Solent - the story behind a photograph.....

Martin Seamaster through to the Canadair CL-215 & 415 and the Shinmaiwa US-1.

Solent - the story behind a photograph.....

Postby seawings » Tue Nov 16, 2010 10:17 pm

Hi all,

I have been corresponding off-board with Perry Harlen from New Zealand and he has sent me a couple of pictures that his Father has taken way back.

This one arrived tonight, together with the story behind it and I thought you might like to read it:


Perry writes:

Here is a copy of a personal photograph showing a partial view of what I
believe is a Short Solent flying boat.

As can be seen it was with TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Ltd). The
aircraft is docked at the Evans Bay flying boat base (Wellington, New
Zealand). Using a magnifying glass on the original photo I am pretty
sure the aircraft name is RMS Awatere (RMS standing for Royal Mail Ship
I think?). "Awatere", freely translated, means "shining river" in Maori

The left-most person visible on the pontoon in dark suit carrying a bag
is my father - Phil Harlen. "May 1953" is written on the back of the photo.

I know the circumstances of this photograph. My father worked for the
Shell oil company in Seria, Brunei (he had been sent there along with
many others just after the Japanese surrender in WW11 to help get the
oilfield back into production). Not long before the photograph was taken
my dad and mum, had arrived in New Zealand on what was known as "long
leave", at least six weeks leave granted at the completion of a two year
contract with Shell.

However, shortly after dad arrived a major "blow out" occurred on the
oilfield. A large area surrounding a exploration well liquefied, the
entire drilling rig, spare pipe, large diesel engines and other
equipment simply disappeared into what can be described as quicksand.

This calamity was of such dimensions, many staff were recalled to duty -
"get back to work as soon as possible".

The photograph shows my dad on the first leg of his trip going back to
work. The Solent would have taken him to Sydney, Australia. Thence by
air most likely by Qantas DC4 to Singapore, Singapore to Labuan by
Malayan Airlines DC3, Labuan to Anduki airfield at Seria by Shell
Company Percival Prince.

You can do your own liquefying any time you are on a sandy beach. Stand
on the faintly damp, yet firm, sand near the water line and lightly
tread up and down on the spot. This causes the grains of the sand to
move apart from each other and the previously unnoticeable water-table
percolates between the grains of sand hastening the process. Your feet
will start to sink into the sand.

This phenomenon happened in a vastly more dramatic fashion at the
drilling site, possibly assisted by the drill bit releasing a gas pocket
which would have acted the same as water.

I have an idea there are one or two more photographs taken of the Solent
at the same occasion. If I find them I'll send them to you.


I know the blow out area was eventually stabilised, but for a long time
it was fenced-off and a no-go area. I saw the scene a few years later,
it was at least as big as two soccer pitches put together side by side.

Bryan here again: Has anyone got a better full picture of this Solent that we can send to Perry...?

Best Regards,

Bryan Ribbans
Owner of:

The Flying Boat Forum
SEAWINGS - The Website

"I put the sweat of my life into this project, and if it's a failure, I'll leave the country and never come back".
Howard Hughes, re: the HK-1 Hughes Flying Boat, aka the 'Spruce Goose,' 1946.
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Re: Solent - the story behind a photograph.....

Postby flyernzl » Sat Dec 04, 2010 7:55 pm

Interesting story. Illustrates what air travel was possible in those days, provided you could pay the premium price!

Short S.45 Solent 4 ZK-AMN 'Awatere' served with TEAL from October 1949 to January 1955 and then became G-ANYI with Aquila Airways Ltd., Hamble. WFU Lisbon after CofA expired 17Apr59. Scr Aug71.

Note that name is 'R M A Awatere', as it is not a ship. Royal Mail Airliner.

Photo as requested, taxiing in on the two outer engines to pick up the mooring buoy. If Perry Harlen is interested, I can supply him with a larger version and/or a print.

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Re: Solent - the story behind a photograph.....

Postby MrWidgeon » Sun Dec 05, 2010 3:58 am

Great photos and story.
As someone who (long ago) worked in the oilfields of South Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico I can tell you blow outs and liquifaction are serious business and not to be taken lightly.
Blow outs, as witnessed by the Piper Alpha and more recently Macondo wells (Gulf of Mexico) incidents can be deadly.
Liquifaction can swallow an entire rig and associated equipment in a remarkably short time (think quick sand).
But enough about all of that, Peter once again your (& Marcus') photo is a winner, Great Stuff.
In water flying attitude is everything
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