Travel to Australia

Martin’s stepson made me a bilge pump by reversing the valve in a bicycle pump, and he made me a new anchor in a borrowed forge. Martin collected a mail of 140 letters for me to take to Lord Howe Island and Australia.

When all this was done I tried to take off. It was a perfect, cloudless day, but there was not the slightest breeze, and still a swell from the south-east. I tried runs away from the island and towards the swell, but it was useless. I jettisoned an hour’s petrol, my rubber dinghy and everything else I could possibly do without, and then the bracing wire fitting snapped. Brent repaired it on board the seaplane. Time after time I tried to take off, each time handling the seaplane more harshly, and I was amazed that it stood up to the bashing. The bracing wire snapped again. I needed a completely new idea. I went ashore and strolled about thinking; suddenly an idea came – the seaplane must be structurally rigid without the fore and aft bracing wires; why not see if one of these would fit in place of the actual wire which had snapped? Brent returned with me to the seaplane, and the wire fitted. It was then too late to start for Lord Howe Island, so I went off with Martin for something to eat.

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I considered the other bays of the island for trying to take off. The only possible one seemed to be Emily Bay, on the south coast. It had a horrible coral reef, but there was water between reef and shore, and I thought that if I could get a run along the strip of water without the floats being ripped open on the coral, I could get off. The worst feature was a bend in the strip of water at its narrowest place where I should have to change course while taking off, but it seemed my only hope, and I decided to have a shot at it. The question was how to get the seaplane in to Emily Bay. It was a long way to taxi round with the propeller chopping spray all the time. I considered taking it across in a lorry, but there were many objections to this. ‘Why not fly her over?’ suggested one of the boatmen. Everyone applauded, and I realised that unless the seaplane flew soon people would lose interest in helping me. Hardly anyone had seen the seaplane fly.

I unloaded all my gear and siphoned all the petrol out of the lower tanks, filling ten 4-gallon tins with it. Empty, the seaplane took off at last. She left the crest with one swell, hit the next and sprang off about forty feet in the air. She looked like settling down again, but gathered speed before the floats touched. I climbed to 3,000 feet and made for the lagoon at Emily Bay. I circled the lagoon, studying it, and the longer I looked the less I liked it. Dark blobs of coral sprinkled it from end to end. ‘If I look much longer,’ I thought, ‘I shall get stage fright.’ I swooped down and put the seaplane on the surface at high speed and planed fast through where I judged the narrow neck to lie. As I passed the neck I let out the breath I had been holding.

I anchored off the little sand beach in Emily Bay, and Brent and I worked on the seaplane until the evening. I sorted my gear and left behind everything possible, including the rubber boat. I hated doing this, but it weighed 27 lbs with the oars and pump. On my way back to Martin’s I suddenly remembered that my nautical almanac, which gave the position of the sun for every hour of the day, ran out on 31 March and that tomorrow was 1 April. There was no other nautical almanac on the island. I had to have one, because I had to rely on sun observations for finding Lord Howe Island. I decided to make a new almanac myself. I needed the sun’s declination and right ascension for every hour, so I took the readings for several days beforehand, noted how they changed, and assessed the values for the corresponding times of tomorrow. The cable station checked my watch against Greenwich Time, and I promised to transmit a message every hour of the flight if I could get off.

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