200. Going by Seaplane

Last year I won a photo contest sponsored by the awesome Wend Magazine. The theme of the contest was “Northwest adventure” and the haul was impressive – a whale watching trip, a hotel room on San Juan Island, some outdoorsy clothing that included adventure underwear and—far and away the best part—a round-trip seaplane flight from Lake Union in Seattle to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

We tried to take the complete trip last June, but the seaplane portion was foiled by fog in Friday Harbor and we were forced to take the ferry from Anacortes instead. The hotel and whale watching were lovely, but for the last year I’ve longed for that seaplane trip. For a guy like me who isn’t necessarily inclined to kayak wild northwest rivers, surf the rugged coastline, climb stuff or jump off of anything, including most diving boards, taking a seaplane to an island port epitomizes my kind of northwest adventure.

So with just one month left before the free flight voucher expired, we finally found a weekend where we could try again. Our hearts sank a bit on the three hour drive from Portland to the Kenmore Air seaplane base on Lake Union in Seattle, when a torrential September rain seemed destined to foil us again. But by the time we pulled into Seattle, the rain had dissipated and the weather reports from Friday harbor belied the gray pall that draped the Emerald City. Clear. Sunny. Seventy degrees with a light breeze. So we boarded the plane with seven other travelers and were on our way, ahead of schedule and giddy with anticipation.

As a rookie of small plane flying, there are a lot of things I didn’t know about seaplane flights, like how incredibly loud it is (earplugs provided) or how the smell of diesel fills the cabin from the moment the doors are closed or how there are often multiple stops to load/unload passengers at different ports. The latter was a pleasant surprise, because while “multiple stops” may as well mean “sharp stabbing pain” on a commercial jet flight, it’s a bonus feature of a seaplane flight. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, I suppose, because the whole joy of a floating plane is the novelty and excitement of taking off and landing on water in remote and beautiful places.


The bits of turbulence were easier to take than I expected, in part because flying so low somehow feels safer and you’re emboldened by the knowledge that in the event of a water landing, well, your plane floats. Safety concerns aside, everything about the experience was magical, takeoffs, landings, pastoral island scenes drifting by the window in miniature, everything, right down to the salty pilot who flew us back home again.

Pilot: And who would you be?
Me: Schang. And Hojnowski.
Pilot: Ok then, all we’re missing are a couple of Ludekins.
[looks down the dock at two people casually strolling towards us]
Pilot: If those two speedballs are the Ludekins then we’ll be on our way. C’mon folks! We’re ready to fly!

And we were ready to fly. So ready that we didn’t want to stop flying. “That was incredible,” Amy said when we skittered to a stop in gloomy Seattle. “I would have stayed on that plane all the way back to Portland.”  Not that there would have been less gloom in Portland.  Just more glowing.