T he Canberra Balloon Spectacular hit bad weather in 2017, failing to launch on the final day of the festival. The balloons took to the skies only two out of the nine days of the festival.
Peter Fenwick, of the Southern tablelands four-wheel drive club, returned in 2017 for his 18th year.
“Our bird won’t stand up today,” said Fenwick. “It’s going to be shipped back to the states—Albuquerque. And it’s too big in this weather—we risk wrecking it.”
He pointed at the flag atop parliament house. “That’s the size of a double-decker bus. Okay? If it’s out like that, it’s too fast to fly a shaped balloon.”
“When we flew on Tuesday, we launched into the fog. That meant only the teardrops could go up, because special shapes—you know, not wonderful.
“You can’t see where you’re landing if you’re above the fog layer—there’s your problem. And they don’t have motors. The direction the wind moves is the direction the balloon moves.
“I don’t like heights, but I love going up in the balloon.”
Justin Galbraith, pilot of the Capital Chemist balloon, didn’t let the weather stop him from giving the crowd a good show. He and another pilot shot streams of flame into the air—heating up the crowd in the cool Canberra morning.
Then Galbraith, alongside his family, inflated their ‘small’ balloon.
“Don’t come any closer than that, if it gets really windy, it’s gonna go down there very quickly, okay? So head off to the sides.”
He pointed to his left, where half the crowd had gathered. “If it starts going that way I’m going to yell ‘run away!'”
The whole way through, he explained the process of filling the balloon.
“So if we took off now, we’d probably go very quickly towards the arboretum—very quickly,” he says, emphasising his repetition with a head nod.
“And we”d probably land on the other side of the arboretum. At this speed it would take less than an hour.”
He jumps up and down, making the whole craft bob with him.
“The interesting thing about Canberra, is when it’s very calm, that lake gets very big. Sitting in the centre of it, with not much wind, the balloon can’t travel.
“So then we go searching for wind, we change our height. We climb up to the top of the tower, about three and a half thousand feet and look for a different air current.
“We travel up and down, looking for air currents to work out how we’re going to get to our landing spot.”
Asked if adverse weather often affected whether or not launches proceeded, Fenwick raises the issue of climate change.
“Weather’s variable. But it’s a lot less predictable then, say, 15 years ago—so obviously something’s going on—whether you believe in climate change or not, you’ve got to acknowledge that something’s going on.”