In the air, I tried out my new bubble sextant, and was 740 miles out. On hearing this, Grant-Dalton wrote me an official letter saying that I now ought to abandon the flight, that ‘lost airman’ publicity would set back aviation with the public, which still remembered Hood and Moncrieff, who had disappeared trying to fly the Tasman from Sydney. I wrote back that I was confident that I could make do with an ordinary sextant by flying lower, and using the sea horizon. Would the Government lend me the floats or, failing that, allow me to pay for them later? Grant Dalton replied that I was doing good experimental work in navigation, and that he would recommend that the floats should be lent to me.
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I became ill, and was sent to Auckland hospital. For some reason I could not walk, and I could cross a room only by crawling. The doctors could not find out what was wrong with me and after a week the illness passed, and I returned to the air base, where I found that the Government had relented, and was lending me the floats. I had such a strong presentiment that the flight would start on a certain day that I prepared navigation, working out the position of the sun for various times on that day. All this was at a time when the floats were still unmended, my Moth was still on wheels, had never been flown as a seaplane, and I would not know until she was launched whether she could carry enough petrol to reach Norfolk Island. I forgot all about the presentiment and was amazed when, two days before the date, a wireless message arrived from Dr Kidson, head of the Met. Office, to say that a favourable wind was likely for the next few days and was I going to start? I showed the message to Squadron-Leader, Isitt, the Commandant of the air base, and asked him if he would try to get me away to the extreme north of New Zealand on the Friday, ready for an early start on Saturday. Len Isitt, who was an experienced seaplane and flying-boat pilot said, ‘I don’t like this flight of yours. I doubt if you can find your way alone by sextant; even if you can, suppose there is no sun? If you reach Norfolk Island there is nowhere to put down a seaplane; if you succeed in getting down, you won’t be able to take off again, because of the swell. If there should chance to be no swell, it would be impossible to take off a Moth loaded up like yours without a stiff wind.’ Len had excellent judgement (as was shown by his becoming Chief of the New Zealand Air Staff in 1943 and Chairman of the New Zealand National Airways Corporation in 1963). But he was also a true sportsman, and having stated his official views he set to and made every possible effort to turn the Moth into a seaplane. He worked on the job himself, with the aircraftmen, until midnight on Thursday.
The Moth was ready for the water on Friday afternoon. A wading party wheeled her down the slipway on a trolley; she took to the water like a duckling, and took off into the air like a wild swan. Was I proud of her? After 34,000 miles as a land-plane! But would she take the load: all my gear, boat, anchor, ropes, food, water, navigation instruments and books, besides fifty gallons of petrol? The experts said ‘No’; the same model of plane and motor, with these same floats, had refused to leave the water at Samoa with only the pilot and petrol for 80 miles on board. My Moth thought nothing of the full load, and rose happily. I was jubilant.
‘Don’t forget,’ said the CO gloomily, ‘that you have ideal conditions at the moment. Strong breeze against you, tide with you, and choppy sea to break the suction of the water of the floats. I’d like to see you carry out a forty-eight hours’ mooring test to make sure the floats don’t leak; and also some long flights, to test your navigation farther.’ It would certainly have been wise to do all this, but probably I would have had no flight if I had.
So we worked until midnight, stowing the gear, and fitting the tiny transmitting set which Partelow, the wireless operator, had built for me. Including the aerials stretching from wing tip to tail, it weighed only 23 lbs. It was not of much value to me because there were no ships on the Tasman Sea if I put out an SOS, but Partelow wanted to experiment, and I thought that with careful organisation of my work I could send a wireless message every hour. I could not receive any messages, but I liked the idea of doing a wireless operator’s job as well as a pilot’s and a navigator’s.