When I first signed up to be a pilot, I dreamed of flying to exotic place where I might alight in jungle clearings or land on deserted, silvery shores.
HOWEVER REALITY SOON KICKED IN, and I found myself shuttling clients to work, tracking stolen vehicles and chasing crooks in the concrete jungle that is Gauteng.
Every so often though, I do force adventure to find me. Like recently, when my dad mentioned how sad he was that he couldn’t jet off on his annual pilgrimage to the coastal town of St. Ives, in Cornwall, England, because of Covid-19 travel restrictions. I immediately started scheming.
Second to St. Ives, his favourite place is a small fishing spot on the Wild Coast called Kob Inn, a quaint resort that caters to ‘real’ fishermen. By road, it would be at least an arduous two-day journey from the Lowveld for the old man, who is approaching 85 in the shade.
“Why don’t I fly you, dad?” I suggested, with images of a beach landing firmly in mind. He loved the idea. I initially planned to chopper him all the way down, but it would have been a slow, much more expensive jaunt compared to a plank ride. Fortunately, I had a Cessna P210 available to get us to Mazeppa Bay, from where an Eastern Cape local’s Robinson R44 would ferry them across to their end destination.
It didn’t take much to persuade a good friend, Jacques Mouton, to co-pilot the 210 on our little escapade. He has flown everything from the Cessna 150 to the Gripen, so was the perfect pilot for the slippery 210.
“Mazeppa’ s 500-odd-metre -long runway was interesting”
Part of the plan involved surprising my dad with a companion for his two-week-long fishing holiday, my nephew, Colbyn. The flight down from Grand Central (via White River where we picked up my dad) was uneventful, barring some weather avoidance typical of late summer operations. Fortunately, the pressurisation on the P210 allowed us to avoid most of it comfortably at level two-zero. The landing on Mazeppa’s 500-odd-metre-long hill-crested runway was nothing short of interesting but the STOL (short take-off and landing) capable 210 didn’t disappoint.
No sooner had we landed, than David Maguire arrived in the R44, packed in my dad, his fishing kit and the grandson and flew them across the bay from Mazeppa to Kob Inn, a four-minute flight that would otherwise, according to Google Maps, have taken three hours by road in a sturdy vehicle. Most convenient, these helicopters are.
The smell of the air and sea breeze on my face reminded me of a similar trip to the area at the beginning of my flying career. Two fellow rookies and I, tired of building hours “around the patch” out of Grand Central, had decided to fly in formation down to the Wild Coast. Obviously, we skimped on costs as much as possible, being the poor young pilots that we were, which meant each flying a tiny Robinson R22, the cheapest string bags we could find. And oh, did mine teach me valuable lessons, with her cramped space, limited power and no hydraulics. But a sweet little personality, which I remember fondly! Just don’t tell my wife.
Our base, the beautiful Cremorne Resort on the Mzimvubu River, was chosen for its spacious, helicopter-friendly lawns. Upon arrival, we immediately removed the 22s’ doors and took off down the coast in search of our first adventure. Soon we saw a beach, reminiscent of a scene from “Cast Away,” with a deserted green field up the hill in which to land.
No sooner had we landed than an old Land Rover appeared over the horizon, bumping towards us.
“What now,” we wondered, as we shut down our buzzing bees and waited for trouble to step out of the vehicle. Well, it turns out that the old salt, uncle Rod, was anything but trouble. And he was only too happy to welcome us to his corner of paradise. He promptly loaded us into his rust bucket for a short ride down to the beach. Or so we thought.
“he was happy to welcome us to his corner of paradise”
Just before the bottom of the hill though, we turned off to a cottage where uncle Rod’s elderly wife was waiting for us with cake and tea!
Over snacks, uncle Rod regaled us with stories from his childhood. Like how, during World War II he had headed out on his bicycle at night, a paraffin lamp strapped to the handlebars, to spy for German U-boats sneaking up the rivers in search of fresh water replenishment. A tall tale maybe? Apparently not. The SAAF actually did have a Lockheed Ventura squadron stationed not far from there with torpedoes ready.
Oh – and we did have that idyllic swim in the end too.
But I almost forgot about my dad. After two weeks of fishing, he and the boy were ready for their return home. I had arranged for my sister to join us on the fetching mission, a nice surprise for both the old man and her eldest. We arrived to a hair-raising 35kt wind blowing the wrong way down the one-way strip. After loading everyone and their luggage, and with the main wheels scraping the white marker stones on the edge of the strip, we turned the now heavy 210 around for a 500-metre downhill, downwind, balls to the wall, take-off.
“When I say put flaps 20, put flaps 20!! Okay?” Jacques instructed in no uncertain terms. I nodded nervously. If nothing else, I know how to follow instructions. My sister was whiter than normal, as were we all in fact, as the 210 begrudgingly got airborne. I added 20 degrees flap at the right time, following the curve of the hill down to the bay with a stall warning blaring at us. We could breathe again.
And I look forward to many more adventures, even if I have to go out and help them find me.