Tuesday, July 6, 2010
The largest seaplane gathering in the West
For two days each September, the shores and skies of the quaint Central California town of Lakeport are taken over by the Clear Lake Splash-In. It’s a meeting point for pilots who share enthusiasm for seaplanes, and it serves as a place to share knowledge, skills and the occasional tale. This gathering of families, old friends, new friends and curious passersby is an event unlike any other.
Clear Lake’s seaplane roots date back to the 1930s, when it was occasionally used as an alternate if the San Francisco Bay was too foggy for arrivals. Pan American Clippers found refuge on this large lake, which generally sits above the fog and is only a short distance from the bay. Clear Lake was hardly considered settled during the ’30s, and the Clippers must have introduced tremendous sights and sounds to these waters.
I was welcomed to last year’s Splash-In by its organizers: Chuck Kimes, an avid seaplane specialist who works with SeaPlane Operations, and Ray Wolfe, the co-organizer. Together, they worked with numerous volunteers to organize the annual gathering. Fixed-float aircraft were based at Skylark Shores Resort’s docks, whereas amphibious aircraft were stationed at the nearby Natural High School field.
The Clear Lake Splash-in hosts all varieties of seaplanes, from Cubs on straight floats to amphib turbine Beavers. Somewhat resembling a Grumman Widgeon, Bob Ellison’s homebuilt Gweduck (right) is a one-of-a-kind aircraft.
Contests were held for spot “splash and gos” and water bombing with plastic water bottles. Throngs of locals and visitors watched and cheered, and they lined the docks and sat in the sparse shade (temperatures exceeded 100 degrees). But it’s not just about having fun. With regulations getting tighter and increasingly stringent, the Clear Lake Splash-In provides a forum for pilots to discuss current events, regulations and concerns. Classrooms at the high school were made available for lectures on such topics as “Seaplanes and Invasive Species.” Keeping lakes and waterways free from foreign and invasive species is crucial to keeping lakes such as Clear Lake accessible to aviation. As of 2008, all aircraft participating in the Splash-In are required to possess an inspection sticker, signifying that they’ve passed an inspection. Aircraft have the unique ability to swiftly transport invasive species to multiple waterways, so it’s imperative that steps are taken to minimize the effects and keep the waters open for generations to come.
The heart of aviation lives and thrives at events like the Clear Lake Splash-In. Here, aviators share and celebrate their passion for flight. Additionally, holding the fly-in at a place where the nonflying public can glimpse aviation’s wonders strengthens the aviation community and builds long-lasting relationships that enable aviation to be passed to future generations.
At the close of the day on Saturday, the last rays of light cast a warm glow on the lake’s glassy surface, signaling the end of the flying day. With the temperature slowly falling, Splash-In participants congregated at a tri-tip barbecue hosted by the local 4-H youth group. Sharing stories, eating good food and closing the evening with an awards presentation, the group looked forward to flying home in the morning, and returning next year fully charged.
From the Cub on straight floats to the amphibious turbine Beaver or Albatross, the Clear Lake Splash-In is a melting pot of airplanes. Lampson Field (1O2) is just down the road for those with wheels on their airplanes, and a shuttle is provided during the fly-in for a nominal fee.
Mark your calendars for this year’s Splash-In, September 24–26, 2010. Visit www.clearlakesplashin.com