When I had the propeller on shore I cut a piece out of a petrol tin and worked it into a sheath for the tip. I asked the Governor to buy some shoe tacks for me. He produced some drawing-pins, which I thought hardly the thing for an aeroplane propeller, so he went off again and returned with tacks. After I had finished the damaged blade I bound insulation tape round the other blade, partly because it had been damaged too, partly to balance the tin, and partly out of curiosity.
It was more difficult to put on the propeller, because one blade must exactly track the other. I replaced the cover of the float hatch; the leak had been making a third of a gallon an hour. I swung the propeller, the engine started, and the propeller seemed all right. I was delighted, and opened the throttle wide. The Gipsy Moth took off like a bird. Suddenly there was a terrific din, flap! flap! flap! flap! I thought a blade had broken off, switched off instantly, and alighted on the spot. But it was only the tape that had started to unwind, and was whipping the float at each revolution. What I could not understand was that the tape, which had been thrashing round at 400 or 500 miles an hour, was quite undamaged. I took it off altogether. As soon as I opened up, the whole seaplane vibrated violently, and I could hardly hold the throttle. I expected the engine to be wrenched from its bed, and though I closed the throttle instantly, it seemed an age before the engine stopped.
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This time I took the propeller to the Governor’s house, sheathed the other tip with tin, and then threaded the propeller on my walking stick between two chairs and drove in tacks until it balanced, exactly horizontal. When I tried it out again the seaplane flew perfectly. The Governor had been such a willing helper that I offered him a flight. I fitted him into the front cockpit among the gear. I knew that the seaplane would not rise from the glassy surface of the harbour with the extra weight, so I taxied out to the open sea. There I found a good breeze and just the right sea running. We were about to take off, and I could see the Governor laughing with exhilaration (there was no windshield to his cockpit, so the 100mph slipstream driving straight into his face produced a sensation of great speed), when I felt a jar; the port float had struck. Looking straight down I saw to my dismay that we were in the middle of a coral reef. I switched off at once, and alternately looked at the float to see if it was filling up and at the reef astern of us. The seaplane was drifting sternwards fast before the breeze. The coral was alive, and the many-branched shrubs of it had varying tints of red. Suddenly I noticed a broad clump of seaweed on the surface straight in our line of drift. I jumped out of the cockpit, landed on the float, slid into the water up to my waist, and held on waiting for my feet to touch. The seaplane was drifting fast, and at first its weight ran me off my feet. But I could feel the coral harsh and jagged through my rubber soles, and at last I secured a good footing, stopped the seaplane, and fended her off sideways. Then I went on, feeling for a foothold under water at each step, sometimes finding no bottom and falling in before pulling myself back on to the float, but every now and then getting a good push at what seemed a running pace under water until I had passed the seaplane round the outside of the clump. Then I jumped for the float and landed with my body across it. Next moment my feet touched again, and so I jumped from clump to clump with wild scrambles back on to the float until I had guided the seaplane back into the channel. From down in the water I could see the Governor still bubbling with glee, wrapped up in his own experience. He seemed to think it was all part of the game for me in my soft shoes to be pushing him round a coral reef in a seaplane. When we were safe, I told him about the float having struck the coral, and that I must get back as soon as possible to inspect it. He was quite satisfied, wanting no more thrill than that of taxiing at 40 or 50mph I was surprised and delighted to find the port float intact; it showed how sensitive I had become about anything touching the floats, because it must have been the lightest of scratches not to have ripped open the thin duralumin shell. Next day, I took off for Manila and was met by three United States Army fighters, 50 miles south of the city. They flew above me in formation and I was excited; I had reached Manila and it was thrilling to look up in the hot sunlight to see those fighter pilots above my head in formation, and sometimes waving at me. When I alighted at Cavite outside Manila, they swooped like three roaring hawks before zooming off.
At Manila I ran into terrific hospitality. After satisfying the US quarantine officer, I was driven to the Manila Hotel by Bagtas, the President of the Governor’s Aviation Committee and led to a man in a large wicker chair close to the entrance archway. This was Nicol Williamson, to whom I had a letter of introduction from someone in Sydney. He invited me to stay with him; it would have been hard to come across a more efficiently hospitable man.
Manila’s society gave me a good time: lunch with the Governor General’s Aviation Committee, out to dinner, to a boxing match, to the English Club, to the swimming pool where I watched the attractive women and girls bathing. The more functions and parties I went to, the more lonely I felt. I realised that I was little more than an abstract idea; I was the character responsible for a seaplane’s having flown up from New Zealand to Manila. The more people I met, and the more friendliness, the more I longed for intimacy, the sharing of thoughts and feelings with one sympathetic person. Sometimes I daydreamed of being alone on a yacht; lying on the deck and doing nothing but lazily sail it across the Pacific. Then I began to long for a wild party, but that would be a crime in such a friendly bastion of good behaviour. If I was madly attracted by someone, it was better to avoid her, because I would have to leave in a day or two. I became profoundly depressed.