Flag Of Australia

Looking ahead I could see dark grey rain-clouds squatting on the horizon – bad weather. That seemed more than I could bear. I felt empty of any courage. I tapped out a wireless message; although the transmitter might be useless, the routine act gave me support like an old friend. Before the end of the message I flew into stinging cold rain. There were still some gaps through which the sun shone, and I hurried through my drift observations and the plotting for the hour’s flight. I glanced at the petrol gauge – 3% hours left.

The plot showed that after six hours and ten minutes of flight I had made good 464 miles. I looked ahead for rays from the sun that I needed to check the distance flown for sure, but I could see none. I flew into a rain squall, and the heavy drops, striking my forehead, stung like hail. The squall only lasted about a mile, and on breaking through it I spotted a patch of wintry sunlight lying away to the right. I swung off course to the north and set off through spits of rain to chase the sun-patch. The seaplane was now plugging dead into wind, yet the sun-patch which had appeared close enough at the start seemed to keep its distance. Afraid of the gap’s closing before I reached it, I opened the throttle, and sat tense waiting for an explosion from the propeller flying to bits, followed by a runaway roar from the motor. When this did not happen, I gradually relaxed. The sun-patch did not seem any closer.

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Suddenly I realised why – on looking down I saw that the sun-patch was racing over the waves against the wind just as fast as the seaplane was flying. But I must have that sun. I pushed the throttle wide open. Several times I had a glimpse of the sun at the edge of the cloud, and at last I thought I was in position, and turned sharply to take the sight broadside on. But as I lifted the sextant, the shadows raced over the plane, and on again. Angry, I turned sharply, and set off again at full speed. Nothing else seemed to matter. I adjusted the sextant to what I estimated would be the right angle, and held it ready. I put the nose down, the speed rising until there was a shrill note in the rigging wires. I turned with a vertical bank, and got a single shot while still in the turn, pulling the seaplane out of its sideways dive just above the sea. The next moment I was in dull rain. I levelled off and flew on westwards. I was four and a half minutes late with my sun sight, but I made an allowance for the time difference, and compared the result with my pre-calculations for 5 p.m. It put the position 21 miles short of the turn-off point.

What trust could I put in that last miserable sketchy sun-shot? But there was no more sun. Fifteen minutes after the observation, I reckoned that I had reached the turn-off point. I turned, and headed SSW, changing course by nearly seventy degrees.

The clouds were steadily darkening and lowering. The seaplane was scudding over the rising, roughening sea, at a great pace, with the wind now nearly astern. A drift of fifteen degrees to port showed how the wind had increased. Fewer clouds were spilling rain, and that seemed an added threat. I stared at every dark, low-lying cloud on the horizon, each of which might be hiding the island, and I continually searched the stormy ceiling for a glimpse of the sun. At last I gave up hope of seeing the sun again. Immediately, as if it had been waiting for me to do that, it showed through a break in the clouds, dead ahead, and sun-rays slanted down. I opened the throttle and raced for it, leaning forward. I got three good sights while crossing the column of sunlight. I computed this observation entirely afresh, making heavy weather of it, my brain dopey with strain or fatigue. The result put the island dead ahead. I grasped the result slowly, and then my mood changed violently. I was puffed up with confidence and exultation. I closed the sextant and stowed it away with the other instruments. I looked at the sea, with the crests torn off in showers of spray. The drift had increased to twenty degrees a 40-mile wind! With this rapid change in wind force, and the whole sky menacing, what was I running into? Six hours forty minutes. Where was the island? Had I, after all, miscalculated? I bitterly regretted my rubber boat.

Time seemed to go so slowly that I had to stare hard at the clock to convince myself that it had not stopped. All at once I got fed up with worrying, and I was stretching out my hand for something to eat when distinct, clean-cut land showed ahead and a few degrees to the left, a dagger of grey rock thrust through the surface. A hot flood of triumph and excitement swept through me. I could have smashed things with excitement. Then, good God! There was an enormous black bulk of land right alongside me. I stared astounded. It was little Lord Howe Island emerging from a dense squall cloud. It looked as big as Australia it was so close. What I had spotted was a rock off the south end of it.

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