Strahan wharf 6 PM. The tourists, fisherman, wharf workers and locals have all but disappeared, but the sounds of laughter from the participating audience watching the play “The Ship that Never Was”, come drifting across from the nearby open air theatre. I am alone, enjoying the end of day feeling and quietly getting the company seaplane back on dry land because only when a seaplane is on dry land is it really safe to leave for the night.
We pull the seaplane from the water with an old Toyota Landcruiser with a front mounted tow bar. There is a heavy hydraulic trailer attached that I will push down the ramp and into the water between the aircraft floats. Quietly in my mind I will the few remaining tourists away, I really don’t feel like communication, or having an audience, I have done and had tourists all day.
The Cruiser starts reliably and I manage to steer the trailer between the floats first go, sometimes this can be tricky. I stop the Cruiser and leave it in gear with the handbrake on as both Cruiser and trailer are on a steep slope on the ramp. Downhill is water. I get out and pump the hydraulic pump, raising the lifting platform so the plane is firmly on the trailer and I can pull it up the ramp.
As I pull the plane up the ramp the unthinkable happens, the tow bar and trailer connection separate with a loud clunk and the seaplane and trailer career backwards down the steep ramp and into the water. The trailer, being heavy sinks straight to the bottom. The seaplane with the acceleration of gravity behind it and free of its contact with the trailer is instantly out of reach, drifting into the middle of Strahan Harbour where the evening breeze grabs it, weathercocks it and starts it on an inexorable backward drift towards the fleet of moored fishing boats. It’s an “oh shit” situation big time.
What to do? More to the point what to do in a big hurry! The inevitable happens and some bumbling tourists devoid of entertainment and wandering like sheep gather to watch the pondering pilot and the drifting seaplane. There is no available boat in site.
I ignore the tourists and quickly strip down to a pair of baggy underpants that somehow I forget to be embarrassed by. Clad only in my undies and a pair of thick socks I sprint to the waters edge and take a headlong dive into the freezing brown depths of Strahan harbor. My undies are instantly torn off by the impact of the dive. Not even completely realizing it, I am stark naked but for a pair of thick socks! I swim a dozen hard strokes to the seaplane and pull myself onto the floats. Someone on the shore whistles and someone else hoots. I discover my nakedness and quickly climb into the cockpit (sic) where thankfully the keys are still in the ignition.
The seaplane fires into life easily and with a few metres to spare before its impending collision with the fishing fleet, I am underway and the seaplane is safe. I ponder the options, the ramp is out, it has a submerged trailer blocking the way. The only safe alternative is the seaplane jetty some 150 metres distant and on the opposite side of the open air theatre full of tourists. I taxi over, dock the plane and tie it up. Suddenly I find myself naked but for my thick socks, 150 odd metres away from my clothes and with a bunch of tourists watching an outdoor play in between and more watching my antics from the ramp.
“It could only happen in Strahan” as the locals say …