The flight of 450 miles from Dobo to Amboina was uneventful. There were islands at intervals for stepping stones, and the longest water flight was only 110 miles. One thing that I recorded in my log has been strongly disputed by aerodynamic experts – I knew that the favourable trade wind had died away because the throbbing roar of the engine suddenly changed its note. Although I have been assured since that it is theoretically impossible, I could tell if I was flying upwind or downwind in a fresh breeze by the note of the engine; I think it may well have been due to a Doppler effect when flying low down. Naturally, flying for such long periods on the same course and at the same engine speed, I became extremely sensitive to the slightest change in note of the engine noises.
I had left the Aru Islands that morning in the middle of the dry season and reached Amboina in the middle of the rainy season. All evening the clouds dropped down, discharged their load of rain and lifted. There was not a breath of wind next morning and my attempts to get off never had the slightest hope of succeeding. I gave up trying for the day and went ashore. Next day I left ashore all the clothes, tools, sailing directions and papers that I possibly could spare, amounting to 19 lbs, and jettisoned petrol until I only had six hours’ fuel. I had intended to make Menado, in the Celebes, my next halt, but switched to Ternate in the Moluccas to give me a shorter flight. I raced to and fro across the water opposite the town. It was sprinkled with praus, and it was nervy work dodging them, as well as keeping a constant watch for fishing stakes. Finally I told the officials in the launch that my only chance of taking off was from the broken surface of the open sea; would they tow me out? The young assistant gesaghebber was troubled; it was a long way. Volumes of Dutch were poured out. In the end we started off with the seaplane in tow. Five or six miles down the inlet there was a slight swell; I cast off the tow and bounced into the air at the second attempt.
Australia Map With Counties Photo Gallery
At the mouth of the Amboina inlet I flew into clear bright weather over a sparkling blue sea. I waggled the wings with joy, but it was premature. Thinking only of escape from Amboina, I had discarded every possible ounce of weight, including the map given me by the Dutchman, at Merauke. So I had a 140-mile sea crossing to make without a map, before I got back on to my own chart. I had taken a look at the big map in the Resident’s office, read off the bearing of the first landfall, which was uninhabited Ombira Island 150 miles to the north, and thought that nothing could be simpler than to fly on this one bearing until I reached the island. But on turning the corner of Amboina Island I flew up against the tail of a big island right in the middle of my route and which I could not remember having seen on the map. The east side ran more nearly in the right direction, so I followed that. It was black-looking country, with high, densely forested slopes, rising several thousand feet in a bluish haze before disappearing into cloud. When I had flown along it for 20 miles and saw no end to it I grew anxious, and a few minutes later I was dismayed to see land loom up ahead of me through the haze. Soon I found that I was blocked by a massive range of mountains, black and threatening, with the tops hidden in cloud, and stretching away to the east as far as I could see. This put me in a fix, for if I went back to try the other side of the land I should use up my reserve of fuel and would have to return to Amboina for more, a horrid thought. I had no idea how high the mountains were, so dared not attempt to cross them flying blind through the clouds. My only chance seemed to be to climb to the cloud ceiling and fly along beside the mountains to the head of the bay, hoping to find a gap. If I failed, I should have to return to Amboina.
As I flew on, slowly climbing, I was tempted to try crossing the mountains blind, but I was afraid. Then, turning a headland, I came on a saddle between two mountains on my left, with a rain squall above it. I was below the level of the saddle, and could not see if there was a passage through. I opened up the throttle. My climbing pace seemed deadly slow, as I watched the squall dropping down to the pass. Suddenly I got a glimpse of blue water over the saddle, and putting down the nose of the seaplane I scuttled for it at full throttle. The dropping rain caught me, but in a few seconds I was through, and out in the sunlight again. I made allowance for the distance I thought I had been deflected to the east of my route, and headed for where I now thought Ombira to lie. I felt hungry and fossicked out the remains of the excellent jam and egg sandwiches given me at Dobo. Alas! they had fermented. I tried the tin of biscuits, but the contents were saturated with petrol. I found some mouldy bread, age unknown, and ate it with butter. I longed for a smoke, but my pipe was broken, and the cigars were in the front cockpit. When eventually I sighted Ombira right ahead, I wondered how I could ever have worried about not finding it, it looked so huge. It was 25 miles wide, well watered, fertile and healthy, but it was uninhabited because it was said to be haunted.
At 3 o’clock I reached Gilolo, the largest of the Spice Islands after Ceram. I saw few signs of habitation, and the steep hills were smothered in jungle. Flying only a wing-span from the hillside, I disturbed countless snowy white doves. Their wings beat the air, but they never seemed to get anywhere. On the other hand, the birds of paradise, black-coated with long tails like trains trailing behind, glided gracefully and without any hurry, but always managed to be out of sight by the time I drew level with them. I never caught more than glimpses of their sheeny black spread sailing through the trees.