2004 July 30
I haven't posted any "Lessons"
for a long time--not for lack of
material, but because I've just been too busy flying my SeaRey to write about it. It has flown
225 hours now (late August 04), including the 5.2 hours that this
A Viking Voyage
the wailing of the women and the gnashing of teeth of the trepid
flyers of land-planes, the dauntless Viking, oft-praised in sagas, and
nescient scion of the Border Reivers boarded Boats guided by the
Volunteers and were ferried across the Guiness-dark waters of the
Lagoon to their sturdy SeaReys, long-anchored among the Lillies and
the coming Flight to the North Country.
Alas, the gods of the Wind and
Weather had become offended by the
incessant delays brought about by the Volunteers, who had seemed loathe
to spring into action until the Viking waxed wroth with
them and at last they applied their considerable skills to the Mercurys
delivered the two Adventurers to their Flying-Boats, then towed them
from the safety of the Lagoon out into the oft-treacherous Lake
Winnebago for their departure toward the North.
minute here. If
you're a landplane pilot reading
this, my advice to you is to stop. right. now. and go get yourself a
seaplane rating. Then build a SeaRey and learn to fly
it. Otherwise you're probably going to turn as pale as the
chill fog upon the warm waters.
And if you're already a SeaRey
pilot, please keep in mind that it IS a
flying boat--that is, a boat that can fly--and not merely an airplane
that can float. Otherwise, this story might give you the
willies. There will be a few other caveats and cautions
at the end, as well.
All right? Now
let's get back to the story--but a simple,
modern telling of it from here on.
I had flown my SeaRey from
Richmond, Virginia, to the big annual "AirVenture" airplane thing at
Oshkosh, Wisconsin (with overnight stops on the way on the Ohio
river near Cincinnati and Quincy, IL). I camped at the AirVenture
seaplane base and enjoyed the big show for several days. But all
too soon it was time to leave. I was going to visit friends on
Beaver Island, at the north end of Lake Michigan, and then meet Carol,
my wife, near Detroit before flying on home to Virginia. In all,
it was a 2000 nautical mile trip.
Oshkosh seaplane base the evening before this story begins. The
view is to the southwest.
The bay in the foreground opens
into Lake Winnebago. The lagoon, where the seaplanes are tied to
buoys, is protected from wind and waves. The seaplane base proper
is to the right of the lagoon, and the campground is in the trees at
the upper right.
The Viking lives in Michigan's
U.P. and has the rep of
being fearless and intrepid--and successful--when it comes to feeling
his way along lake shores and rivers in weather that would ground
everyone else. We checked the weather and figured we had a
two hour window to get out of the seaplane base and north of Green
Bay. After that, the forecast was for clear skies to the
north and the proverbial pea soup for OSH and points south.
We made ready.
Unfortunately, the volunteers
at the seaplane base were busy and we didn't get boated out to our
airplanes until the two
hours was just about up. Here we're being towed out through
"The Gap" to the bay.
We took off and headed east
Lake Winnebago, figuring that we'd see what we could see, and if we
couldn't see enough, we'd either come back or land and wait it
out. There was almost no wind, so we knew the lakes would
be smooth enough to alight upon.
This is the Viking approaching
Lake Michigan. The water is beyond
line of fog--although it looks worse here than it was in reality.
We could see the lake clearly from this position, but
camera couldn't. (A haze filter would have helped.)
We also knew that the fog and
haze was a rather narrow band lying diagonally across our intended
course. The Viking and his wife had been talking over ham radios
as she was driving home and she reported that the sky was bright blue
not far to the north.
We were a lot better equipped and prepared than it might seem. We
had looked closely at the weather before taking off--especially
satellite photos of the area that showed the cloud cover. In
addition to the ham radio, the Viking had a marine band radio and a
depth finder. We had three GPSs, and as always we were wearing
inflatable PFDs. And we had a clear plan, with alternatives that
we had already thought out. AND
were in flying boats, so we had many more alternatives than any
landplane pilot ever has.
We crossed over the line of fog
and turned north, flying parallel to the shore, a mile or so
out and at about 500 feet, in reasonably good visibility.
Eventually, however, we would need to get back around the north end of
the fog and the line of clouds that lay above it, so we flew on, paying
close attention to the ceiling and the visibility, not wanting to get
into IFR conditions.
After about 15 minutes it
became clear that the clouds and the fog were merging to the north of
us, and we weren't going to be able to get
around them without crossing all the way over to Michigan--about 50
miles across Lake Michigan at that point. We didn't want to
do that because it was far out of our way. We
could have turned around, but that would have been going back, and we didn't like that idea,
either. Besides, we knew from the Viking's wife that the sky was
already clearing ahead and that the translucent stuff was moving in our
So we landed on Lake Michigan
to wait it out. The Viking went first. He
landing into the light wind, but had trouble with the swells, which he
said were about five feet high--there were no short-length waves
because the breeze was light. I tried it next, but after two WHAMs on
I powered up and turned parallel to them. That time the
easy, with no problem from the light crosswind. I simply settled
in on the
crest of a swell and rode along it until falling off the step.
had to locate the Viking. Did a 180 on the water and spotted him
quarter mile away, just visible through the approaching fog.
floated there for about half an hour with the engines shut down,
on the radio and hoping the fog would clear away soon. But it
got thicker, and eventually we decided to taxi to the Sturgeon Bay
Canal inlet. The Viking has a buddy there and we figured we'd
and go to lunch.
We taxied in displacement mode
for about 5 miles. Here's the Viking leading the way:
The photo gives an idea of our
RVR just then--the Runway Visual Range. Another 50 or
60 feet shorter and the Viking would have disappeared. That would
have been awkward because he had the ham radio, the marine
radio, and the depth finder.
One of my GPSs
(a Lowrance Airmap 500) showed the channel marker buoys. (Photographed several
days later, showing my trail as the heavy dark line.)
You can see where we landed,
circled, and then taxied northwest to the
inlet. At 4 knots, it took us about two hours to get inside
Unfortunately, the inlet and
the channel themselves don't appear on the GPS
map. (I didn't have the special marine database.) The line
looks like the channel is my trail as we taxied up it after finding
So to be sure we didn't run
into anything hard in the fog, we headed a little to the north of the
buoys, until the Viking's depth
showed the bottom coming up fast to meet us. Not wanting to
be washed onto shore, we turned out again and picked our way south
until the breakwall north of the inlet hove into view.
That's making it sound
easy. This was the only
really tricky part of the whole voyage--finding the breakwall and
lighthouse without running into them. At that point we had
to feel our
way in the fog at about 1 or 2 knots. The lighthouses'
lights weren't lit, and we couldn't hear their puny foghorns because of
our headsets.) We hooked around the lighthouse at the end
and turned into the channel.
rather pleasant boat outing.
The only time I was even slightly
concerned was once when the Viking started taxiing in circles and said
the radio, "Oh... I'm just a bit disoriented." He had
GPS from the map mode to a bearing display and that got him confused,
but he was all right as soon as he switched back to the map again.
Here's a topo map showing where
we were heading:
Once inside the channel the
going was easier and in half a mile the swells were gone and the fog
thinned considerably, enough for us to
taxi on the step to the bridge.
We found the Viking's friend's
marina just east of the bridge, but the ramp was too narrow for
wings, and there seemed to be no other good place to tie up, so we
continued up the channel to a public bathing beach, deserted in the
light rain. There was no place to get food, but the john
was handy, and after about three hours in the airplanes we were
Unfortunately, among the
several curious persons who came down to gawk
was a newspaper reporter. He was busy taking photos and
later wanted to get our names. We tried to convince him not
to file the story because we were sure that the headline would
be something ghastly, like AIRPLANES FORCED TO LAND ON
BEACH. But we
couldn't talk him out of it, and the Viking's friend saw the photo the
day in the Green Bay Press-Gazette. He said it wasn't
enough to pick out the registration numbers, though, and there wasn't
much text with it. The headline, he said, was "EXPERIMENTAL
AIRPLANES FORCED DOWN." Tsk.
The beach is at the south end
of Sturgeon Bay, where the canal meets
it--west of the bridge and (in the next picture) east of the Y in
Green Bay, Lake Winnebago, and Oshkosh are all to the
southwest. Escanaba MI, where we were heading, is just
about due north. And Progressive Aerodyne, where the SeaRey kits are
made, in Orlando, is 1004 nm to the
Presently the fog lifted, the
ceiling went up, and off we
went. Here we are flying north over Sturgeon Bay after
leaving the beach, heading for Escanaba, MI.
I kept trying to get a good
closeup of the Viking's SeaRey, but was
tuck in close while using the camera. As you see, the sky
was already clearing.
At Escanaba, MI, the Viking continued north to Lake Michigamme, and I
east to Beaver Island. The sky was bright blue and the only
clouds in sight were 50 miles to the southeast.
Ho hum. Just
another ordinary SeaRey day.
Not to make light of it. I
wouldn't have tried
any of this on my own, but the Viking had done it all before (except
for finding that particular breakwall and lighthouse), and he was able
to get sky reports from his wife on the ham radio. She was
driving north not far from us and was able to tell us exactly where the
sky was blue and which way the clouds were moving. So we knew that the
murky stuff was very localized and wouldn't stay around very long.
He also had two other gizmos that were useful: His depth finder
told us we were approaching the shore long before we came close, so we
were never in danger of running aground. And he used the marine-band
radio in the canal to ask a boat driver to slow down so we could keep
up in displacement mode where the swells were still in effect. He also
used it to talk with a couple of marinas, asking about ramps
I've since acquired a marine radio, but am still not likely
to get a ham license, even though you no longer have to learn Morse. A
depth finder? Hmmm...
A CAVEAT ABOUT THIS ADVENTURE:
I don't want to seem to be recommending this
of flying (and boating), and as I said above, I wouldn't have set out
on it by myself. It was "The Viking's" experience and equipment that
made it all go so smoothly.
On the other hand, I now know that, with proper preparation, a
SeaRey is capable of doing a lot more than putting around over a lake
or river on a clear, calm day. It really is a pretty good boat in open
boating is a lot safer than flying when the visibility goes
So one of the lessons of this adventure, for me at least, is that
mode--floating--is important to keep in mind.
It's a matter of mind-set: My tendency was to think of it as an
airplane first and second as a car. But if anything it's inherently a boat
first. And realizing that has radically changed the way I think about
Note: "The Viking" has a real name, but I think he'd prefer
anonymity. Anyone who knows him will recognize him right away.
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