Tim McKenna was enjoying a lei- surely post-Labor Day sail from Sandusky, Ohio, to Lake Erie’s Kelleys Island on the morning of
September 6 when he spotted something
odd on the horizon.
“As I continued along, it became appar-
ent that it was an airplane,” said McKenna.
“That’s not something that is seen very
often out there,” he added, noting with
relief that the apparently abandoned air-
craft was actually a seaplane. “Then I
noticed someone pop out of the cockpit
and start waving something orange back
and forth. I rolled up the jib and motored
over to see what was going on.”
An hour earlier, Bill Tabbert and his
wife were taking in the sights on a flight
back from lunch in Port Clinton to the
marina they own in Point Place, Ohio,
aboard the Volmer V- 22 seaplane Bill
had recently built. When a valve mal-
function cut their fuel supply, the couple
made a forced landing in 30 feet of water
west of Kelleys Island.
“We were lucky the lake was calm
that day,” said Tabbert, a veteran Lake
Erie boater and pilot with more than two
decades behind the stick, who owns Lost
Peninsula Marina, some 40 miles to the
west. “Or it could have been ugly.”
Aviators use a group of frequencies
in the VHF radio spectrum that differ
from those used by mariners, so Tabbert
was unable to contact shore assistance.
With boating traffic light on the Tuesday
morning, Tabbert bobbed around for
some 45 minutes before he was able to
flag down McKenna – after several boats
passed in the distance and just waved to
the high-flying visitor.
McKenna, who owns the Erie Islands
Sailing School, sailed close enough to
the stranded seaplane to learn of the
fuel shortage, but because he couldn’t
accommodate Tabbert’s request for a few
gallons of gas, he called TowBoatU.S. for
assistance. Captain Jake Dunfee, based
at Brand’s Marina in Port Clinton, was
assisting another boat and monitoring
VHF Channel 16 when he heard the
report of a seaplane that had run out of
gas and was down.
“The frequency went silent,” he
recalled. “We all thought it was either
a prank or someone was in bad trouble.”
TowBoatU.S. responds to several aircraft
calls each year, but most involve crashes.
“Then, when we heard it was a seaplane
that had actually landed in the lake and
was in no imminent trouble,” Dunfee
said, “we verified that it could run on
marine fuel, got some coordinates, and
delivered about 15 gallons to them.”
He noted that aviation fuel is typically
100-octane low-lead gas, “but the guy
was comfortable running with conven-
tional ethanol-free marine fuel.”
Dunfee stood by as Tabbert fueled up
and took off without a hitch. In more
than 25 years as a towboat captain, this
was the first seaplane he has assisted.
It’s not every day that TowBoatU.S. comes
to the aid of a seaplane, but that’s exactly
what happened in September when Bill
Tabbert’s Volmer V- 22 malfunctioned.
WHAT’S A CHALUPA?
maritime history alive
On any given morning in St. Augustine,
Florida, boaters might see a bizarre wooden craft manned by eight oarsmen and a
helmsman. The sight of it emerging from
the marsh near St. Augustine’s Fountain
of Youth Archaeological Park instantly
transports one back to the last decade of
the 16th century. The stout 37-footer is
a replica of the utility vessels built in St.
Augustine to serve as gunboats and fishing vessels, scout for navigable waters,
carry passengers, and transport goods
and crew to and from oceangoing vessels.
She’s called San Augustin, and she’s a
chalupa, reminiscent of the small boats
operated by Basque whalers.
It took volunteers with the St.
three years to see
her to fruition. Their
goal was to have her
ready to participate
in reenactments during the city’s 450th-
anniversary celebration, which took place in 2015. They did
extensive research, raised money, and
rolled up their sleeves to learn about
boatbuilding. San Augustin was officially
christened on March 22, 2015.
Dr. Sam Turner, a historian and
archaeologist at the St. Augustine
Lighthouse and Museum, did the majority
of the design work based on 16th-century
documents found during research in
Spain. It took more than 4,000 hours for
volunteers to see the project through.
The chalupa is now in the process of
receiving full rigging — two masts and
sails. Visitors to the Fountain of Youth
park can stop by and watch the progress.
— MELANIE NEALE
The St. Augustine
Maritime Heritage Foundation
crew show San
Augustin for the
of the city’s 450th
An unusual dispatch for a TowBoatU.S. captain