Next morning Father Gherzi looked worried. The typhoon had destroyed 2,000 houses in the Ryukyus, the string of islands between Formosa and Japan. The Japanese had refused me permission to fly near these, and it was because of this that I was now in Shanghai facing the sea crossing to Japan. Father Gherzi told me that it looked as if the typhoon was going to curve and pass close to Shanghai to the east; that it was gathering speed; and that I must make my aeroplane secure. How was I to do that? In this whole vast city I could not find anywhere to shelter one small seaplane.
I went down to my Gipsy Moth, pulled her farther up the mud, and raised the float heels so that the wind would press the wings down instead of lifting them up. Next morning (10 August) Father Gherzi said that the typhoon was centred at 27° N., 123° E., which was 150 miles south-east of the bay where I had alighted when on the way up from Formosa. It appeared to be curving towards the coast, to pass inland, but that was unusual in August, and it seemed more likely to recurve itself and make directly for Shanghai.
China Map Detailed Photo Gallery
Kwongsang went down with all hands at Funingfu, my landfall on arriving from Formosa. The typhoon had travelled 360 miles in a day. Father Gherzi expected the wind to increase to 50mph that afternoon.
At 4.30 p.m. the typhoon gun was fired, and I went off down the river in a launch to stand by the seaplane through the night. I had one hope. The seaplane would be quite safe in a 100-mph wind if it was facing into it in a flying position. Such a wind would give the seaplane a lift equal to a ton’s weight, so that if I could face the seaplane into the wind, and weight it down with a ton, it should ride out the typhoon. Filling the floats with water, as I knew from bitter experience, was the best way to weight it down, but it would not be possible after that to change its heading if the wind changed direction. I had the seaplane moved to the lee of a wall and the eyebolts in the wings secured to four oil drums. Then I removed all the bilge plugs so that when the tide rose, the floats would fill with water. The caretaker put me up for the night in the houseboat in which he lived. Every time I woke during the night the wind was blowing unchanged in strength, and in the morning it was still the same. Suddenly I thought, ‘What a weak fool I am to be sitting here like a paralysed rabbit!’ I went back to Shanghai by the first launch that passed, and sought out Father Gherzi. The typhoon had struck the coast at the bay where I had alighted among the junks, and was moving inland, but was expected to curve northwards for Shanghai. I told him that I was going to leave Shanghai next morning, typhoon or no typhoon. A wind that would prevent my reaching Japan would be favourable for a flight to Korea. If, after five hours over the sea, I took a sextant shot and found that I had not enough petrol to reach Japan, I would turn north and fly with the wind. I could do this even if the wind was 60mph. I expected him to tell me curtly not to leave, but he said only, ‘Very well.’ Then he begged me not to leave until he had reports from Korea and Japan in the morning. But I could not wait for these reports. I had to leave Thoms’s house at dawn if I was to reach the seaplane by 7 a.m. and take off by 9 a.m. There were no telephones, or roads to the seaplane. Then I had an idea, and Paddy fell in with it. This was that I would take off, and fly back up the river; Paddy would get the latest report from Father Gherzi, and signal to me with a flag from the top of the Shell building as I flew past. If the wind was more favourable below 5,000 feet one flag; above 5,000 feet two flags; too dangerous for me to leave, three flags.
When I got back to Thoms’s house I was told by Daly that I had been taken to the wrong hangar on Saturday; that one belonged to the Chinese army; the American Company’s hangar was farther upstream, and they had waited for me there with a skilled launching crew.
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