The calculation gave me the true bearing of the island at the turnoff point, because it would then be at right-angles to the direction of the sun. The clouds were rapidly forming into dense cumulus, and I watched them anxiously. A few minutes before the end of the half hour I realised that there would be no sun available for a shot. The clouds ahead were darker, and I could see no opening. Could I rely on the previous sight? No, I must have another, for a check. The whole enterprise depended on turning at the right moment. The clouds looked whiter away to the left. Close to the half hour I turned left, away from the island instead of towards it, and opened up the throttle. After 3 or 4 miles I spotted a round patch of sunlight on the sea ahead, and slightly to the right. I opened the throttle wider still. I was so impatient that time seemed to stop while I raced for that sun-patch, yet it could not have been more than
5 miles away. The area of sunlight was small, and I set the seaplane circling in a steep bank. I used my feet on the rudder to fly it while I worked the sextant with both hands. After each shot I straightened out the seaplane, and flew out of the patch while reading the instrument. I got four shots in this way, while the seaplane was chasing its tail in a tight circle. I corrected them for the lapse of time since 4.30, and compared them with the figure already computed. They agreed. I was on the line! I had expected to be, and yet it was a great surprise, and immense relief. I turned round and headed for where the island should lie 85 miles away.
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The moment I settled on this course, nearly at right-angles to the track from New Zealand, I had a feeling of despair. After flying in one direction for hour after hour over a markless, signless sea, my instinct revolted at suddenly changing direction in mid-ocean. My navigational system seemed only a flimsy brain fancy: I had been so long on the same heading that the island must lie ahead, not to the right. I was attacked by panic. Part of me urged, for God’s sake, don’t make this crazy turn! My muscles wanted to bring the seaplane back to its old course. ‘Steady, steady, steady,’ I told myself aloud. I had to trust my system, for I could not try anything else now, even if I wanted to.
The clouds were darkening, and hung above without a break. The wind was dropping; I was now drifting only fifteen degrees to the left. I allowed for that amount of drift. I felt that I had to get another sextant shot. I throttled back the motor again and again, watching the clouds as well as the horizon. Suddenly I picked out the shape of the sun through a thinning in the clouds, but it was covered almost at once. I adjusted the sextant to the angle I expected, removed the shades necessary for strong sunlight, and held it ready. Five miles went by, when suddenly I could see the rim of the sun through a wraith of black cloud. I got a good shot before the cloud closed over it again. This was ten seconds before 5 o’clock, so after all, I used the calculation I had made before the start of the flight. I got the same result as before, that the seaplane was dead on the line to the island. Fair enough! I put the sextant away in its case for good. If the island wasn’t there, it must have moved. The excitement was terrific. Every minute seemed a lifetime, as I scanned the horizon ahead. The wind was dropping with approaching nightfall, and the drift now was only ten degrees. The sea looked grey-blue, cold and hostile. If I missed the island, what should I do? My brain was numb, and I could think of nothing. At 5.08 p.m. I ought to have sighted the island 10 miles earlier. Well, I thought, this is a grand finish; risking everything on the cool working out of my own system. At 5.09 I thought I saw land away to the left, but it changed shape as I watched it, for it was a cloud on the horizon. At 5.12 the island ought to have been in sight 15 miles earlier. Surely that was land to the left – two hill cones, above a narrow band of grey cloud with a dark-purple coast below? But it was only another cloud. Suddenly I relaxed, feeling that worrying was stupid when there was nothing I could do. The cloud lifted, and there was land. I felt like bursting with thrill and elation. My navigational system had proved right. I thought, ‘I bet Cook wasn’t as excited at discovering this island from the sea as I am at discovering it from the air.’
I studied the chart of Norfolk Island, and decided that Cascade Bay would be most sheltered from the SSE swell. The bay was scarcely an indentation of the coast, with a road carved out of the rock cliff and leading to a small jetty. At last I spotted some people; they were standing on the jetty. I closed the throttle, and glided down to inspect the surface. The propeller still beat the air like a plover’s wing, but it seemed an eerie silence after the endless roar. The wind had now died right away. There was a swell breaking on the rocks, but the surface of the sea seemed calm. I was just thinking how marvellously lucky I had been with the weather, when there was a violent bump below the cliff top. I was left in the air above my seat, as the seaplane whizzed down. I grabbed at the dashboard with one hand and clung to the control-stick with the other, feeling hot and damp all over. I ought to have fastened my safety-belt, though I had been warned never to do so when alighting for risk of being dragged under water if anything went wrong. I flew on to the next bay, hoping that the air would be smoother there, but the cliffs looked even higher and more precipitous; there was no road, and the whole place looked deserted. I turned back to Cascade, and found a boat moving slowly through the water. I glided down, hanging on tightly for fear of another bump, which did not come. I was still gliding when the seaplane flopped unexpectedly into the water. A swell had risen under me while I was looking ahead at the trough. It could not have been easier. I switched off the engine. It was 5.40 p.m., and I had made it in good time. Everything had gone right, and I had had tremendous good luck. The wind had been exactly right, and now had died away to a calm at the right moment.
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