October 7, 2013
By Julie Summers Walker
AOPA President Mark Baker attended the newly launched Lake Gaston Resort Seaplane Splash-In Oct. 5 in southern Virginia and, flying in a 1947 Republic Seabee, literally splashed in. After attending a hearty pancake breakfast at the Mecklenburg-Brunswick Regional Airport, Baker and his wife, Vicki, boarded the Seabee, flown by owner Henry Ruzakowski of Marion, N.C., but not before Baker had changed into shorts. “You never know if you’ll get wet when you attend a splash-in,” quipped Baker, who turned out to be prophetic.
After a quick and scenic flight over south-central Virginia to the 20,000-acre Lake Gaston, Ruzakowski attempted to beach the Seabee but the aircraft’s tires sunk into the mud and the seaplane listed in the chest-high water. Chest-high to Baker, who jumped out to help Steve Harris, director of flight operations and safety for the Virginia Department of Aviation, push the aircraft onto shore. Vicki Baker stayed somewhat drier, jumping out of the aircraft closer to the beach. Harris reacted without thinking about his cellphone and camera, which were in his shorts’ pocket.
The incident—enjoyed with humor and with a supportive audience at the event—set the tone for the Bakers' visit to the splash-in. More than 1,500 people attended the event, according to Harris, and featured 11 seaplanes. Most of the attendees were visitors to the The Club at Lake Gaston Resort, a recreational facility along the banks of the 34-mile lake straddling the Virginia/North Carolina border, which offers lake activities, swimming, tennis, arcades, and more. Watching the seaplanes take off and land—and the Seabees (there were two and a Twin Bee) roar onto the beach—attendees marveled at the activity. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” said one woman who, by day’s end was boarding an AirCam for her first-ever seaplane ride. More than 75 introductory flights were given during the event.
Baker’s promise to attend grassroots events throughout the year was exemplified here. He and wife chatted with visitors, the directors of the national and local seaplane associations, and even took a golf cart tour of the lakeside resort. Vicki donned bowling shoes and bowled a spare at the resort’s arcade. Baker declined, saying his wife was the better bowler.
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.
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