A recent issue of NZ Today Magazine covered the wonderful, remote, Great Barrier Island. While searching for some old car photos I found one which reminded me of a memorable journey home from "The Barrier" back in the early 80's. I'd sailed out with my Dad but had to return, I think for tech, before the boat was due to come back. In addition to todays ferry or aircraft service there was another, far more exciting, option; a sea plane.
I met the "See Bee" Grumman Widgeon at Fitzroy. The takeoff from it's calm sheltered water was my first, and un-eventful, then we headed down the coast to Tryphena. It's an open bay and it was one of those "El Nino" summers with constant 20-40 knot westerly winds. I don't know what the landing speed of the plane was, probably 80 knots, but touching down with the swell running into the bay was far from smooth.
Once on the beach quite a bit of mail, freight and a few extra passengers added to the takeoff burden. The new arrivals were Japanese and began getting their SLR cameras out, metal body ones with large lenses, ready to take photos. As a "veteran" of one take-off and landing I tried to tell them it would be quite rough but the language barrier meant the message didn't really get through.
We taxied, wallowing, into the bay and as the pilot pushed the throttles forward all hell broke loose. The plane appeared to turn into a submarine as the windscreen was covered in green water. Once the nose rose we thumped across a heavy swell while the side windows were pounded by ever increasing spray plumes. My fellow passengers carefully planned take-off shots were abandoned as they battled to just hang on to their cameras, while exchanging worried glances. That was probably due to the apparent self destruction of the plane they'd just boarded as the noise & pounding were dramatic. Even with the headwind we must have been doing 40 or 50 knots across the, not smooth, water before getting airborne. It was probably just "a bit of a rough takeoff" for a sea plane but that's far from most normal flying experiences!
The flight back to Auckland was without drama but as we came up the harbour the pilot mentioned that the approach would be "a bit steep" to avoid a long taxi into the ramp. Apparently it wasn't uncommon for people to get sea sick during that part of the flight on rough days! It probably wasn't as dramatic but whenever I see film of dive bombers attacking I remember that approach. Soon after I took the photo (below) we plunged down into the harbour landing near the container wharf. After a short taxi into the Mechanics Bay ramp we were back on dry land with just a single snapshot and a head full of memories to record my first sea plane flight.
"A shower of spray and we're away" was the cry of legendary sea plane pilot Fred Ladd