National Geographic : 1959 Jul
Braving the Atlantic by Balloon 129 before granting us a Certificate of Airworthi- beach protected Small World's canopy, or gas ness, the authorities insisted that we place a bag, from the gritty, volcanic sand. "No Smoking" sign in Small World--this Then we checked and rechecked the supplies despite the fact that none of us smoked! that would have to sustain us across 2,700 Finally, we sailed to our take-off point-- sea miles: 200 pounds of concentrated food; Tenerife-in early December of 1958. Ac- 20 gallons of fresh water, plus solar stills and cording to our meteorological research, Tene- a chemical compound to make more from sea rife would offer a northeast breeze sufficiently water, if necessary; calcium hydride which. light to permit launching, but strong enough when combined with sea water, could produce to drive us into the path of the unhindered hydrogen; radio and meteorological instru trade winds. ments; assorted spare parts; even a bugle to We soon realized, however, that our weather serve as a foghorn. reports had dealt only in average wind veloc- All was in readiness. With our 690 cylinders ities. In actuality, we were faced with a choice of hydrogen stacked in place, we settled down between gentle but erratic breezes that might to await a lull in the high wind that keened carry us in the wrong direction and a perilously through the banana leaves. strong trade wind blowing in exactly the right The first favorable break in the wind came direction. on the night of December 10. Although a night We established our launching base (page launching promised to be dangerous because 124) on a beach near the fishing village of of the inexperience of our volunteer ground El M6dano.* A large white cloth spread on the crew, we decided to risk it. ROSEMARYMUDIE All night long, hydrogen pumped into the canopy. Then, just before dawn, the wind picked up. Hope died within us as strong gusts buffeted the half-inflated gasbag and lashed its tender neoprene hide with driven sand. With no alternative, we partially de flated and snubbed down Small World to await the next lull. * See "Spain's 'Fortunate Isles,' the Canaries," by Jean and Franc Shor, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, April, 1955. Flying Days Over, We Face the Threat of a Sullen, Storm-chopped Sea I was on watch that last night aloft. When the thermal draft tossed us skyward, the gon dola started swinging like a giant pendulum. In darkness and driving rain. Tim climbed up to the load ring and untied the balloon's neck. By allowing gas to escape, he saved the bag from bursting. Yet still we careened upward. Finally, to halt our terrifying passage, I grabbed the gas valve rope. Hanging onto it like a clapper in a bell, I loosed to the ele ments almost a fifth of our gas supply. I knew, then, it was ditch or die. Hurtling to ward the sea, we cast off all remaining ballast. Three feet above the water I freed the now useless balloon. As it sailed off to infinity, we plopped into the ocean. Small World was now a small boat, 15 feet long, 8 feet wide. Here, after a harrowing first night in the Atlantic, I make ready to haul in the mast, attached to our trail rope. Behind us lay 1,200 nautical miles of flying; before us, 1,500 miles of sailing.