Traveling in Australia

In the morning, on waking, I walked out into the starlight to study the weather. I knew that I could get off that stretch of water only against a fresh breeze, and it had to be blowing straight up and down. Against a starlit sky I could see the fringe of a tree-top swaying. For the first time since I arrived there was a fresh breeze of 15 to 20mph blowing. I turned my head till it was blowing equally on each cheek – it was south-easterly, almost dead up and down the stretch of water. It was marvellous.

I had to get to the opposite end of the lagoon from where the seaplane was anchored in Emily Bay. In such a breeze it would have been impossible to taxi slowly downwind through the channel, so Martin had a dinghy carried overland to Emily Bay, and two boatmen towed the seaplane to the neck in the lagoon, and then let it drift downwind. We reached the end of the reef, and there we moored to an anchor bypassing the rope over a float boom. Brent sat in the rubber boat astern, and held the loose end of the mooring rope. Standing on the float, I swung the propeller and then nipped back into the cockpit. Looking over the cockpit edge I found myself staring into the excited face of a swimmer, half out of water and balanced with his hands on the end of the float.

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The propeller blades, invisible to him, were cutting past his face, and if he swayed forward an inch he would be killed. I stabbed my finger at him and shrieked. He slipped back into the water with a sheepish expression – I think because of my screaming at him in front of the people, and not because he realised his narrow escape. I felt weak with the shock of having nearly killed him. I pulled myself together, and opened the throttle wide and signed to Brent to let go the rope. The seaplane shot forward and gathered speed quickly. I pressed back in the cockpit, my head as high as possible, darting quick looks from side to side at the reef, to shore, and ahead. I was not aware of the seaplane, or its controls at all. At the narrow neck, about to shut off for having failed, I found to my surprise that I had left the water, and was a few feet above it. I had not enough height to turn properly to avoid a hillock in front, and slithered round in a horrible flat skidding turn. I flew back to the lagoon in a wide sweep. I deeply regretted my rubber dinghy. I could have carried it easily! It seemed terrible to face the distance ahead without it, in this battered, strained plane. But no! I had escaped with the seaplane in one piece, and nothing would induce me to return. I dived, and flew along the lagoon, saluting the crowd. Then I headed west.

The sun was behind my right shoulder and during the flight I could expect it to move round over the right wing, to ahead. To fit in with this I changed course ten degrees to the right, which should take me 100 miles to the right of Lord Howe Island. This would increase the flight to 600 miles, but it was the only scheme that would find me the island. Using the slide rule and my home-made nautical almanac I calculated what the bearing and distance of the sun-point would be from the island about an hour before I was due to arrive, and then selected the turn-off point along my present line of flight which would have the same bearing and distance from the sun-point as the island at that time. This imaginary turn-off point was my first objective.

I looked back for a last sight of Norfolk Island but was surprised to find it already hidden in a purple haze, although only 15 miles away. I used the same navigation system as on the flight to Norfolk Island, taking three drift readings every half hour, and plotting them. Forty minutes out I slipped the wireless key under a band round my leg to send a message to the cable station. I found the battery current meter needle dancing about madly before I switched on; I assumed that vibration had short-circuited it somewhere, and that the set was useless. But I had no means of checking whether it was working or not, and as I had promised to transmit, I did so.

At the end of the first hour I found that the wind had backed to east by north, and given me a lift of 20 miles. It looked as if I was going to have an easy flight, and I had to fight against drowsiness. I made the calculations necessary to check the compass error as soon as the sun was abeam. This was important, because I had not had an opportunity of checking the compass on this heading, and an error of ten degrees would put the seaplane 100 miles off its course in a 600-mile flight. The method I used for checking the compass was this: I calculated when the sun would be nearly abeam, and worked out how far I would be from an imaginary sun-point if I was on my right track; then, when the time came, I would take a sextant shot at the sun to find out my actual distance from that point. The difference between the two distances would tell me how far I was off the right track.

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