This first weekend of December saw Gaborone Skydiving Club, in association with the Parachute Association of Botswana, organise a skydiving weekend at the Gaborone Golf Club. Botswana has become something of an aviation tourist destination in recent years, with the Race for Rhinos and the Gaborone and Matsieng Airshows.
The parachute association has done its bit with the Makgadikgadi Epic, which has drawn skydivers from around the world to the salt pans near Nata. Here they have the almost unique opportunity to jump from military aircraft in the form of BDF C-130's and C-235's. Like the excellent Race for Rhinos that is hosted at the same venue, the event has been a major international success. Now the Parachute Association of Botswana is trying to attract more people from Botswana to get involved in the sport. This was the real aim of the weekend's jumps.
This event not only attracted numerous skydivers from Johannesburg and Rustenburg clubs, but saw local stars Cyril Nfila, Munyaka Makuyana, Boikhutso Maswabi, Colonel Majama, Neville Sparrow, Paul Henshaw, and Hendrik Pelser in action. Undoubtedly though, the main attraction for the general public was the possibility of doing a tandem jump with one of the two tandem masters, Chris Grosch and Robbie Stewart. This was a great success with almost 40 people paying for the privilege of jumping out of a perfectly good aeroplane. It was noticeable how many of these were both young and female, suggesting that the sport has a secure future ahead of it in Botswana
The whole event was made possible through the kind sponsorship of several organisations. Makuyana Legal Practice provided all the admin support, Aquarian Tide hotel provided subsidised accommodation, Kagiso Motsage at Barloworld provided transport, Kutz and Tutz provided crew for the day.
So what does a tandem consist of?
Firstly, each tandem jumper was presented with a beautiful Parachute Association of Botswana jumpsuit - whose stylishness was remarked on by many of the professionals. The general opinion was that the tandem jumpers looked more like skydivers than the skydivers! Luxury transport was then provided from the Golf course, in the centre of Gaborone, to Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, where, after going through security, you were taken to the waiting Atlas Angel. At this point you were strapped into you harness and instructions were given - only three fairly easy steps. How hard could they be to remember?
After the usual pre-flight checks, the Angel is started up and you clamber aboard, trying to ignore the tightness of the harness in the groin area while maintaining some dignity! It is also noticeable that the pilot, Denis Howe, has his own 'chute. Fortunately, I have met Denis before and I know his passion for jumping, but I hope he won't have to today! A quick taxi and a very, very short take off roll and you are away. In our case, passing a BDF Hercules that was busy loading up with a full complement of troops.
At a steady 70 knots the Angel bores its way upward at a surprisingly steep angle, as it climbs at an impressive 1,500 feet a minute. This attitude is maintained until the jump height of 11,000 above the ground is reached. By this time, you are firmly strapped to your tandem master, in my case the confidence inspiring Robbie Stewart, then the massive side door is then slid open unleashing a gale force wind that makes communication almost impossible.
The solo jumpers made their exit as you are guided (nudged, pushed, and shoved in the right direction!) to the gaping void. Sit on the edge, legs tucked under the step, and head…well it is meant to be head up, but it is too tempting not to look at the fantastic landscape arrayed below you. A sharp word in the ear to correct this and then you tumble out.
One roll, a second slower roll - giving a great view of the departing Atlas - and then stabilise. You are now freefalling towards the ground, speed quickly rising toward 200 km/h but, except for the wind noise, there is no real sensation of falling. Until you smile! Then your mouth is inflated into a very childish grin.
Gaborone is laid out below you, with the golf course and the national stadium prominent but the horizons reach far into South Africa in one direction and to the wonderfully named Molepolole in the other.
Down, down, down - the floor is slowly creeping towards you as more of the city comes into focus. Then a sudden jerk, sharp but not severe, as the parachute opens. The noise disappears instantly and normal conversation is resumed.
The whole city is now drifting by as you are given control. It takes a surprising amount of strength to haul the canopy around in a steep turn. For me the highlight is the site of my workplace, Maru-a-Pula School, and my house. The scene of the litter from last night's (now slightly regretted!) staff Christmas party being cleared away is clearly visible.
Control is returned to the unobtrusive Robbie, who has let you take everything in at your own speed, as we prepare for landing. A gentle turn to keep the fairway in sight, to check the wind and the approach of the last solo jumper and it is our turn to line up. A turn, just short of the main road in front of the clubhouse, and we line up perfectly on the 9th fairway. When I say we, I mean Robbie. Feet up, which cuts all circulation to some vital areas, and we scrape to a surprisingly gentle touch down. A little sand is kicked up, but nothing to worry the greenkeepers, and that's it. A few words to the camera and hugs from the waiting family. What a great way to end the year. Sadly, the jumpsuits had to be returned!
In addition to the sponsors, a large volunteer ground team provided support for all - ensuring everything (and everybody) was in the right place at the right time. They were ably coordinated by Jana Niemoller from Johannesburg.
Finally, Travis Grosch provided a brilliantly edited video and a set of pictures for each and every jumper. What more could you ask for? What are you waiting for?
What are you waiting for? Jump today!
If you want more information on skydiving in Botswana contact:-
Cyril Nfila 71590068 firstname.lastname@example.org
Munyaka Makuyana 71898719 email@example.com