.Photo by Craig
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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."