Home' Afloat : AFLOAT March 2018 Contents Take monthly with water March 2018 61
*John Quirk has been writing about and illustrating the joys of
messing about in boats for over half a century. He is the author /
illustrator of Foul Bottoms, published by Adlard Coles and available
from Boat Books in Crows Nest and from Amazon.
It was dusk when the
Kombi bus bounced up to the
The pilot was pacing
impatiently with his
girlfriend. He was
like a good looking
version of the
Steel; a granite
jawed hero with
and oceans of
shining wavy brown hair. Just the look to inspire
confidence in any passenger. The Viennese girlfriend,
if she wasn’t Miss Austria, she should have been; a
dazzling blue eyed blonde with lofty legs and short
safari shorts ...
“Come on, for God’s sake!” snapped our pilot. “ We can’t
legally take off from this strip after dark. We have to go! Now!”
We were bustled into the plane. The Kombi driver made
several noisy horn blowing passes down the strip to clear away
the wildlife, the pilot fired up the engines and we roared off. I
can’t recall him doing the obligatory pre-flight check.
The darkness outside fell upon us like a coal sack. Then the
cabin lights went off. Nothing. The cockpit and whole plane was
plunged into total darkness and there was not a peep of light
from the wing tips.
Then from the cockpit came, “Oh my God! Oh my God!
Nothing’s working! All the electrics have gone! What are we
going to do? Oh my God!” The worrying thing was that this was
not the voice of Miss Austria.
This was your captain speaking.
Miss Austria fled the co pilot’s position and strapped herself
into the rearmost seat, putting maximum distance between
her and the panicking pilot and the inevitable accident at the
Among the 50-something-year-old hotel execs, one had
been a pilot in WW2. He heaved his mid-western bulk into the
copilot’s seat and his cigarette lighter confirmed a panel of dead
instruments and radio with a compass turning in lazy indifference.
Or was that the pilot ‘boxing ‘the compass’ ? (Flying in circles).
Now in a situation like this who are you going to put your
money on to get you out of it, the dashing professional pilot, the
WW2 flyer or the kid from Birmingham who read every Biggles
book under the blankets?
Me too. But it didn’t work out that way.
I remember calling out to the pilot, “ We need to establish our
position. Look for traffic on the Nairobi Mombasa road. Check
that out. Looks like headlights.” This was me taking dictation
And it was! And indicated our lifeline. The only road for a
“Follow that car!” They say every taxi driver hopes to hear
this sometime, but how many pilots?
“But we don’t know where he’s going. The compass isn’t
working,” wailed Anthony Steel.
“ Why don’t you ask him? He’s got a choice, which is more
than we have. Nairobi at one end or Mombasa at the other. Let’s
try for Mombasa. Nairobi has thinner air and thicker traffic. With
no lights or radio, I don’t fancy being run over by a VC10.”
A few seconds later confirmed it ... “He’s going to Mombasa!
Good, the oil flare from the oil refinery might give you enough
light to land.”
“How do you know it’s Mombasa? ” Really, how did this pilot
ever qualify? And he obviously hadn’t read his Biggles.
“I just saw a glint of the railway line to the side of the road.
He is going South East.”
More headlights appeared ahead and we leap frogged these
until the lights of Mombasa came into view. The undercarriage
was cranked down manually. The oil refinery flare was brilliantly
conspicuous and with the airport lights gave just enough light
for the pilot to redeem himself with a landing of which either
Biggles or Algy would be proud.
The ground engineers traced the electrical fault and also
replaced the battery and refuelled the aircraft. The shaken and
stirred passengers, including Miss Austria, headed for the terra
firma of the airport bar where we were gratefully refuelled.
Particularly Miss A.
Our flight back to Nairobi was uneventful. Apart from
conditions in the cabin. The atmosphere between Miss Austria,
still in the rear seat, and the crestfallen pilot turned the place
into a flying ice cube. h
Our pilot ... like a good-looking
version of Anthony Steele.
Follow that car!
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