The Dutch Government refused me permission to fly over New Guinea unless I guaranteed to repay any expenses incurred in looking for me. I imagined myself working for the rest of my life to pay for a week’s cruise of the Dutch fleet. Later, they allowed me to fly to the East Indies if I signed a form absolving them from any responsibility. I was happy to do this, for I did not want anybody to go searching for me if I got into a mess. What I did not know was that the Dutch had cabled to New Zealand, and two of my friends, Eric Riddiford and Grant-Dalton, had guaranteed payment of any expenses incurred without saying anything to me about it.
While I wrestled with consuls to get permits, de Havillands gave my engine a complete overhaul. Some of the pistons were cracked, and the crank-shaft was full of sludge. One of the worst mistakes I had made in reassembling the engine was to screw up the propeller-shaft thrust-race too tight, and only a shimmy of it still remained when I reached Australia. Nothing could be found wrong with the magneto which had cut so mysteriously over the Tasman Sea, but the other one, which had kept on spluttering and misfiring, had a cracked distributor, and they showed me a long blue spark jumping the terminals when it was tested.
Australia Map Road Photo Gallery
Major Hereward de Havilland, known to everybody in Sydney as ‘DH’, red-faced with a deep slow voice, was an interesting friend. He liked to probe everything until he found the reason for it. Why was I attempting this flight which he considered impossible? Why did I not buy a yacht and sail round the world instead of flying? It was more comfortable, cheaper, safer and healthier. After a fortnight of wrestling with people and difficulties it did seem to me like paradise to be sunbathing on the deck of a yacht. Thirty years on, now that I am a sailing man, this idea seems a great joke; I get far more sunbathing in the middle of London in a month than I ever have on a yacht! Hereward had one theory that, I believe, was valuable and true; the only way for a flying man to keep alive was to be apprehensive.
Captain Feakes had allowed me to leave the seaplane in Albatross. It was not until then that the flight-sergeant found one of the bilge compartments full of water; it had not been discovered before because a chock under the float had prevented the drain plugs being opened. The strange thing was that the aircraftman could not find any leak in the float. I asked de Havillands to have a good look when they replaced the engine, but they too could not find anything wrong. If ever fate wove a web it was round that bilge compartment.
Nothing was going right with my preparations. I could not get any decision about where I could alight en route, and so could not make any arrangement for petrol supplies. No money arrived from New Zealand; my finger refused to heal; finally, I asked Hereward if he would lend me some money. He turned up trumps, and I set off for Japan with £44 in my pocket, with which I was to pay for all my expenses, and buy my petrol as I needed it on the way.
So one chilly early morning the great hatches were rolled back, and the Gipsy Moth hauled up from the giant hold of the Albatross. When I tried to thank Captain Feakes and the others, he drew me aside and said, ‘If you find it’s impossible, give it up, won’t you?’
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