Balloons finally fly on last day of race weekend
NATCHEZ — After two days of disappointment, pilots and ballooning fans alike were given an opportunity Sunday to see the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race take to the air on its final day.
Friday and Saturday’s flights were canceled due to fog and wind concerns.
Pilot Jason Gaines of St. Louis said such delays are a part of the ballooning experience.
“When you’ve been doing it as long as I have, you know the weather changes hourly, and ballooning weather is so microscopic there’s always a possibility you won’t fly,” he said.
“Sometimes the weather looks really bad for the weekend, and you get there and it is great, and sometimes it looks great for the weekend and it isn’t. In ballooning, we have a saying that it’s a lot of hurry up and wait.”
But after hurrying up and waiting for two days, conditions were right.
Sunday’s events included a Gordon Bennett race in the morning — which was scored for the competition — and a Hare and Hound in the afternoon, which was not included in the competition.
In a Gordon Bennett Race, an X is placed inside a giant square. Racers have three tasks — to toss a beanbag as close to the square as possible while still remaining outside the square, to toss a beanbag as close to the edge of the square but inside the box and to toss a beanbag closest to the center of the X.
Balloonists took off near Natchez High School and Duncan Park, and traveled in the direction of the Natchez Mall.
Balloonist Brian Hoyle from Raleigh, N.C., who recently flew in the U.S. nationals, said the Sunday morning event was worth the wait.
“Natchez is one of the most beautiful places to fly, but it is also one of the toughest places in the country to fly,” he said.
“At the same time, it is one of the most family oriented festivals here.”
In the first task of Sunday morning’s competition, first place went to Frank Anger of Tupelo, second place went to Stephen Guido of Natchez and third place went to Nancy McConnell of Florida.
On the second task, Guido took the top score, followed by George Richard of Baton Rouge and Mark Daniel of Pinson, Ala.
On the third task, Daniel took the lead, Anger was second and Dean Durr of Waynesboro finished third.
Daniel was declared the overall winner of the race, followed by Richard and Guido.
In the Sunday afternoon Hare and Hound, one balloon, flown by the race’s Balloon Miester Bill Cunningham, served as the hare by inflating and taking off before the rest of the balloons, and where the Hare landed an X was placed on the ground.
The rest of the balloons — the hounds — attempted to follow the Hare’s path and drop a beanbag on the X.
The Hare and Hound event launched from the balloon festival grounds at Fort Rosalie and flew to the area of the mall. The event did not count toward the competition score, and balloonists helped each other inflate their aircraft at the launch site, which had limited space.
Hoyle said the Natchez race is “the most cordial” of the races in which he participates.
“We can be really competitive about it, but we’ll help each other out, and we have some really good pilots here,” he said.