Low Bridge, High Jump
Hamish studied the bridge with a critical eye, 10.9 metre clearance from the surface of the water to the span at low tide, and 15 metre between the piers. Beyond the bridge and travelling up river, houses lined the South side, and shops, docks and Sawmill along the North bank. From the bridge to the harbour mouth, the North bank was filled with shops, amusement arcades, the old fish sheds and Harbour Masters office, all leading to the pier, lighthouse and outer harbour. The South side consisted of the old town, cottages astride the inner harbour wall, a small patch of beach, the RNLI Lifeboat station, and cottages strung along the lower cliff leading to the Southern arm of the harbour wall.
Hamish cursed himself for having accepted the challenge, too many beers and foolish bravado had got the better of him, and his normally level headed logic and reasoning deserted him. To back out would be the sensible and safe thing to do, but pride kept getting in the way.
From which direction to approach the bridge was his immediate concern, followed by timing. It had to be at low tide, when there would be no danger of fishing boats or cargo vessels wanting to enter or leave the harbour, at which time the bridge would be opened. Approaching from the harbour entrance, once under the bridge he could fly up river into the sparsely populated valley beyond, climbing and gaining altitude before reaching the viaduct straddling river and valley.
To fly in the other direction, out through the harbour mouth, he would have to climb quickly to avoid the lighthouse on the North side and the steep cliffs to the South. Not to mention allowing for the prevailing and ever present wind, that was always stronger outside the harbour mouth.
The bright yellow Tiger Moth was his pride and joy, and he felt a leaden lump in his stomach as he thought of what might happen if he misjudged his height and speed. “Daft beggar” he thought, “What’s worse, mangled Tiger Moth or mangled and possibly dead Hamish, and one way or another I’m going to get it in the neck from some quarter, this kind of stunt is definitely frowned upon.”
Two days later, Hamish took off and headed out for the little seaside town, arriving early morning at low tide, he circled the harbour a couple of times then headed out to sea. Turning 180 degrees he pointed the nose toward the harbour mouth and as he passed the lighthouse to his right, he pushed forward on the joystick, gradually losing height and lowering his speed to 65 knots. His palms were sweating, and the lump in his stomach was threatening to rise up into his throat, he could feel the sweat rising on his neck and forehead and his heart was thumping like a drum. The bridge appeared to be coming up fast, and it seemed he was just barely skimming the water, keeping the wings straight and steady he aimed for the middle of the space between the piers. Resisting the urge to close his eyes, he whispered a quick prayer and shot under the bridge and out the other side.
“Phew, pull back on the joystick, get the nose above the horizon, adjust the speed, that’s it. Boy, you’ve done it, still in one piece, thank God.” He began to feel the exhilaration of success, his first real stunt in the Tiger Moth, he’d looped the loop but had never done anything this daring before. Feeling the glow of success and anticipating the admiration and back slapping of his fellow pilots, he turned for home.
Hamish touched down and taxied to his slot, a group of men were waiting for him. He groaned, “I knew it, I’m in for the high jump now, and all for a measly £100.00, it’ll probably cost me more than that in bail money, and I think I need a change of underwear!”
Jackie S Brooks
24 August 2005