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

Tuesday, November 13

Calcutta to Moulmein Calcutta to Moulmein - It was the middle of the morning when we sped away from Calcutta. There had been repeated warnings about Rangoon and its currents and boat-traffic, and both Akyab and Moulmein were uncertain havens, so I lost no time in hitting a straight course, and took up 1650 revs. from the start. There was still a mist around Calcutta, but we were north of the city, on a course a little south of east. The land was wet, in paddy, and there were many stretches of impenetrable swampy jungle. We swept across these at a steady hundred nautical miles per hour and passed out to sea over some shoals opposite one of the mouths of the Ganges and Brahmaputra 43 minutes later (2 mins. ahead of calculations) we passed squarely over the lightship, and took up the new course for Akyab. This line led little by little to the Burma coast, and we soon had the first close view of a rocky shore that is to be our friend and guide for thousands of miles. It was curiously friendly -- bright green paddy that looked like a sprinkled putting green, sturdy low hills covered with darker green trees, and a wide beach; - clean, neat, and healthy! Of course, nothing of the sort. Devilish animals, from malarious mosquitos to poisonous snakes, crocodiles, tiger and elephant, and foul water to drink. Well, anyhow! We hollered through the wireless for Akyab to fuel us quickly; it was evident from the tables of rising and setting of the sun that sunset could be expected in Moulmein at 4:58 P.M. Calcutta time; - that we had 360 nautical miles from Akyab to Moulmein; - and that we were not going to land at Akyab until 12:45. It looked bad, but hollering helped! We skirted the pretty little bungalow town (our first pagoda!) and landed squash beside a boat with flagbearer, pennants and all, who quickly scampered as he saw the aim the pilot drew on the buoy, -- English port authorities, and Burmese oil men all rushed up so that fueling was done in 20 minutes. They wanted us to stay, and we really would have liked to, but somehow had set Moulmein as the goal and thought we had a sporting chance of getting in before dark . . . Take-off at 1: 15, engine to 1680 from there on. Over islands (everything not paddy is jungle, here), shoals, occasionally along a beach; it was a temptation to cut inland and follow the intriguing Irrawaddy River down to Rangoon, but we stuck to our job. Looked occasionally for a little 2 engined De Havilland plane that had dived a salute to us while fueling, but he carried no radio and his position was uncertain. We cut inland above Gwa and skirted, clouds in the mountains (which rose only 3-4000 feet) to come out on the Irrawaddy delta. All green again here, paddy fields under irrigation (I am certain that more than half the world's population exists on rice!) Curious lines of agriculture; they follow of course the old channels of the river, of which there are literally hundreds. The bayous seem to hold water forever after, and crescentic ponds are common. As the low sun struck the barely raised ditch borders, they were seen to follow in general the same trends as the neglected river channels. Perhaps the photo will show this up.

A night landing, at Moulmein. Rangoon was elusive, but finally appeared. Its faithful radio station, like that other friend at Julianehaab, never left us; -- told of the De Havilland coming soon after us out of Bassein; asked would we land at Rangoon; did we want the weather at Moulmein (they would telegraph for it, since there was no radio); what time would we leave in the morning, so they could have weather reports ready from ahead; yes, would notify Bangkok. The river traffic at Rangoon was all that Gronau had promised, and the worst I have ever seen. But there was plenty of room in the adjacent areas, and I've no doubt we could have stopped, even with 6 knot currents. It was a good deal of a city too, with magnificent pagodas. The sun was setting while the city could still be seen astern. It was a lovely sight, but in the other direction less pleasing; 80 miles east lay Moulmein, and all was black, except when lightning flashed in the hills behind. Engine 1750 rpm. Then was I reminded of Kipling, who described a sunrise in Moulmein - "Where dawn comes up like thunder . . .", and I'll testify that the reverse process is just as sudden; the sun went out like a light, and we were left reading the map with a flashlight over an area in the Gulf of Martaban marked on the charts "extremely dangerous". The first I saw of Moulmein (and the only view we had until next morning) was a twinkle of lights some 20 miles away. I switched the landing lights on as we approached, and flew to the right down the harbor or river or whatever it is. Three boats lay at anchor (might have been trim battleships for all we could tell, but they turned out to be lumber boats carrying teak) but it was dark and the water was invisible. I got back a good distance, lined up on one of the ships, gave about 1000 revs. so that we dropped maybe 200 ft. per minute, and let the ship fly itself in. Didn't do a thing except watch for buoys, floating logs, and rafts -- had to sidestep one large raft that loomed up under the glare of the landing lights. The surface of the water never became visible, so there was nothing to do except to cut the gun when she touched - which I thought was pretty gentle, though Bob said it bounced off the left float. It was black as magic on the water, and we proceeded slowly toward the ships. Two flashlight Morse-code signallers began, one onshore and one on a boat, but Bob made out only the ship's message: "go around my stern", and I, being still a land lubber in spite of membership privileges of the R.I.N., mistook the bow for the stern, and started for shore. Finally got the anatomy of the blooming ship right, and cut back to take a swing around her tail. The shore blinker continued to be unintelligible, and no one answered catcalls, even when the motor was cut, and since the tide was carrying us toward a ship without any lights, I had to start the engine, go outside for steerage way, and come back in; finally found a sampan which led the way to the buoy marked, bless me, by a man standing upright in a boat, supporting a grand pennant; but in complete darkness!! We moored, and poured our stuff into a boat and proceeded shoreward. Later sent out a sampan to tie up to the tail and keep a light burning all night, for 2 rupees.

"The Irrawaddy Flotilla Co., Ltd., who are inaugurating a regular air service between Rangoon, Moulmein and Tavoy, made a successful maiden flight between Rangoon and Moulmein in eighty minutes." (News Item)

Somebody played a trick on the maiden flight and told her that an American competitor was arriving later in the day to open a competing line; - to the great discomfiture of the crew!

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