August 03, 2005

In Search Of Actual

A flight into Yet Another Boring Bay Area Sunset to Monterey (KMRY) and back with Boyan (my flight-share partner, more-or-less) in 4JG -- my half IFR, the return VFR under his command. The whole idea is to leave mid-evening in order to get some actual IMC at Monterey, a coastal airport that's notorious for having low coastal stratus at this time of the year with ceilings regularly down to 100' in the early mornings, and often about 400' at the time we're flying. And although the clouds are rolling in as usual over the Golden Gate, I log less than two minutes actual (actually, I don't log any actual -- what's the point?!) for the whole trip -- a couple of minutes lowering ourselves through a very thin coastal layer on the ILS for 10R, circle to 28L. We break out well before DH; the breakout is very sudden, being both horizontal and vertical at the same time, as the cloud bank just ended abruptly over the shoreline. On breakout I have one of those moments of disorientation when I can't see the runway (which is pretty much right in front of me) -- I guess I'd expected to break out a little later and wasn't prepared for a sudden windshield full of lights. An interesting little lesson.

Making the whole thing worse is the fact that I manage to leave my Cone Of Stupidity at home (D'Oh!) -- so the whole thing, planned as an IFR workout with multiple approaches at MRY, with holds, etc., just turns into a pleasant IFR-in-VMC flight along a familiar course over the usual beautiful Northern California coastline. Could be worse, I guess.

On the way back approaching Oakland VFR (with Boyan as PIC), NorCal -- who's been pretty much ignoring us up to that point except for the usual traffic calls every few minutes -- suddenly calls and with an irritated and slightly urgent-sounding voice tells us "4JG, head north, descend and maintain 2,000". Say again? Both Boyan and I are uncomfortable with this -- apart from the "north" thing (and the lack of any reason for the vector), heading in that direction right there at 2,000' will put us uncomfortably close to terrain which we can't see but we both know quite well from daylight flights (and from the ground). We decide to do as ATC tells us, but if he hasn't vectored us back over lower ground within two minutes (or by the time the last lights on the ground are disappearing below the nose), we'll call him and ask for higher or another vector. After about 60 seconds the controller heads us back towards KOAK and things return to normal. I'm still unsure what the hell it was all about -- there wasn't much else happening in the airspace at that time that we could hear that would have caused such a vector -- but I guess there are times when ATC moves in mysterious ways...

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