Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Getting the pontoons wet on Liberty Bay

by Nick Twietmeyer

Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter for Kitsap News Group

POULSBO — It was with no small amount of nostalgia that I visited the Port of Poulsbo on May 5 for the Washington Seaplane Pilots Association’s Poulsbo Splash Weekend.

It’s probably important to note that many years ago I attended flight school at a small airfield in Bremerton and while I never actually earned my pilot license, I did accrue some 20 hours of flight time and a naggingly persistent interest in aviation. Given this information, it should come as no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to cover the event for my employer, the North Kitsap Herald.

The event actually served as the confluence of two sources of nostalgia for me: I worked under the employ of the Port of Poulsbo for one summer more than a decade ago. A little known fact about the port is that it operates a 12,000-foot-long runway on Liberty Bay and is recognized as a seaplane base by the FAA. It was always a treat to be walking down the ramp to the port offices and see a bright yellow, single-engine, Piper Cub on Pontoons, tied up at the end of the dock. Nearly without exception, the pilot would be chatting with the staff who left the offices to check out the arrival of the plane.

After arriving downtown shortly after noon for the May 5 fly-in, the Poulsbo waterfront was already abuzz with activity, families were playing with their small children in the grass at the waterfront park and visitors smiled for photos, while leaning against the railing overlooking the several aircraft that had now tied up at the docks.

I had previously spoken over the phone to my contact for the event, Don Goodman, who would be taking me up in his Cessna 182P for a little aerial photography session. Despite knowing full-well that the flight would almost certainly reignite my wallet-melting desire to become a certified pilot, I searched for Goodman among the small crowd of aviators.

I found Don’s wife, Natala, first. She was under a small tent, provided by the port to welcome the pilots and provide some refuge from the sun, which — as luck would have it — was on full-display, and working diligently to sear my nearly translucent winter palor. Natala was enjoying a chocolate ice cream cone and offered me a warm greeting while performing maintenance on the quickly liquefying cone.

After handing me a life jacket, Natala gave me a quick safety briefing.

“If we were to go upside down in the water, everything would still be on the same side, even though you’d be disoriented and feel like, ‘oh, now it’s on the other side,’” Natala explained before adding that if such an event were to occur, I should wait to inflate my life jacket since it would prevent my escape from the submerged plane.

Then, as he was preparing the plane, Don’s magnetic name tag was accidentally knocked free from his shirt and all three of us watched as it bounced off one of the plane’s pontoons, splashed into the bay and slowly sank, flashing the white face of the tag as it flipped underwater, not unlike a fishing lure. A less confident man might have been given some pause while literally watching his own name sink out of sight, mere moments before a flight above said bay, but not Don. Don started laughing hysterically.

“It’s appropriate that it’s been committed to the deep,” He said between his hearty laughs.

With that totally-not-ominous portion our excursion out of the way, it had come time to negotiate all 76 inches of a reporter and his camera bag into the back seat of the plane. As per my pre-flight safety briefing from Natala, in the event that the plane were to end up upside down in the water, the person sitting in the back seat is supposed to “kick out” the small baggage door on the left side of the plane. Natala assured me that simply a “swift kick” would be sufficient to free the door, a bit of information which prompted me to take the seat on the right side of the plane, as far away from the door as physically possible — partially out of fear that an errant knee or elbow might bust the baggage door from its hinges.

“Clear!” shouted Don as the propeller turned over and the Goodmans’ aircraft roared to life. I had been outfitted with a familiarly tight-fitting headset which rendered the growl of the engine only a light thrum. Through the headset, Don and Natala quickly ticked off each item on their pre-flight checklist. The doors to the aircraft remained open and a refreshing breeze was sneaking in as Don navigated the plane between Liberty Bay’s moored sailboats and yachts. After circling one of the yachts toward the southern end of the bay, Don ordered both doors closed and pushed the throttle forward.

With spray kicking up from the pontoons, Don expertly hurtled the plane down the bay, the waves providing a constant jostle inside the cockpit, while all the moored boats and their masts whizzed by outside the windows. All at once the jostling ceased and the marina and boats below began to drift farther and farther away. Those who have been fortunate enough to find themselves in an aircraft over the Kitsap Peninsula will likely corroborate my claims that on a clear day, the views are nothing short of spectacular. Don deftly guided the plane along the shoreline contours of liberty bay, southward to Keyport and then onto Brownsville before cutting eastward and tracing the shore back to the north — All the while, providing me with views of the boaters, docks and shore below and the Olympic Mountains flanking us to the west.

I don’t feel that I can accurately gauge how long we were up there, partially because my focus had been on snapping as many photos and capturing as much video as I possibly could; the other part is because of a phenomenon I discovered years ago at flight school: no matter how long you stay up, it never feels like enough time. It always feels like there is something more to see or do, but due to the inherent constraints of the internal combustion engine and our mandatory adherence to the laws of gravity, we must all — at some point — come back down. As such, Don began to ease back on the throttle as we approached the southern end of Liberty Bay.

It’s an unusual sight to be approaching a body of water from a high angle and with this being my first trip in a seaplane, it was one to which I had not yet had the opportunity to grow accustomed. As Don glided the aircraft steadily to the surface, the tops of masts again passed by the windows and the aircraft’s stall horn began to sound. Most people would be discomforted hearing an alarm during what is arguably the most critical moment of a flight, but I remembered that while landing in Cessnas, one of the metrics of a landing’s “smoothness” was whether or not the stall horn sounded. All good landings would sound the stall horn. As the horn heralded our return, Don wetted the pontoons in the bay once more.

I lingered only for a short while after we arrived back at the dock. Don and Natala said they would be leaving shortly, bound back for Lake Samish near Bellingham. The other pilots were making plans for their own departures as well, all headed back to their respective homes. As I walked back down the docks toward the shore, the parking lot and my car, for the second time that day I was left feeling like it was all over much too soon.

Story and video ➤  https://www.kitsapdailynews.com

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