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Journal of a Seaplane Cruise Around The World
Part Three: Asia

Monday, October 15

Athens to Famagusta A Mediterranean Storm. This day brought one of the most thrilling adventures that we have had and it came about so unexpectedly as to catch us almost off guard. There was trouble even at the start, for we could not get off the water with our load and were forced to pump gasoline out a little at a time, until the ship would take to the air (subsequently learned that this was due to the rough surface of bitumastic paint with which the floats were treated in Rome). Moreover there has occurred a small leak from the right float tank back to the next compartment (this too was due to the black paint, because in the air so much heat was absorbed that the bakelite varnish of the seams was melted) so that in order to accommodate the required quantity of gasoline, most of it was loaded into the left float tank. The result of course was an unbalanced ship, and very soon I was thoroughly weary from holding it on course with right rudder. Cares were soon forgotten, however, because we were in a land of dreams, and were meeting one after another the famous Grecian islands. Weller had told us to watch for the Temple of Poseidon, where the God of the Sea once reigned over adventurous Grecian sailors, who first took courage and navigated their small craft eastward to the islands which they could see, and then with gathering confidence, to those which lay beyond their vision. The temple is still standing, a group of lovely white pillars which surmount the cliff that may truly be called the southeast corner of Europe. In short space we passed over Keos, Thermia, Syros, then Naxos and Amorgos. They were too lovely, set like crude dark stones in a blue background. The air was still and there were only a few cloud caps to remind one of the sky.

Bob was complaining that he could not make head or tail of the radio because of heavy static interference, but he kept trying under the handicap of great crashes of noise in the headphones. Once or twice he succeeded in raising stations nearby, but only for short contacts. I was flying with the aid of a Hydrographic Office chart of the Mediterranean, which unfortunately does not show international distinctions in color, so it was rather of a gamble which islands were whose as we approached the coast of Turkey. It was possible to make out from a small map that Kos, Piscopi and Rhodes belong to Italy, Crete to Greece and Cyprus to England, and the peninsulas jutting out from the mainland, as well as some of the smaller islands in the bays are Turkish; there is one French island near Cape Khelidonia. All this is important because we had been told that Rhodes is heavily fortified and that probably foreign aircraft must stay away, and I know it to be extremely dangerous to cross or land in Turkish territory without a permit; moreover, since the original itinerary did not include Turkey, I had made no request to her government. The penalty for trespassing is apt to be heavy, and Kingsford-Smith was once thrown into jail, and more recently some sailors and a doctor from a British was ship, who simply had rowed in a jolly-boat to the beach for a swim, were shot and killed, without the possibility of any redress on the part of the government. It was with considerable care, therefore, that I picked away through these islands. At one point (Cape Krio), we were only five miles from Turkey, and again, between Cape Alupo and the northern tip of Rhodes, we had small margins while dodging through the channel. When finally Rhodes had been left behind, I turned back out into the sea and set a course to the northern side of Cyprus.

For an hour the going was satisfactory, then high clouds appeared ahead and beneath them there gradually grew a blue-grey face, like a wall which ends neither in ceiling nor floor. I found that it was necessary to fly by instrument because, although we were in clear air and the quiet surface of the water was plainly visible beneath, there was no mark to show where the horizon existed. It was like nothing I had ever seen and made me very uncomfortable. Suddenly Bob sung out and I turned to see a hot one inch spark jumping from the radio antenna to the ground connection - some 30.000 volts. The charge was continuously replenished as it ran off the wire. It irritated me to see him play with it, and I told him to be sensible and reel in the antenna and ground it before we caught fire - he had not been able to make a good contact all day because of static. Then we really poked into the mess: lightning appeared from everywhere ahead; rain patches began to show; rough air developed. I dodged first to the left, toward Turkey, but it proved solidly blocked. We were not far from Cyprus and might make a run for it, but then those clouds had surely topped 30,000 feet, and this was not the small blow of a hot afternoon.

We had been out of sight of land for over an hour, and whatever we did would be a test for dead reckoning. --I turned back to the western edge of the storm, then headed south. It was not evident at first whether we should be able to get around it at all, and we hurriedly calculated that the fuel would last out to Alexandria in Egypt, so a new course was laid. Soon however, strong headwind was encountered, and that possibility grew to a slim chance. At the same time a dark curtain of rain developed to the left, and after watching it for a time, I decided it must be the windshift line of the storm, and that clear air and a southwest wind would be found on the other side. We had then been flying south for 45 minutes, and should have been opposite the southern border of Cyprus. We pushed thru the squall, got a bit shaken up, and came out into the clear as had been hoped. An easterly course could now be taken, and we soon sighted land near Cape Aspro (Ask Bob how many changes of course he plotted!)

Troubles were not over, for there is no good seaplane harbor on the coast of Cyprus except (a fair harbor) at Famagusta; on the Syrian coast only one or two opportunities are present. Our next fuel was at Alexandretta, but the harbor there is nothing. The storm was undoubtedly moving east or southeast, and we must expect it to pass over any anchorage we might choose, and very soon after landing!

We skirted Cyprus and cut across land for the last portion, flying through a dust storm. The front of the cyclone was already at Famagusta! and the land beyond was hidden in a black wall of rain. I hurriedly surveyed the harbour and found it small, full of craft and buoys, and obstructed by several reefs. A British Cruiser lay at anchor a mile outside the breakwater. The wind was directly offshore and I elected to land in open water, toward a walled fort. We still had fuel enough to go to Beirut, the Imperial Airways base, but this was good enough and had better be taken; besides, it had been the goal of the day's trip! - I must have been thinking such things, for in landing we were suddenly too close to the wall, and wide open gun was necessary to clear it for a second try. Even in that turn around the harbor the deluge began, together with a shift in the wind of 60". We landed successfully this time, and stopped close to the naval cutter which had come outside to help (if necessary!) and taxied in. It poured so hard that we might just as well have fallen into the sea, as stand outside and tie up to the buoy. The town indicator recorded 0.83" of rainfall in 35 minutes, and in the port commander's ten years experience he had "never witnessed such a blow".

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