Catalina Dreaming

Excerpt from Chapter 6

The lady from Hawaii on the HF radio, as calm as ever, said, “Roger, the ship is now due in 12 hours.”

The time was about 4.45 am and it remained pitch-black outside. We turned the landing lights on, but they were blinding possibly because of a light sea fog and we had to turn them off again. It dawned on me that because we didn’t have an accurate pressure setting for our altimeters for the area we were in, we had no way of knowing exactly how high we were above the ocean. We could fly into it any time. We couldn’t level off at about 20 or 30 feet and remain airborne in the compressed air wave caused by “ground (or was it “water”?) effect” because we couldn’t see the surface. Things were looking decidedly grim.

I remembered back to when I was analysing the risk in taking a Catalina across the Pacific. I had come up with what I suppose was the ultimate in rationalisation – ‘If it all turns to a can of worms at least we could land on the water as we were after all a flying boat’ … This is now precisely what we were about to do. But at this weight? And at night? I deliberately avoided thinking too deeply about’ the trouble we were in. Denial, in times of great stress, is said to be an effective coping mechanism and I found this to be so. To his or her individual credit, nobody on board panicked. John Strutman, the friend of Kirk’s, surprised me when he called, in a rather matter-of-fact voice, into my ear above the engine noise from the only remaining engine,
“Oh well, if it looks like it’s going to end, I’d much rather be here with a bunch of you Kiwis, as with anyone else!”

I made sure everyone in the forward cabin was strapped in. I looked back into the front cockpit – the altimeter read 300 ft. My mouth became quite dry at this point. It was hard to realise this was really happening. I was starting to act in a reflex way. I turned around and signalled to the others that we were about to go down. I strapped into my seat on the right side of the forward cabin and, with the starboard engine still hammering away in my ear, we all waited. I remember thinking, ‘This is it.’