Going to the hangar near midnight I took a short cut down a bank, and fell heavily on the gravel in the dark. I lay still for a few moments, thinking how a Roman senator, if he stumbled on the way to the Senate, regarded it as a bad omen, and went home. I wondered if fate was against me. But that was nonsense; any man was master of his own fate. The senator did right to stay at home because stumbling showed that his brain, nerve and muscle were not properly working together. I had had a good hint to take extra care next day.
I did not sleep well, seeming to wake every few minutes to hear the wind roaring about the house. Yet on being called at 4 o’clock I found it a calm and cloudless sky, with the planet Venus shining bright and steady. The hospitable Mrs Isitt cooked me some bacon and eggs to eat by candlelight, but they reminded me of my breakfast in the dark on the flight out from England, and weariness seemed to weigh down my spirits. I felt that I must be crazy to go through it all again voluntarily.
Win A Trip To Australia Gallery Photos
Win A Trip To Australia
I sat in the cockpit while the seaplane was moved about on the concrete pad, so that Sid Wallingford, Len’s second-incommand, could check the compass error. Suddenly I noticed that the time was 6.15 by the dashboard clock, and I had fixed 6 o’clock as the time for starting. I shouted to Sid that there was no time for any more checking; then I remembered having altered the clock to Greenwich time, so that there was still a quarter of an hour to go; but I refused to spend time checking the compass error on any other bearing than that of Norfolk Island from New Zealand. I broke another bottle of brandy on the propeller, and then started the motor. I could get only 1,780 revs, forty less than I expected, and my spirits sank. I should never get off with a full load with a motor like that, but I said nothing to the CO about it. The seaplane was launched. I faced her into wind, and opened the throttle; to my surprise she left the water as easily as a sea bird. I climbed into the grey of dawn until I had enough height to turn. Then I fastened the wireless key to my leg with an elastic band, and began tapping out in Morse ‘Can you hear me?’ time after time. I circled the hangar, steeply banked in tight circles, watching the wireless operating-room while I kept on sending. No answer, the set must have failed. I ought to return, but no, I couldn’t now. Suddenly a dazzling Aldis lamp flashed me ‘OK’. I turned instantly towards the dawn, and made for the harbour entrance. The city of Auckland was sleeping in the cold grey light, with an occasional wisp of smoke slipping away from a chimney top. I thought of the people below lying comfortably in bed. It was 6.45 when I turned the harbour entrance and headed north. It would be sunset at Norfolk Island at 6.45 p.m., so I had roughly twelve hours of daylight, with ten hours flying to do. First I had three hours’ flight to the northern tip of New Zealand, where I would fill up with petrol for the seacrossing.
As the Moth had been a seaplane only for seventeen hours, I had to make the best use possible of this first flight. The big fifteen-foot long floats instead of the landing wheels spoilt the Moth’s stability; as a landplane, I could trim her so finely that only moving my head backwards was needed to start her climbing slightly; now, she continually yawed as well as pitched. I could not leave the controls for ten seconds without her starting a steep dive or climb. I watched the grey-green sea looking coldly inhospitable below, where a long swell from the south-east could be seen unrolling smoothly. I waited for Cape Brett, and anxiously studied its effect on the swell. The waves radiated from the Cape like the spokes of a wheel, changing direction, and breaking on the rocks in the lee of the