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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedRelaxation afloat: Life's different at the Seaplane Base
By Meghan Plummer

.Photo by Craig VanderKolk

Adam Hafeman, Paul Stutleen, and Kelly Hafeman relax at the Seaplane Base.

Sometimes, it seems like there's no escape from the heat and hustle at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh; however, it takes only a short bus ride to escape it all at the EAA Seaplane Base.

Upon arrival at the base, the PA system sets the mood: "Welcome, everybody, to the Seaplane Base," the booming voice says.

"It's another beautiful day in paradise."

Paul Seehafer, chairman of the Seaplane Base, said the base hosts the largest seaplane gathering in the world. "It's pretty much seaplane Mecca," Paul said. "Wisconsin has probably the finest seaplane flying in the world."

When seaplane pilots are nearing their destination at Oshkosh, many say they feel like they're coming home, Paul said. The Seaplane Base averages 110 airplanes, peaking around 150.

Last year, there were about 130 seaplanes at the base; this year, there are 85 registered, but many spend days at the airport.

Paul's wife, Ann, vice chairman of the Seaplane Base, said they've had everything from "a flying river raft with wings to an Albatross."

As for the weather at EAA AirVenture this year, Ann had only good things to say. "The weather has actually been nice for us," Ann said, pointing out that winds from the north would turn the water rough.

A world away…
The atmosphere at the base is very different from the convention grounds.

"Compared to the airport, things are very quiet and relaxed," Paul said, noting that the schedule isn't as structured as at the airport, so seaplanes can basically fly whenever they feel like it. "We have a 75,000-acre lake to play around on."

"It gives people an opportunity to get away from the heat of the airport," Ann said, mentioning that many families bring blankets and let the kids run and play while the adults read and relax. "People here are just so much less stressed."

Ann said her favorite thing about the base is the people. "There are a lot of really cool people from all over," Ann said.

In past years, Paul said they had guests fly in from Germany and a volunteer from Taiwan. Paul said the volunteer couldn't believe the gathering existed and had to come because he loved seaplanes so much.

Kelly Hafeman, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, has come to EAA AirVenture for the past 20 years. "Every year, we take one day and say, 'Today is our Seaplane Base day,'" Kelly said, adding that he loves to relax at the base because it's quiet and there's plenty of shade. "The (main) grounds is more hustle and bustle."

Reclining back in a chair on the shore, Adam Hafeman agreed with Kelly. "It's the best-kept secret of AirVenture," Adam said.

Opened as an accommodation…now a feature
According to Paul Seehafer, the Seaplane Base started when Canadian pilots wanted to fly into EAA AirVenture, but their aircraft were on floats. "It kind of grew into this," Paul said.

The base is completely volunteer-run, save for a couple security guards. Complete with food stands and camping, the base has everything the airport has, only smaller, Paul said.

Each day, an activities committee plans events to entertain the campers at the base. Monday night, there was a reunion bonfire so old friends could catch up. Wednesday was Tex-Mex night, complete with piñatas and music. Thursday night, guests celebrated the 100th birthday of the seaplane.

Upcoming entertainment includes tonight's fish fry at 5 p.m. and the Watermelon Social Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

Each year, the Seaplane Base also has a corn roast. "We never miss the corn roast," Kelly said.

Outside of EAA AirVenture week, the Seaplane Base is 27 acres of private property, owned by the children of a man who flew a seaplane in World War II.

More than 100 volunteers spend three days before the convention to set everything up, then three more days to take it all down.

During Memorial Day weekend, Ann said volunteers from the Tri-State area come to get a head-start on preparations by planting flowers, building, and painting.

Paul often comes back to how laid-back the Seaplane Base is. "The Seaplane Base is kind of like going to Key West," Paul said.

"They open when they feel like it and close when they feel like it. We're a little more structured than that, but you get the idea."

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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