In the morning, after the comprador of the petrol depot had painted ‘A fair wind and an easy voyage on the fuselage in Chinese characters, I let the seaplane drift fast across the river, and took off with the greatest ease. I had 48 gallons on board, and regretted not having filled right up with 60 gallons that I could certainly have lifted.
At first I could not pick out the Shell building from the great row all so much alike. Then I spotted the semaphore tower like a tall pillar on the riverside, and worked along from there. There seemed to be flags on every building for miles. Then I spotted three flags in a triangle – three flags after taking off so easily with a full load. I was disgusted at everything. I flew on up-river and easily located the company’s hangar where it was kid’s stuff taxiing up to a proper cradle with an expert crew and then drawing the seaplane up the smooth concrete.
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The Americans had a telephone into the city and I spoke to Paddy. I told him what I thought of his stopping me. He said, ‘Quite impossible, my dear chap, quite impossible. Father Gherzi said there was a sixty to 70-mile wind against you. Sheer suicide. I took the opportunity, with the seaplane on firm land, of inspecting the fuselage closely. The fabric was peeling off the underside of the fuselage, and the exposed plywood looked sodden. That glued plywood gave the seaplane its strength. If the glue had its life taken out by the sea water, the tail would break off in a gust. The Gipsy Moth was not built as a seaplane, and it was not built to stand up to sea water. As I ripped off the useless fabric and covered the three-ply with black bituminous paint I wished I had a parachute.
In the afternoon Father Gherzi said that I must not leave before he had the Japanese reports at 8.30 in the morning. That meant a 9.30 start, which was later than I liked, but what could I say to a man who was taking so much trouble for my safety? There was something fine about that dark impatient man, and he was good: each time I parted from him, I had an impulse to live a better life.
In the morning I set off again. It was the 13th of the month, and I was worried about the superstition that it might be unlucky. But, ‘Rubbish! I told myself. ‘Thirteen is my lucky number, not unlucky; I first flew solo on a 13th, left Wellington on a 13th, arrived in Sydney on a 13th, and today I am leaving Shanghai on a 13th. Another part of me said, ‘These 13s are repeated omens of disaster. But I didn’t care what they were; all I wanted was to fly the Yellow Sea on that day
Father Gherzi said that I could leave, but that the conditions were not favourable. There would be a headwind for a considerable distance, Force 6 or so, but near Kagoshima the wind could be expected to calm. As I taxied up-river to warm up, I checked that everything was at hand in the cockpit; sextant, slide rule, nautical almanac, log-tables, watch, barometer, log-book, charts, dividers. There was still a high wind, and we slipped off the water easily. As soon as I had enough height above the river I turned and headed for Japan.