One of the highlights of my time in “America’s Seaplane City” was starting and growing the SEAPLANE-A-PALOOZA event! The idea was a weekend-long seaplane festival for pilots and seaplane enthusiasts alike, scheduled to precede Sun ‘n Fun. The combination of timing and convenient geographic location allows Tavares to attract visitors on their way to Sun ‘n Fun.
The first year we held the event the weather was PERFECT and more than 50 seaplanes packed the Tavares Seaplane Base (FA1). There were planes on the grass beach, planes on the apron, planes on the docks. There were planes parked everywhere. We never had to turn anyone away but we were maxed out at some points. The next year the weather wasn’t ideal but we still had more than 30 seaplanes flock to FA1 for the weekend.
Since I moved on from my post in Tavares last year it was an honor to be asked to return as the emcee for the 2019 edition of SEAPLANE-A-PALOOZA! During my time in Tavares I got to serve as the emcee for the 4th of July and Christmas parades and the seaplane fly-in events. I hadn’t announced events before my time in Tavares but I grew to really enjoy it, especially the seaplane flying contests!
SEAPLANE-A-PALOOZA was scheduled for Saturday, March 30th and Sunday, March 31st. My flight from Boston to Orlando on Friday, March 29th landed in Orlando mid-afternoon and I was shocked to find Florida was humidity free. My drive up to Tavares was pleasant and as I turned onto the recently completed Ruby Street I was instantly transported to the world of seaplanes. It was great to see so many old friends and the crowd of seaplanes that was already assembled.
When Saturday morning rolled around I opened the shades in my hotel room and a couple of miles in the distance I could see multiple seaplanes flying around over the Tavares area by 7am! I got ready and headed over to the Seaplane Base to get started with my emcee duties.
When I arrived at the seaplane base things were just getting started, but the seaplanes were already rolling in! …and they just kept coming! There had to be more than 75 seaplanes over the course of the weekend, it was truly incredible to watch. I have to say that I felt a small sense of pride that the event I helped to start years earlier had grown into something so great. This growth is a true indicator of the effort put forth by the amazing team in Tavares, who continue to work to grow the seaplane brand.
The events on Saturday included a flying scavenger hunt where pilots departed from FA1 and headed out to fly over various GPS coordinates and then had to identify the landmarks below them. Of course, if they couldn’t decide what the point below them was supposed to be they could make a good guess at a funny alternative answer, something such as “a massive traffic jam on Route 75,” when the “quarry” couldn’t be identified.
Also on Saturday was the return of the Jones Brothers’ Seaplane Bingo games which were a smashing success and saw the bomber receive a significant flight training scholarship thanks to the proceeds of the incredible event. If you’ve never experienced seaplane bingo, imagine buying a square on a grid then hoping the seaplane dropping the volleyball hits your square in a floating grid on the water. An old friend of mine from my Mansfield days, a gentleman named George, won the grand prize trip to the Bahamas, during one of the bingo games – quite a prize if I do say so myself.
The great folks from Wipaire arranged for a “water bombing” by one of their AirBoss water bombers, which provided a cool mist for the crowd and a great display of the capability of general aviation – public protection, fire fighting!
After the flying events wrapped up on Saturday I took the opportunity during the break to go on a boat ride through the famed, Dora Canal! A big thank you to Captain Kerry from SeaTow Central Florida for the ride. During my time in Tavares, Captain Kerry was a big help during a lot of sticky situations and I always recommended his services to boaters or pilots in need. Kerry took me on a scenic tour through the Dora Canal, Lake Eustis, the Dead River and into Little Lake Harris, then back. It was an incredible ride and a lot of fun!
Saturday evening featured an incredible new part of the event, a Low Country Boil thanks to the folks at Jones Brothers. The event was held on the roof of one of the downtown hotel buildings so everyone could watch the sunset over the seaplane base littered with so many seaplanes, they were literally everywhere. The food by Tiki West was also incredible, in true seaplane fashion, the fresh cooked food was dumped on newspapers on the table. Pilots and participants could reach in and grab their corn, sausage, potatoes, etc… The shrimp was really the best part – fresh and perfectly seasoned. Local beer from the keg was a big hit as the day’s flying activities were over.
The next morning the sun rose and the weather was again, absolutely perfect, low 80s with NO humidity. Each day I expected to get hit in the face with the Florida humidity I remembered, but it never happened. The weather really was perfect for the event, sunny, low winds and no humidity. It’s almost like Team Tavares planned for perfect weather too!
My old friends from EAA Chapter 534 from the Leesburg International Airport provided a pancake breakfast at the Picnic Pavilion in Wooton Park, just next to the seaplane base. Pilots had their opportunity to fill up before the flying really kicked into gear. As usual Tavares was handing out an award for “Most Pancakes Eaten.” As the defending champion from last year I was looking to go back-to-back, a real challenge considering I was also handling the emcee duties during the morning making various announcements. But in between speaking needs I worked on my pancake eating. Needless to say, I can now claim back-to-back pancake eating championships!
After the pancake breakfast finished, with even more seaplanes continuing to roll in to the West-end ramp and the shoreline, pilots wishing to compete in the flying contests attended the mandatory pilot briefing. At the briefing the Air Boss, Spike, provided a safety and procedures overview. With so many pilots competing the pilots were divided up into 3 groups for the competitions, another first for the event.
Then for the next hour and half the crowd gathered along the shoreline and in boats on the water. The spectators watched as the 3 groups of aircraft all took part in the fastest takeoff contest. Followed by the watermelon bomb drop event, then the spot landing and accuracy landings. The watermelon bomb drop is really the crowd favorite where a large 5′ wide orange buoy is placed in the lake and pilots fly over at 200′ above the water and drop a watermelon, taking aim towards the buoy! One time, before my time in Tavares, I’m told a pilot actually hit one of the buoys and caused it to deflate and sink!
The contests wrapped up and the event was capped off with an awards ceremony by the Prop Shop. Following the awards ceremony pilots began to pack up and depart to continue on their way to the Lakeland Linder International Airport for Sun ‘n Fun.
I really enjoyed the opportunity to serve as the emcee for SEAPLANE-A-PALOOZA again. It was great to see so many familiar faces and to see how the event has grown and developed. If you’re a seaplane enthusiast like me, make sure you plan to head to Florida a few days early for Sun ‘n Fun next year and enjoy SEAPLANE-A-PALOOZA 2020 in America’s Seaplane City!
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9