During the Summer of 1966 I was working at the Philadelphia Seaplane Base and accumulating hours towards my Commercial certificate. I worked at the seaplane base while attending college and in 1964 I had acquired a 1939 Aeronca Chief seaplane project. I finally had it completed and flying by the summer of 1966. She hadn’t flown since 1947.
I planned to do the required long cross-country flight by taking a week at the end of the summer and heading north. My ultimate destination was Greenville, Maine, on Moosehead Lake.
The pre-war Chief was a good little floatplane. She didn’t get off the water as soon as the J-3 I had been flying, but was 10 to 15 mph faster. Also, having a door on both sides was a plus for docking.
Labor Day weekend found me heading to Highgate Springs, Vermont, the first overnight on my multi-day trip. My fuel stops were the seaplane base at Peekskill, NY, Garnseys Airport on the Hudson River north of Albany, and Westport, NY, on the southwest side of Lake Champlain.
The first two stops went fine. The stop at Westport would be at a marina where I would be able to get some white marine gas. Although not by the rules, this was somewhat common back then with floatplanes if avgas wasn’t available.
It was a beautiful day and as I taxied in I noted a nice open dock with no obstructions. Not being a seaplane base, you were own your own for docking. Not a big deal—I had ideal conditions. I just needed to taxi up, cut the switch at the appropriate time, drift alongside the dock, and step off. A piece of cake.
Well, I stepped down onto the float and slipped right off into the lake while grazing my head on the dock on the way down. Of course, being a holiday weekend, there was a nice size crowd watching this fiasco.
As I came up for air I saw my Chief drifting away, so I swam over and doggy paddled it back to the dock. The feeling of humiliation was overwhelming.
The manager helped me out of the water and was initially concerned about my bleeding forehead. When it was obvious that it was just a little cut he started to laugh and said this was one of the best and funniest things they had seen in years. He joked that he would pay somebody to stage such an event.
They really treated me well and loaned me a pair of goggles so I could dive down and retrieve my glasses, which were in about eight feet of water. Darned if I didn’t find them.