The boat, like a big clumsy whaler, was bearing down fast on my frail Moth. A crew was driving it with powerful sweeps of great oars, and a big man stood in the stern, with a long steering oar. ‘Hey there!’ I shouted. ‘Stand off, you’re going to ram me!’
‘All right, skipper, all right,’ sang out the helmsman, who looked like Caligula, ‘don’t get excited, we won’t hurt you.’ They were very patient, considering that they must be some of the best boatmen in the world.
Australia Guide for Tourist Photo Gallery
I wanted to refuel quickly, to be ready for an early start next morning. Petrol had to be fetched from the other side of the island, but the trip took only about ten minutes. When the petrol arrived, the fun began. Riding the swell, the Moth had a twisting pitch, which made it impossible to stand on the engine to fill the top tank. I sat astride the narrow engine cowling, holding a four-gallon tin under one arm, and the collapsible funnel in my right hand, while I tried to fill the 20-gallon tank in the front cockpit. That funnel was a hellish instrument. As the seaplane pitched and tossed, the bottom of the funnel would fold up, the top fill, and petrol would spill on my leg. When I handled the second tin the petrol and sea water on my shoes, the floats and wings had made them all as slippery as wet ice. I slithered about with the tin in my arms, trying to get it up on to the top of the engine. I was soaked to the knees in salt water, and wet through with petrol in places below the waist. This petrol was strong stuff, because I found afterwards that it had burnt six inches of skin off my left leg.
I had a feeling of utter futility; the sea was calm now, but God help the seaplane, and me too, if it got rough. No wonder that no one had ever attempted to make a long-distance flight alone in a seaplane before! Then, ‘Bah!’ I thought, feeling savage, ‘don’t be weak! You’re just not used to it.’ I decided to leave the rest of the fuelling, and fixed on the engine and cockpit covers with the aid of my torch. At least I had covered the 718 miles before sunset.
I was invited to spend the night at Government House, which had been the Prison Governor’s house when the island was a penal settlement. The walls were so thick that outside my room there was a sentry box cut out of the solid stone. It did not seem ten seconds before I was being knocked up at 4 a.m. I groaned as I dressed wearily, in sticky, cold clothes. I had some bacon and eggs, with a strong whisky and soda. Then I was asked to wait until dawn, for the administrator to arrive. He asked me to carry letters to his wife and to the Governor of New South Wales.