In Mozambique in 1974, in bars and on billboards all over the country, there was a 3×4 feet poster of a smiling skydiver in a relaxed frog position, named Deon Hamilton (D14). In two insets in the right hand corner, a handsome somebody else reaches for and is shown enjoying a Manica stout in the best after-action, satisfaction tradition.
After much misdirection in the search for the Beira dropzone of the local club, I heard a small plane, which had been droning aimlessly overhead, throttle back. It is such a distinctive sound, or secession of sound, that I knew it would be carrying parachutists. Sure enough, two ‘chutes blossomed soon afterwards. I followed them along a narrow spit of land to where it ended in a swamp where they landed in the water. A handful of black youngsters darted from the nearest huts to help gather the ‘chutes where they were lightly spread over the tall grass that emerged from the water. I was later to learn that there was in fact a landing strip and dropzone under the water alongside the relic sand dune that was laced with palmtrees, huts and the odd dirty little store.
It was the end of the rainy season. Every depression was under water. Until it dried out, the Beira Club plane had to take off at the main Beira’s Manga Airport nearby, where the club house was situated. When I found it, the club house was an ex-army corrugated iron sheet affair. I met Deon Hamilton, of the poster there, and arranged to get a jump the following day, after I showed him my logbook.
Because I had worked out in the African bush for three years, not jumping, my parachute licence had lapsed. However, earlier that year, after a couple of static-line jumps to convince instructors, Bepe Piazzoli (D16) and John Higgins (D73) at Wonderboom Airport near Pretoria the previous month, I was sky-worthy again.
The friendly Portuguese club members loaned me, and helped me to pack, a French ‘chute, an EFA6962, similar to the C9 I knew.
The Aero Clube da Beira had (still have, I understand!) a Canadian De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, CR-AGS. The nine cylinder radial Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior engine’s throaty roar was so deafening one could barely hear oneself think, never mind speak. In the mid-morning of the next day six of us squeezed into the cramped cabin and trundled out onto the tarmac. In next to no time we came around for the first run-in at 3000 feet over the Chota, dropping one guy. Then we climbed again to 5000 feet where two of us dropped out over the flooded dropzone.
I had a stunning view of Beira and the Estoril Hotel, where I had a room, to the south, the Indian Ocean to the east and the airport to the north. Below me was the floodplain studded with palm islands, huts and waving inhabitants that rushed to help me gather the ‘chute after I landed, knee-deep in sludge and waist-deep in water. Magic!
The driver of the club’s Landy that came to fetch us helped me to lay the ‘chute out to dry as we watched Deon Hamilton and two others try a hook-up. Having been assured that the kit was too wet for another jump that day, I was easily persuaded to join the others in having a few 2M beers in a nearby filthy cantina, before returning to the club house for a few more.
The slight coolness with which I had at first been greeted was gone. Now I was one of them. Welcome.
A fellow skydiver.
Three months later I travelled back to South Africa, via Salisbury. Pausing at Charles Prince Airport on a Saturday, I found the National Championships about to start. Borrowing a C9, I did the first jump of the day as a wind-marker, going up with a journalist. He snapped me going out. The picture was on the front page of the Rhodesia Herald, the next morning.
It was the only jump I did there as I was not a competition jumper, but it was great to see a van-load of my fellows from Wonderboom, Pretoria, who were there. John Ivy and John Higgins were amongst them. Again, the skydiver camaraderie is something special.