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Leg 20 Gimpo Intl (RKSS) to Sapporo (RJCO)

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Thanks Jess. And we're off on leg 20.

Baton in hand I make my way over to the hangar to find a familiar figure - my colleague for this leg of the ATWC - tapping away at her lips, staring thoughtfully at a Dassault Rafale that I distinctly do not remember being there when I left to meet Jess. The plan had been to take a slow, leisurely tour of Japan, flying over Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo on our way to Sapporo city but Sharon, it seems, has other ideas: a Rafale is a touch too fast for all that and does not seat two, at least not this one. I'm tempted to ask how and where she acquired this particularly one but I don't think Joe's nerves could handle it (on the bright side, a shiny new Rafale is now added to the Mutley's Hangar fleet). So I settle for a worried, almost panicked expression; the kind of hunch-shouldered, oh-dear-what-now look that rabbits facing oncoming trucks are fatally familiar with.

"And this?" I falteringly ask.

Sharon smiles - a beautiful smile, radiant as the sun - and I know I'm in trouble. She's wearing a flight-suit, not the usual stunning french number, and I know I'm doubly in trouble.

"A race," she says, beaming, a touch of Cheshire Cat about the smile.

"Ah," I respond, not sure what to make of it. I look at the Zero, then at the Rafale. Her smile widens. I make the connection. I say, "Not much of a race."

"Oh it will be fun. I take the Rafale." She gestures. "You take the Zero." Another gesture, gracious. "You cross the Sea of Japan, flying directly to Sapporo city. I fly around the southern coast of Japan. The first one to cross the threshold of runway 14 at Sapporo city wins."

"And what is the prize?"

"Whoever looses pays for dinner," she says.

"Ah," I reply, sure that there is a sting in the tail somewhere. She simply smiles some more, and I'm starting to feel like mouse facing down a cat. Still, its 740-odd nautical miles to Sapporo across the Sea of Japan - more than 1600 going the way she is - and the Zero is not exactly slow, doing a good 300 knots ground giving me roughly two and half hours flying time, so I reckon that I'm going to win this. The Rafale will have to fly at least twice as fast, faster as it will need to land. Yes, I am going to win very well indeed.

A short time later and we're lined up on runway 32L at Gimpo. Sharon, as usual way ahead of me, has arranged all this with ATC, and my confidence begins to slip. The noise from the Rafale, deafening even inside the cockpit of the Zero has me thinking of that rabbit and those headlights again. We have been assured that the weather is merely mist and we'd soon climb out of it. A gent with a red flag takes up a position on the runway center line. Tension mounts...

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....and down the flag goes. The Rafale accelerates smoothly away...

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...and leaves me behind, looking rather pathetic in comparison. But it doesn't matter, because I am going to win....I think.

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Ten minutes later and Sharon is already at 30000ft and blazing along at well over 700 knots ground speed.

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I'm still climbing to 17000ft and doing considerably less.

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Twenty-three minutes in and I reach the coast. Sharon, meanwhile, has reached the southern tip of Korea. Apparently, anybody who placed a bet on me is frantically trying to get their money back.

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Thirty-three minutes in and Sharon has Japan in sight, with Nagasaki off in the distance to the left. 2012-11-8_15-47-2-375.jpg

Meanwhile, I'm somewhere over the Sea of Japan, hoping that I'm not drifting to the left. If I do, I'll end up in China. I also wish that I'd brought a book, or even a bagel, as this will be my view for the next hour or so.

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About fifty minutes in and Sharon is already flying up the southern coast, with Kyushu off to the right and Kochi in the distance ahead.

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Sixty minutes and she has reached Kochi. But this is where I win the race, as Sharon will have to land, taxi, refuel and take off again, a procedure that should take at least twenty minutes. The bookies find new heart and few bets are placed on me.

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But Sharon, as usual, is way, way, way ahead. 2012-11-8_15-56-36-406.jpg

In exchange for a one-of-a-kind replica set of all three ATWC batons, autographed by all of the pilots, and with a promise of the fourth to follow (that will take pride of place in the Kochi airport departures lounge), Sharon has enlisted the aid of a friend. As soon as she stops, she turns 180 and a fleet of vehicles rush up to hot-fuel the Rafale. A fire truck stands by in case something goes wrong. The friend hands her a bottle of water:

"Going well?" He asks.

"Beautifully."

"Good. Cause we're going to have you airborne in nine minutes."

"That slowly?" She asks with a wink.

"Yes. And make sure those Batons arrive on time."

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And how right her friend is. Sharon lifts of a short while later, having spend just over nine minutes on the ground. But that doesn't matter: I am confident that I am still going to win.

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But my confidence begins to slip as Sharon comes into sight of Mount Fuji - something somebody, somewhere delights in texting to me - and I still can't see anything but ocean.

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But, as I said, I am going to win, and two hours and fifteen minutes into the race Hokkaido comes into view, right where it was supposed to be.

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Sharon, meanwhile, is not far past Tokyo. The bookies begin to feel quite confident about me.

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I make landfall....

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...and Sharon really has it all to do. With nothing to loose and no need to have much fuel left over, she gives it the full beans.

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Eight minutes later and I'm over the mountains and within sight of the city.

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Sharon puts the Rafale into a shallow dive and the ground speed hits 834 knots, but surely this is too little too late.

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Two minutes later and I'm over the city with the airport a mere minute and a half away.

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But, Sharon has more than caught up, and not only has she caught up but she is now ahead, with the airport in sight and down to 2% fuel left in the tank...

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...And crosses the finish line twenty-one seconds before I do, sipping on fumes, in a time of 2h 40m 38s. My time; 2h 40m 59s.

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So, I didn't win, the bookies want to kill me, and Sharon is smiling that beautiful smile again. Yes, the truck has most certainly run the rabbit over. But the race was so close that Sharon very graciously decides to call it even. In fact, the race had become so famous (the Internet being what it is and certain friend of Sharon's spreading the word far and wide) that, after a quick refuel, we were asked to do a formation victory lap of the city.

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And so ends the race from Gimpo to Sapporo. The Zero flies 744nm at an average speed of 279 knots. The Rafale 1592nm at an average sped of 632 knots. The Baton is delivered safely to Jess and I get to deliver the Rafale to the Mutely's Hangar aircraft collection. Where Sharon is off to next, only she knows. And finally, if you can imagine, the Dassault Rafale against the radiant gold and deepening purple of sunset, soaring high in a cloudless sky, the roar but a whisper when if finally finds the gently lapping waves far below, the credits roll and the stirring strains of Jimi Hendrix's Vooddo Child sings out over the ocean. ;) A fitting end, I think. :D

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Amazing shots and commentary, I confess I've hold my breath til the end as I had a conspicuous bet on the Zero! The fireworks on final are a nice touch indeed.

Thanks for sharing!

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Who is this mythical Sharon? I see her name everywhere on these tales, but being new to the quest of baton-passing I am not acquainted. And what a story! Can't wait until my go!

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Bravo, great story and pic's. :clapping:

All you guys are too good at this! I think I will have to practice at pictorial story telling and join you guys next year. Looks like tons of fun. :thum:

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Wow that was exciting Marcel, you really made the most of this flight well done!

Sharon is very competitive as you have found out, she can never resist a challenge and very rarely looses. :cool:

Cheers.

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Wow... just.. wow..

Great story, amazing shots.. this might be the best leg so far...

Congrats on a job well done :hat:

@George: Sharon is a bit of a mythical creature here in the hangar... If I remember correctly she first joined the ranks back in the first ATWC. A love sorry, brain child of Dai I think... she's been with us since and make more or less regular appearances in the ATWC-flights ;)

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You take the biscuit, Marcel - an excellent contribution to the ATWC, Thanks! :thum:

Loved the tortoise/hare storyline - and the re-fuelling. I'll admit, Sharon has come a long way since her (immaculate) conception...

Cheers - Dai. :cool:

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Also, anyone know where the next stage will be, and when we can bid for it? I can't wait to get started!

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Also, anyone know where the next stage will be, and when we can bid for it? I can't wait to get started!

Patience Sir. All shall be revealed in due time. ;)

But we will be taking a short break over Christmas since I'm out if town.

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