RETURN TO AUSTRALIA
It was 9.30 a.m. local time. I could not get back to salute the people on the jetty – I just felt burnt out. A stiff breeze chased the seaplane along, and the sea glittered in the sunlight coming from behind my right shoulder. The sun seemed too far north for so early in the day: was my compass wrong? I uncased the slide rule, and computed the sun’s true bearing. Of course, I had forgotten that it was nearly midwinter, and the sun was at its farthest north; the compass was all right. As the tailwind was drifting the seaplane slightly off course to the north, I changed direction ten degrees to the south. Observing for drift was an irksome fatigue; I wanted only to sit and muse. It seemed to me that with Australia presenting a face nearly 2,000 miles long it did not much matter whether I made a bull’s-eye of Sydney or not. My wits were certainly bemused, otherwise I would have realised that this Australian coastline had a receding chin, and that every degree I flew south of the course rapidly increased the distance to land which might soon become greater than my range, whereas every degree north of the course would have shortened the flight over the sea.
Australia Map Geographical Photo Gallery
Fifty-five minutes out, the mountains were still visible 100 miles astern, like two tiny warts on the face of the ocean. It seemed perfect weather, with a tailwind of 40mph I was nearly a quarter of the way across in one hour. But the wind had backed, and I was 10 miles off course to the south as a result. At 160 miles out I had a shock: the engine backfired with a report loud above the roar – a thing it had never done before in full flight. Was there another piece of skin in the carburettor? I sat utterly still, waiting for the final splutter and choke. The engine continued firing. I reached up and tried the starboard magneto; it was all right. I tried the port, and the engine dropped fifty revs, firing roughly and harshly. A defective magneto – the only parts I had not repaired myself! The engine ran harshly for two minutes while I listened intently, then suddenly it broke into an even smooth roar again. Thank God it was not the carburettor! And I did have two magnetos.
By the end of the second hour the wind had backed still more to the north, but still was driving the plane onwards. I had covered 217 miles, nearly half way, in two hours. Again through the change of wind I had not corrected enough for drift, and was now 20 miles off course to the south. Every mile to the south added length to the flight, but it did not seem to make much odds in such perfect conditions. I changed course another ten degrees to northward.
Then came clouds, and I could see that I might be unable to get a sextant shot. I did not worry much at first – there did not seem much to worry about with a 2,000-mile wide target ahead. But the wind was increasing, and backing persistently. At 250 miles out the sky was completely shut off by dull grey, threatening cloud. I spurred myself to make some hurried drift observations; the wind had increased to 50mph from the northeast, and the seaplane was 43 miles off course to the south. With the drift, we were heading obliquely for the receding part of Australia. Forty-three miles off course seemed a lot, and I wished that I had not allowed it to build up so much. I changed course another ten degrees northwards.
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