. Max gave me the steering toggles as we now floated gently downwards, admiring the miniaturised magnificence of the Cambridgeshire countryside. Miles of it was laid out beneath us, like Toytown.
Unlike the old-fashioned round parachutes, the square ‘chutes can be steered by pulling down on the toggles on either side. To support the weight of two people for a tandem jump, this was quite a large ‘chute. It took some real muscle to steer!
Max took back control as we skimmed the top of a cloud, flew around it and then did some crazy, cloud canyoning as we soared back through it, tracking through gulleys and formations as stunning as Monument Valley, while wisps of white flew past us. I could smell and taste the cloud; it was like the steam from a train. This was curiously apt, since as we descended, we were treated to a beautiful, aerial view of the historic steam train The Flying Scotsman racing north, far below!
Max did some manoeuvres, flaring the ‘chute from side to side, swinging us like a huge pendulum in the sky. He spun us and even stalled us in mid air! This was a horrid sensation. At that point, I didn’t feel supported by the ‘chute at all. I felt weightless and adrift in the vastness of space.
Max showed off a bit on landing, again flaring the ‘chute to the side to lose velocity then pulling down hard on the toggles to create lift. We landed gently and safely, on our tip toes in the bullseye of the landing circle.
What an experience!
I landed, grinning from ear to ear and wanted to do it again IMMEDIATELY. I was rapidly doing mental arithmetic when Max told me the cost of an Accelerated Freefall Course and the ten jumps required before you can actually go and do a skydive all by yourself…!
Having previously spent a wet and windy summer hanging around an airfield in Shropshire, waiting to do a static-line jump from 2,000ft, the thought of a couple of weeks in somewhere like Florida, with perfect weather conditions, certainly had some appeal!
In fact, this was exactly how Max had got into skydiving. Someone had bought him a tandem skydive as a present – and that was it. He was addicted! As Max said “I have never been interested in drugs, but honestly, who needs them when you can experience something like THAT!”
The Verdict – Better than sex. (Although this WAS before I met my gorgeous husband…!)
Any Regrets? – It was expensive to have photos taken on the way down because this required paying for a second person, the photographer, to jump. Thus, I only have photos taken by a friend from the ground. With hindsight since, in the end, this was my only jump, I wish I had gone for photos! (I never did go on to do a freefall course; this was because I discovered many other adrenaline-fueled activities, including a trip down the Zambezi which changed my life. If you follow my blog and over time, I shall share these experiences with you!)
Location. Location. Location. It is possible to do your tandem skydive in much more picturesque locations than Peterborough Parachute Centre, but then again, in Florida or above Lake Taupo in New Zealand, I would not have tasted a cloud – nor seen The Flying Scotsman!
Advice – When pursuing adrenaline-fueled activities, it is very much worth considering the qualifications as well as the Health and Safety record and standards of the Country or Operator that you choose. Suffice to say that not all are equal!
For more of Jackie’s Jaunts, see BC (Before Canines)