He offered to have the seaplane launched for me, but I declined, mounted the cowling, and held the crane hook under the sling wires myself. The seaplane was swung outboard and lowered to the harbour surface. Lazy wisps of smoke hung about buildings. The soft grey shapes of the moored warships suggested a peaceful existence. That glassy surface was a worry for me, though. The floats would not be able to break from the suction of smooth water; with the Captain on the bridge, and my friends watching, I should be unable to take off. I had to try, though, so first I headed for the harbour entrance. The water felt like treacle, and I turned and headed for Sydney Harbour Bridge, but I could not break the grip of the surface. Suddenly I spotted a ferry steamer ahead, swerved, and made for the waves of its wash. I felt a bump-bump-bump underneath, and we were off. I dipped my wings to Albatross and headed for the open sea. It was wonderful to be roaring north. I wrote in my log, ‘This is the supreme ecstasy of life.’
Australia Map Of The World Photo Gallery
Three hundred miles later I was skimming the surface a foot or two above a waterway parallel with the coast. It was wild, rough country, with dark-green feathery-leaved trees overhanging the water’s edge. I put up two big flapping birds, like flamingos, only white. I followed one close behind, and it could keep ahead at 70mph, flying frantically with its great spread of jagged-edged white wings and its long pinkish legs streaming behind it. Suddenly it checked itself, its legs dangled limply, as if broken, and it crumpled and dropped as if shot. I expected it to hit the water in a burst of feathers, but it suddenly took flying shape again and made off in another direction.
The Brisbane River was puckered and wrinkled by a breeze. I flew up-river to the bridge and alighted there. When I came to take off next morning it was foggy with a light rain. There was not a breath of wind and the muddy water was as smooth as glass. I tried taking off up-river and down-river, I tried every trick I knew, rocking, jumping and porpoising, but I could not unstick the floats. It was nervy work, for I could not see far ahead in the mist, and there were ferry-boats, steamers, rowing-boats, buoys and moorings to be avoided. After repeated failures to get off, I tried up-river again, for the full length of the straight. I reached a right-angled bend and, although it had been drummed into me that a seaplane must be kept dead straight in taking off, I swerved slightly to obtain a few more yards run. My hands were on the throttle to shut off when I thought that the floats rode a little easier. That was tantalising just at the bend where I must stop. I had a wild feeling, and I swerved hard to starboard. I could feel the port float lift; for an instant I straightened out, and then swerved hard again to starboard. As I straightened again I could feel that the starboard float had risen a little in the water. While still rounding the bend I lifted her off the surface. She was heavily stalled, but she was in the air, and stealing up-river. I learned something new about seaplane flying that morning.
I swung round, and flew the length of the river to the sea, then skimmed the passage between the mainland and Great
Sandy Island. There were a lot of little flat islets, and I enjoyed jumping them. Then the screw-cap of the front cockpit petrol tank flew off the filler-pipe, which projected through the fuselage. A little safety chain held it, but I was afraid that this might break, and that the cap, hurtling back in the slipstream, might smash the tailplane. I had to come down, so I turned into wind above a stretch of water I thought suitable, and I was just about to settle when I noticed a snag sticking out of the water. I dodged it with a hurried swerve and came down on a narrow strip of shallow water between the mainland and a long sand-spit. There was a light breeze of 8mph from the south. There was no trace of man; alighting there was an indescribable thrill, and the silence and solitude were a balm. I screwed the cap on and let the seaplane drift sternwards until about to ground on a sandbank before swinging the propeller and taking off again. Some hours later I flew up the Fitzroy River to alight just below the bridge at Rockhampton.