|A seaplane taxis from the Seaplane Base cove out on to Lake Winnebago for takeoff. (photo by Gary Flick)
|Seaplane Base chairman John Knapp sits in his Renegade aircraft. He has been flying to the AirVenture Seaplane Base for 34 years. (photo by Gary Flick)
By Gary Flick
August 1, 2013 - Though it may only be a few miles away on a map, the EAA Seaplane Base truly is a whole different world.
When the bus stops next to the Seaplane Base sign, you realize immediately that this is not where you're going to find million-dollar jets, five-story movie screens, and internationally known rock bands.
And that's the beauty of it.
Walking down the small woodchip path under a canopy of trees it's hard to believe that just five minutes prior you could have been shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of thousands of people watching a jet scream down a concrete runway.
After a few turns in the woods, the path opens up to a beautiful bay peppered with planes and boats and surrounded by people who are either experiencing the same awe as you, or coming up to shake your hand and welcome you.
One of these people, who is no stranger to "Big EAA," was Hartzell Propeller Chief Pilot Larry Zetterlind, who has been coming to the Seaplane Base since 1983.
"This is just a big family reunion every year," Zetterlind said as hands waved goodbye from a Piper Cub on floats making its way to take off from the big part of Lake Winnebago.
Jeremy Gruse is the vice chairman of the the Seaplane Base and explained how the flight arrivals work.
"It is an uncontrolled airport," Gruse said. "So pilots do the flying at their own discretion. We just provide advisories with our point control personnel and we help them in the mooring process and provide them with a propeller bridal if they plan on staying the night."
One of the point control workers is retired Navy C-130 pilot Glenn Belson and he explained the departure process.
"The pilots receive a briefing from one of our qualified briefers and then get a signed authorization to depart," Belson explained. "Then the dock managers go get the aircraft and we load them with fuel. [The pilots] call us to make sure it's clear and they depart at their own discretion."
The gentleman who runs the whole show is Seaplane Base Chairman John Knapp; he's been staying at the base during Oshkosh for 36 years - 34 of which he splashed down for in his own seaplane.
"This is the place to be!" Knapp said as he generously showed me around the area. The Seaplane Base has all the essentials that the main AirVenture area has, just in much smaller proportions.
There is tent camping, generator camping, clothing sales, first aid, food, places to relax, and of course lots of fun.
"Margaritaville" is where the volunteers eat during the day and the party is held at night.
"I don't think we left the campfire until about 3 a.m. this morning," Knapp said with a grin. "And everyone is invited to the party, not just the volunteers!"
More than 150 volunteers help out with everything from front-gate greeting to dock greeting, dock work, point control work, and pontoon boat driving.
"Anyone can come down and go for a pontoon ride around the bay to see all of the planes we have moored up," said volunteer Stu Alexander, who for the second time came all the way from Taiwan to help out as a boat driver and dock worker.
Knapp and the rest of the help encouraged everyone to come down, regardless of whether or not they are seaplane pilots.
"Our Watermelon Social is our big event, so come down and have some fun!" said Knapp, who seems pretty much impossible not to have fun around.
The Watermelon Social is tomorrow night at 5:30. Tickets are $15 at the Seaplane Base office and include a pulled pork sandwich, side dishes, and a beer or soda in a glass souvenir mug. And, of course, watermelon.
Whether it be for dinner tomorrow night, or just to check out this amazing area, the Seaplane Base is nothing like anything else at AirVenture.
Great people (but not 500,000 of them), awesome aircraft, a place to relax, and a lot of fun make the $1.50 bus ride to the Seaplane Base one of Oshkosh's best values.