It was difficult to work; the seaplane was hard to control, and could not be trimmed to fly level. If I took my hands off the controls for a second, it would go into a steep dive, or climb immediately. Besides the nuisance of having to nag continuously at the controls, this meant there was something wrong with the rigging – perhaps a float had been knocked out of trim. The speed indicator on the strut outboard showed that the speed had dropped to 72mph. That suggested that perhaps the propeller might be damaged – that, at least, would explain the terrific vibration. A few months ago I would not have flown the plane in this condition over the safest route in the world, but now I just had to go on.
Visit to Australia Photo Gallery
Glancing to the south I noticed a small black cloud on the horizon and as I watched, it changed shape. It was no cloud, but smoke, and I decided that it must be the steamer Makambo on her monthly visit to Norfolk Island. I rocked the seaplane’s wings in salute, as excited as if I had seen a ship after being in the water for three days. I seized the wireless key, and tapped out an exuberant message that I could see her; as I finished, she belched out a big smoke, which warmed my heart as a signal that they had heard me on board, or seen the plane. I could not see the ship, for she was below the horizon from me. When plotting my drift observations it occurred to me that the slow old Makambo would be steaming a direct course from Lord Howe Island to Norfolk Island. I could see from the chart that she must have been 30 miles away when I joyfully waggled my wings in salute – I might as well have been at the North Pole for all the chance they had of seeing me. It was curious how plain the smoke was, whereas the island had been out of sight at half the distance.
Holding my log-book in my left hand with the little finger crooked round the control-stick, and my other elbow touching the side of the fuselage, I found it impossible to write. This drove home to me that the vibration was not only severe, but dangerous. The whole fuselage was shaking, with a quick short period, and the rigging wires, which should be taut, were vibrating heavily. Why? It was not the motor, because the exhausts were firing with a steady, even bark. I decided that it must be the propeller. I thanked heaven for a following wind and perfect weather; if the seaplane struck bumpy air in this condition God help us.
When I came to plotting three drift lines at the end of the hour I found that I had made some blunder. They should all three meet in a point, or nearly so, but they didn’t. It was simply that I had plotted one of them to starboard instead of to port, yet, though I tried to detect this silly mistake time after time, I could not spot it. As I knew that there was a mistake, it showed how stupid I was, either because of the blast of wind on top of my head, the roar of the motor, the salt air, or my weariness, or perhaps anxiety about the seaplane’s breaking up.
Glancing down, I had a shock. The compass had worked loose, and had turned until the seaplane was headed northwest. The vibration had rattled out the holding screws. I twisted it back into place, and rammed wads of paper down the side to keep it there. It was now subject to the full force of the vibration, and the needle shivered violently on its pivot. I checked that I had my pocket compass in my belt. Presently I recovered a bit from my worries, and felt hungry. I pulled a tin of pineapple through the hole cut in the seat of the front cockpit, and my mouth watered as I cut open the tin. The
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