The Great Trilobite Disaster or “In just One Idio-second”
After the festival in the United Arab Emirates, I flew directly from the Persian Gulf to Paris with plans to catch the kite bus to the Berck Festival on the coast. It was a terrible flight. My reservations were lost, by the time they were found, I had five minutes to make the flight, and then I had to run through half a mile of terminal with 150 pounds of gear. When I finally got seated, it was next to a large woman, covered from head to foot in black whose religion discouraged any contact with men. For eight hours, she squirmed to avoid me in our narrow seats in the back of the economy section. When I reached France, instead of a bus, we had a small van with no heat. I shared the back seat with my three bags and daydreamed about sleeping or at least being warm. Finally, we reached the coast, and unloaded at the hotel.
My room was tiny but comfortable. It held a dresser and a bed, and maybe a foot of space between them and the wall. It was wonderful! I skipped dinner, and went to bed. At 3 a.m. the phone rings. It’s Ron, one of my friends from Team No Limit in Germany. “I just arrived with my two girlfriends.” he says. “The festival office is closed and we don’t know which hotel we are assigned to. We tried to sleep in the car but it is too cold. Can we come to your room??”.
Now none of this has anything to do with the story I wanted to tell you, except to introduce you to Ron, the guy that tangled his $2000 Trilobite in the top of the tallest church steeple in town two days later. And it may also get you wondering about the two girlfriends and the size of the room, but I’ll save *that* story for later…
Berck, France is one of my favorite festivals. It draws fliers from all over Europe for a ten day gathering on a huge beach. On the weekends, as many as 100,000 spectators come and we work hard. But during the week, we spend time talking, laughing and drinking together in half a dozen languages. Over the years, friendships evolve into a sense of family among the regulars.
On Wednesday, we usually go down the beach to the children’s hospital and do a special show for the kids that can’t come the half mile up to the main festival. It’s one of those special things that makes kiting such a wonderful pastime. But this year, the kid’s show featured a little extra entertainment.
I was out on the beach challenging the gusty offshore breezes with my eagle rok. I saw the Trilobite begin to launch up near the hospital and thought, well, that it would make a good show down close to the ground. But a few minutes of smooth wind tempted the kite into the air and soon is was flying high up over the kids. I shuddered as the winds shifted. And then the kite drooped and the long bucket tails snagged the ornate cross at the top of the hospital’s chapel.
There is a unit of time shorter than a micro-second. It’s called an idio-second. It’s like the moment between when you push the car door closed and remember your keys are inside. Well, that’s how long it takes a big expensive kite to get into trouble. I landed my rok and ran up to the hospital to help. After all, I fly and sell Trilobites, so there must me something I could do, right? When I got there, I saw Ron holding the line with a perplexed look on his face. The kite had fallen down and was hugging the church steeple. Ron had the line taught and was tugging. But nothing was giving way.
We pulled to the left. No movement. We pulled to the right. Still nothing. We even tried climbing to the roof of the hospital, tossing the line into the inner courtyard, and pulling backwards. But the tail just cinched tighter and the kite remained caught.
When the kites come to town, all of Berck gets involved. So it wasn’t a surprise to see the local fire department pull up to the hospital with their big hook-and-ladder truck. Over the course of an hour, they anchor the truck, set the counter-balance, and then begin to inch their long ladder up into the sky. I mean, it’s a really big production.
The ladder goes higher, and higher and higher — and then stops. The end of the ladder is maybe three meters from the kite. The fire fighters look at each other, shrug, and take the ladder down. In five minutes they are gone. I remember wondering why it took so long to set up and so little time to leave.
By now, the crowd is getting bored and starting to break up. Ron is still smiling. “We’ll get it down. No worries.” he says. “Besides, it isn’t mine. I borrowed it from a friend…”
We find a custodian from the hospital who makes three phone calls and then lets us into the chapel. We climb the old wooden stair high up into the steeple. I’m getting claustrophobic. But then we open a trap door break into the sunlight. Claustrophobia gives way to vertigo…
We’re up – way up – off the ground and now we can actually reach the tail instead of just the bridle lines. Not that it makes any difference, of course, but it feels better being able to touch the kite. We pull for half-an-hour – from 4:30 to 5. Ron wants to climb out on the steep slippery roof and pull more. I’m worried about what might happen if the kite pops loose. At that point the to 5 o’clock bells start to ring. We leave the bell tower with ringing in our ears!
So as evening falls, the Trilobite, the $2000 Trilobite that doesn’t even belong to Ron, remains tightly wound around the Church steeple. The next day, the Manja Club took a turn trying to cut the tail loose. It was a magical thing to watch. One guy flies, and one spots with a pair of binoculars. They masterfully maneuvered fighter kites far out over the beach and with the proper angle achieved, brought their glass line up under the kite and sliced away.
They cut the body, they cut the tail, they even cut the cross, but they didn’t free the Tangled Tril. With more than twenty feet of rips and tears, the kite remained caught tight. Finally, the manja caught the Trilobite bridle and completely sheared it loose. The kite, still held firmly by the tail, flapped helplessly on the roof. The custodian made several calls again, climbed into the steeple, and re-tied the line. At least we still had a bit of control. The Manja Club went to dinner.
We considered options — hiring a steeple climber from the next town, renting a helicopter — or just coming back late at night and pulling really hard.
The week wore on.
Ron called his friend and said he found “someone” who wanted to buy the Trilobite. “Great!” the friend, and asked for $3000. Ron weakly smiled…
Nothing worked. And as the festival crowd arrived, thousands of visitors walked down the beach to view the Great Trilobite Disaster. At the same time, the hospital administrator marched back down the beach looking for Ron. He was not happy.
Day after day, we took turns trying to bring the kite down. By Sunday it looked like a brightly colored rag hanging from the church. I worried what kind of sermon might be offered inside. On Monday we all left town. The Trilobite was still there. It probably still is.
Now, before I end this story, a couple of points need to be made.
First, obstacles create turbulence which can cause accidents for even experienced fliers.
Second, Susie wants me to stress that it wasn’t our kite. In fact, I wasn’t even involved until the rescue began. Really!
Third, AKA insurance will not cover this because Ron isn’t an AKA member. But if he was a member and the accident happened in the USA, he’d be a lot happier.
Fourth, I want to thank Jurgen Eppinghaus for the photos. I was too busy helping to take any shots.
And finally, you should know that Peter Lynn makes a tough kite … BTW, we sell them for less than three thousand dollars…
Next month, I’ll tell you more about the two girlfriends.