TG latches onto the first V8 Bentayga in Iceland for a little fly-by
When it comes to parasailing, there are pretty much three ways to fly. One is to run downhill until your parachute inflates and you’re lifted on the wind. Another is to be towed by a speedboat, dangling beneath your canopy like a flying puppet. Or – and you’d be surprised at how few people go for this one – you could be strung behind a Bentley as it barrels along an Icelandic airstrip before the line is cut and you’re sucked into a thermal vortex which blows you in the direction of an active and somewhat hot-headed volcano.
How did we end up here? It’s a very good question. Let’s just say this is what happens when Bentley ships a Bentayga V8 to Iceland, the first one to make the journey in fact, and asks if there’s anything Top Gear fancies doing while it’s there. “Funny you should ask,” we said. “Does it have a towbar…?”
Words: Dan Read / Photography: Mark Fagelson
Parasailing behind a car, it turns out, is more common than you may think – especially in Iceland where it’s the easiest way to get airborne. And airborne is what you should be for prime views of the world’s weirdest landscape, with its black sand beaches, steaming blue lagoons, white pumice hills, mile-thick glaciers and moss-topped lava fields.
But first you must find somewhere to launch, which means somewhere where it’s not blowing a gale. Even pro parasailers avoid winds stronger than 25mph, which rules out our first location: a long-lost, blustery runway on the country’s western tip.
Apparently it takes 15 cows to upholster just one Bentayga. I’ve no idea how they manage it with such clumsy hooves
Instead we’re told to head south from Kirkjufell, a lonesome mountain shaped like a huge witch’s hat, to an airfield near Eyjafjallajökull (if writers were paid by the letter, Iceland would be a very profitable place to report upon), otherwise known as the volcano whose ashy hiccup caused weeks of air traffic chaos in 2010. What better place to fly!
With a north Atlantic storm already breathing down our necks, we needed to hurry. So instead of driving around the peninsula, we’d drive straight over it on Iceland’s F Roads, the latticework of tracks between the highways, where only 4x4s are allowed. Our route would take us 750 metres up and around the edge of the Snæfellsjökull glacier, which despite hours of practice, remains completely unpronounceable.
Not long ago, by which I mean 60 years or so, Icelanders would still have done this journey by horse, slowly picking their way through lumps of lava the size of houses. Even now it feels like the start of an expedition, as you drive up the trail into a veil of cloud with iron-grey basalt crumbling under the tyres. Here and there are huge strips of icy snow, like white fairways on a lunar golf course.
And yet, it’s not a question of whether the big Bentley will make it, but what sort of massage you’d like from the seats on the way. No need to concern yourself with bothersome matters of survival, even halfway up an Icelandic glacier. And get this: apparently it takes 15 cows to upholster just one Bentayga (I’ve no idea how they manage it with such clumsy hooves), and 14 hours to cut and polish all the wood and silverware. It’s part car, part manor house. They might as well install some Chesterfields and have done with it.
Meanwhile, we struggled on with the existing furniture. From the glacier’s edge it was two hours to the airstrip, around Reykjavik and into the pastures and prairies on the south coast. There, near the town of Hella, we found a grassy runway mowed around a wood hut and a tin hangar. We were greeted by a floppy windsock – good – and a man called Catalin Dragu, or Dreki to his friends, a parasailing champ from Hungary who’d be flying tandem with me.
“Please excuse me while I squeeze your ball,” he said, hurriedly clamping a winch assembly over the Bentayga’s globular towbar. “We have an hour until the wind changes”.
While he did that I was helped into my harness by Throstur Hauksson, an Icelandic parasailing pro whose name, roughly translated, means “Young Thrush, Son of Hawk’. If ever a man was meant to fly, it was him, although he’d actually be in the car, acting as ‘towmaster’, controlling the speed of the Bentley and the tension on the alarmingly thin line, which looked rather like a decorative ribbon.
Soon I was joined in my harness by Dreki, who – it seemed – I’d be wearing as a sort of human backpack. “So, uhh, how exactly do we take off?” I asked. “Just a few steps, a little run, you’ll see!” he replied. “But what if–––”
The Bentayga was already creeping forwards, its tailpipes gurgling. What I wanted to say was: what if I trip and you fall on me and we’re dragged along on our faces? Whatever. Tied together with the ’chute trailing on the ground, we stumbled forwards, somehow falling into step as the line tugged our waists. All of a sudden the wing filled with air and hoisted us up, and the Bentley picked up speed, and up we went, rising every second, the car getting smaller and smaller below.
Throstur let out the line and made full use of the 542bhp V8, which still sounded meaty, even from 300 metres overhead with the wind lashing our ears. And then, with room to stack three Big Bens between us and the car below, Dreki pulled a pin, the line dropped away between my legs and we were as free as the seagull who’d flapped over for a closer look.
With our ground anchor gone and the wind beneath our wings, we were swept up, gaining another 100 metres, and another, and another, until you could fit the entire Empire State Building beneath us. This, I’m told, is kind of the point of parasailing. Ride the thermals. Work with the wind. And when it’s time to come down, yank hard on the right brake, dip your wing and enter a dizzying spiral, Earth spinning beneath you, corkscrewing out of the sky while your passenger grunts and adds his own contribution to the airstream. At least we didn’t drift over the volcano.
“That’s the thing with the wind!” said Dreki, as we disentangled in the landing zone. “If we could actually see it, there’s no way we’d choose to fly in it…”
And he’s absolutely right. Next time, I’ll be in the Bentley.