I had a work day up in Vancouver. I finished up in the office at the end of the day just when rush hour traffic would be at its worst. The sun was out and the temperature was still nice so I figured I might delay my drive home for an hour or so and head to Stanley Park. It is a nice place to hang out, there is always plenty going on in the harbor and the floatplane departures might have factored in to my decision making.
There is a bit of an evening rush of departures but, with the days getting shorter and floatplane operations being a very visual thing, I figured they wouldn’t be going out too late if they were to be back before dark. I was actually pretty lucky as there was a wave of departures shortly after I got there and then, when I thought it had all wrapped up, another burst of flights headed out. Meanwhile, there were arrivals coming overhead for landing. It killed a bit of time and made for an easier drive home when I headed back south again.
Parked up on the ramp at Renton was what appeared to me to be a de Havilland Canada Beaver on floats. However, it looked different to every other Beaver I have seen. This one seemed to have a fun that was cut right down. Initially I figured it needed a repair but then I realized that there was a large dorsal extension to the fin. This would compensate to some extent to the missing top but whether it is a good configuration, I can’t say. It didn’t look good to me but it looked airworthy so maybe it flies fine? Has anyone seen more about this and can share with me some of the history?
While the Space Needle is a great place to view the city of Seattle, it is also good for seeing floatplanes. Lake Union is a base for many floatplane operations and the routes take the planes close to the Needle. On the day we were there, the wind was quite strong from the south so the planes were water taxiing to the other end of the lake before taking off. We had quite a procession with a stream takeoff from a couple of them.
Once airborne, the commenced a turn towards Elliott Bay which took them just north of us and pretty close. I wasn’t well set up to get shots but I managed to get a few. I tried my best to shoot through the gaps between the glass panels but sometimes I shot through the glass which was surprisingly good. You get the feeling of being air to air, even while standing on something solid.
The floatplane activity on Lake Union is fun to check out, not just for an aviation geek like me, but for plenty of visitors to the city too. I have previously gone down to the lakeshore to check them out but, one evening, while driving into the city to drop a friend off, I was coming down the road on the hill overlooking the lake when a plane took off giving an interesting alternative perspective on its departure. I figured this needed to be explored further.
The question was where to go. The road I had been on was not one on which stopping was practical. Parallel roads exist but there are buildings along most of them so the view is obscured. However, I did find a location that had a clear view of most of the lake (aside from one building that was right in the touchdown zone! I wasn’t around for much of the traffic but I did get to see a few arrivals and departures. Looking down on the flights and having some scenery behind them including the cityscape rather than the sky is a nice change. I may have to try this out again at a busier time.
The floatplane activity of Kenmore Air is busy on Lake Union in Seattle. The end of the day means a lot of planes are moving from Lake Union back to the home base at Kenmore. It makes for a rush hour of planes coming back in good light. I wandered out to the pier at Log Boom Park which gives a great view of the incoming planes. Then I just waited. You know they are all going to be back before sundown so it is pretty predictable.
The inbound traffic is a combination of Otters and Beavers. De Havilland Canada’s finest show up further down the lake as they come across from Lake Union and then they head up the lake. On this occasion, the wind was from the north so they made straight in approaches, landed and continued straight in to the base. On another day I was there without a camera and the wind was a southerly. They then overflew the base and made a tight turn coming back onto the lake with the evening light on the nose. I will have to try and get that before too long!
I was in Vancouver for a few days for work and I managed to catch up with my buddy Mark when I arrived. He suggested to me a good opportunity for shooting the floatplanes is at the end of the day from Brockton Point in Stanley Park. I had only shot them from the shore near the convention center (other than an opportunist shot or two while walking in the park and that doesn’t count) so I was interested to see how this location worked out. I managed to get out of work at a good time one evening and the weather was looking very nice so it was off to the park for me.
This location is a lot of fun. In the evening, the light is well positioned and, at this time of year, the sun is lower and the light is nice and just gets better and better as the evening sets in. The aircraft were arriving from the east so they were very distant but it is the departures that we were after. The planes head along the shore from the base and then turn towards you and start their run. Often, they are pointing straight at you for a while.
Depending on the type and the pilot, they can climb steeply or can keep it nice and low as they come by. Sometimes, there might be a boat on their preferred take off run and, since they have to divert to one side which can result in a nice turn back towards you as they round the point and head to Lion’s Gate. The Otters are the most common type with the Beavers coming second. There are still some Twin Otters but they are a lot less common than they used to be so they end up being more interesting when they show up. How can it be that I get complacent about seeing Otters on floats? (The fact we have them in Seattle too probably doesn’t help!)
Mark certainly called this one correctly. Brockton Point is a nice place to hang out on a sunny fall evening in any circumstances but the addition of a steady stream of floatplanes to this makes for a wonderful combination is you are someone like me. What’s more, it is a reliable option. Until the winter light stops flying at the end of the afternoon, you have scheduled departures to rely on so this is not a case of turning up in the hope of seeing something. You will definitely get plenty of planes.
A trip to the northwest may involve seeing plenty of wildlife but the Otters and Beavers that I was most excited about were slightly different. These came from the stable of deHavilland Canada. More importantly, they were on floats. The Pacific Northwest is a great place for watching floatplanes. They are heavily used for transportation between many locations on the water. I saw a few while we were on San Juan Island or on the ferries between the islands but not a large number and not when I was in a position to get good shots. However, once we got to Vancouver, things ramped up a bit.
If you have not been to Vancouver, the harbour (it is a Canadian harbor so I think I am spelling it correctly) has a very busy floatplane base. Flights go to surrounding areas and the gulf islands on a regular basis. The planes are a combination of turbine powered Otters and Beavers with either piston engines or turbine conversions. Harbour Air is the dominant operator but others do show up occasionally. The area along the waterfront has undergone a big redevelopment with a convention center and it has great walkways along the water that provide an excellent view of the operations. Planes seem to be coming and going all the time. The may come in across Stanley Park and land in front of you or swing around the harbor and land towards you depending on the wind. As they water taxi in someone else will be heading out and departing towards North Vancouver before turning around the park and heading out over Lions Gate.
We were there at the end of the day so the evening light was very nice on the aircraft. The large number of high rise buildings on the shore does mean that shadows can encroach before the sun has gone down but this is a small issue. Later in the visit we were over in Stanley Park and I got to see some aircraft taking off since they came closer to our position. The damp air certainly makes for some nice streaming vortices off the props when they are at takeoff power.