The west coast of the United States is home to a large selection of amphibians and float planes. Once a year, a number of them converge on Lakeport in California for the Clearlake Splash In. Rob Edgcumbe made the trip to see what might show up this year.
The Clearlake Splash In is a weekend event that takes place in Lakeport. Situated on the east side of Clearlake in the hills a couple of hours north of San Francisco, it is a gathering of float plane and amphibian owners. They start to gather on the Thursday, run some seminars on the Friday, have a public day on the Saturday and then head home on the Sunday. There are various social events scattered throughout the event for the visiting pilots too.
The Saturday was a day with wonderful weather. The sun shone all day and the wind was mostly calm. However, while everything appeared great at the event, the day before included some strong thunderstorms and some big weather on the Saturday morning established itself over the mountains that would be the route for a number of the participants. As a result, the attendance was significantly down on previous years.
The city of Lakeport hosts the Splash In. There are two locations for the visiting aircraft. The amphibians (including those on amphibious floats) gather on a field that belongs to a school that has a route to the lake. The city lays a ramp of steel plate to allow the aircraft to transition out off the lake. The ramp runs a distance down into the water but isn’t terribly wide. Lining up accurately is important as is managing the speed on the ramp.
The first Widgeon to approach the ramp was offset to one side and missed with one of its wheels requiring a shut down and push off before starting up and having a second attempt. One Cessna came in to the ramp with some speed and the water rudders clipped the ramp as it pitched up. Entering the water also requires some care. One speedy entry resulted in the prop contacting the water briefly. No damage was sustained in any of these cases but it showed how care needed to be exercised.
For those aircraft that were not amphibious, there was a pier a short distance up the lakeside at which they could tie up. For the Saturday, a couple of aircraft tied up here. A Piper Pacer ran a steady stream of flights during the day while a Cessna from Seaplane Adventures in Sausalito also moored there.
An EMS Bell 407 operated by Reach also made an appearance. It put down in a parking lot next to the main field with the goal of being open to visitors. However, it had not long been on the ground when the crew received a call out to a genuine emergency. The helicopter departed swiftly and never returned.
The biggest visitors were a triumvirate of Grumman Widgeons. Arriving early on the Saturday morning, two had come up together and they were joined by the third when they arrived over the lake. One took a trip out during the day while the other two spent the day on the ground. At the opposite end of the size scale was a Quicksilver ultra light on inflatable floats. It was moved around the field on a dolly and taken down to the beach, where it ran flights for people throughout the day. It was busy for the whole day.
Between these two extremes, a number of Cessnas showed up. A beautiful 185 made a number of trips for paying customers during the day. A very new looking Stationair made an appearance and a state Fish and Wildlife Service aircraft equipped with antennae for tracking wildlife also was there. A couple of Seareys also visited, making a nice arrival in formation as well as demonstrating their manoeuvrability on the water when they taxied in. Eric Presten’s Clipper rounded out the collection and provided some nice passes on arrival and departure.
Planes weren’t the only vehicles taking part. Three Amphicars made an appearance. These are cars that have sealed bodies and propellers under the rear of the car that can operate either on land or water. These cars got a lot of attention and they were happy to run a steady stream of rides for people out onto the water. One of them enjoyed particularly boisterous water entries with a big bow wave catching a few people out.
One issue affecting all of the participants was the water. Clearlake might be the name but it is anything but. The water has a radioactive green colour as a result of a large amount of weed floating below the surface. The planes and cars coming out of the water had a lot of the weed wrapped around anything it could bind on to. This was a nuisance when leaving the water but could be easily cleaned off. However, heading the other way could be more problematic. Once in the water, the amphibians need to retract their gear. If it has weed wrapped around it, this isn’t necessarily possible. Consequently, a few people had to clean up once they were out on the water. For solo pilots, this meant shutting down, hopping out to clean up and then getting back onboard before restarting the engine.
The location of Lakeport means the sun angle gets better and better as the day goes on. However, the weather fronts were also making their way back towards the lake. While the aircraft that were staying looked great in the evening light, the approaching clouds encouraged those who were heading home to get on their way before it was too late. With the low attendance, it wasn’t too hard to get everyone out when they wanted to go. The number staying over for Saturday night was pretty low. Hopefully the low attendance was an aberration for this year.
While the number of visiting planes was disappointingly low, the nice location, great access for the public and the relative novelty of floatplanes and amphibians made for a good day out. Hopefully the numbers will be back to normal next year and the weather will cooperate. It is a fun event that will certainly be worth checking out again.