Australia Vacations

I started the motor and taxied inshore to calmer water. There was a rock ahead, and I put on some engine and full rudder to avoid it. The seaplane was slow to turn. The throttle was now nearly full open, and suddenly the seaplane was nearly on top of the rock – I found myself staring down at the black stone crown of it, some six feet above water, dead ahead. The seaplane had refused to turn, and my only hope was to do something drastic. I put on full opposite rudder and maximum engine. The seaplane lurched round, heeled over, and the wing-tip dipped into white water. I dared not slow the motor, but I eased the rudder amidships, and the seaplane dragged clear.

I thought, ‘I may do it yet!’ The next time I kept the seaplane on the surface, planing until I thought it was going as fast as it could, when I yanked the stick back hard, to pull her off suddenly. She jumped from the crest of the swell, and was in the air, but she had not enough speed to stay airborne, sank back and plunked into the sea. Again I tried, but this time as the seaplane hit the water, I saw a wire flicker like a rapier blade. One of the twelve inter-float bracing-wires had snapped. The question now was, Could I get back to Cascade? Each wave spread the floats apart like flat feet, and in the troubled sea off Bird Rock I was expecting them to break up every minute of the passage. I was surprised and relieved when I arrived.

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The next few days were spent in worrying efforts to get the wire stay replaced, and to take off. People were very kind to me. Mr Martin, a merchant, invited me to stay with his family it was a most friendly, hospitable house. A man named Brent, who turned out to be a crack mechanic, gave me enormous help with the plane. Martin found some wire rope to make a new stay, and Brent fixed a shackle to take it. After he had fixed the shackle he started dismantling the motor. Holding the detached cylinder head, he said, ‘You’re lucky, aren’t you? Look at this!’ The exhaust and inlet valves had been changed over, and the metal seating of the exhaust valve had begun to unscrew and was already a third of the way out. ‘It’s a wonder it did not come right out and jam the valve port open or shut, in which case the motor would have broken up,’ he said. It looked as if reaching the island was due to fate rather than to skill on my part.

Meanwhile I studied the floats. How had the water got in if they were watertight at Auckland? Martin helped me to fill up the eight float compartments one by one with fresh water. There was no sign of a leak – only a slight weeping at one place; but that would not have let in ten gallons in a month. Brent and I examined them carefully, and finally decided that the only possible entry was under the inspection plates screwed into the top of each compartment. Some of the screw threads were worn, and we decided that the plates must have lifted when the floats were submerged. Brent fitted larger screws and we thought the trouble was fixed. But it wasn’t. The real trouble, which eluded all the technicians who handled and examined these floats in New Zealand and later, was that after the floats had been dropped on the deck of the cruiser, the keels had been replaced with stainless steel; and electrolytic action (which no one thought about in those days) corroded away the rivets and some of the thin duralumin skin of the float. When the floats were in the water, the thin sides were pressed away from the keel, and the water flowed in. As soon as they came out of the water, the water inside pushed the sides of the float against the keel and stopped the leak.

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