Report 24 – Air Mail

Report 24: Air Mail

1_The contest with the “SS United States” for the Blue Ribbon of the North Sea was now behind us. Shortly after Dover, we were overtaken by her with a huge toot concert and two thousand waving arms. Each one of us who had permission climbed up on the top yard and waved back, as hard as he could. It was quite well, that now the “SS United States” could deploy her full speed and soon she was gone, because the wet cold dampened our enthusiasm considerably.2_

Whoever thought that silence would prevail, was soon annoyed and upset, because we found out that the mail-buoy at the mouth of the English Channel had been towed to a port for maintenance. We valued our service on our last trip and we assumed that we could take care of our Christmas mail from here. This time the radio operator came with a surprising offer. “Yes,” he said somewhat sedated, “I contacted the Chief Editor of the “Falmouth Morning Times”, an enthusiastic amateur radio operator, and asked if he would take care of a weather balloon with mail, if we launched it near the port of Falmouth. For John, that was the name of the editor, this was ok, if it could occur the next day between 3 and 6pm and if underneath the balloon there would be a thin line with a length of at least 250 meters with several red rags.

3_Amateur radio could not be the sole reason for this kind offer, so the radio operator was asked. „No“, he replied „that’s true. John is also a fan of Pamir, since it finished the last commercial voyage, under the flag of Gustaf Erikson, as a cargo sailing ship around Cape Horn, finishing after 128 days on July 11, 1949 then having their cargo consisting of 60,000 sacks of grain unloaded”.

4_The ship’s command retreated to a longer consultation. The boatswain and the sail maker had to arrive after 20 min. The problem was the line: even the thinnest and lightest would produce at least 90 kg at the required length and reach the performance limit of our remaining old weather balloon. It took another half an hour, for the positive decision to come about under the following conditions:
__A detour will not be sailed, but if the winds and currents do not cross our plans, action will take place tomorrow afternoon.
__Max. four postcards or letters per person and no more than 60 grams.
__Postage would be payable as soon as John has sent the bill.
__The radio operator is responsible for preparation, collection and making a list of the postage.

5_This sounded good and many, who had already finished their Christmas mail in Bremen, could not resist writing a second time to those omitted. For the radio operator that meant a lot of work: especially weight control was tedious because he had to balance the letters using the spice scales in the galley. He completed this task with patience and stoicism. Therefore, everything was magnificently prepared when we reached the position near Falmouth as early as 14:43. The south wind and Beaufort 3-4 breeze did not interfere with the plans. The “Falmouth Morning Times” had apparently attracted several thousands of people onto the pier. We were able to present ourselves well under full sail at 6 knots speed and only a half-mile away. Here and there, “Cheers” and “hurray” was heard.

6_The balloon rose from the poop deck together with a 663-gram mail load, so the radio operator reported. The end of the leash dragged slowly towards the north over the sea surface. The red fabrics fluttered in the wind. Soon the line was no longer identifiable. We only saw the balloon heading towards heaven. There was also a salute together with the signatures of all postal users. „Merry Christmas and many thanks, John”, was written on the card.

Author: arnd

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