A Fitzwilliam Afternoon

by Trevor Walker

Things look very different from a thousand feet, and as my fathers float plane, GNNR, banked lazily to the side, I found myself looking straight down at the lake we were about to fish. We both instinctively scanned the surface for dead-heads and, getting the all-clear, dad made a lower pass before committing us to a landing. Upon closer inspection it turned out that with the lower summer water levels of this small lake, it was not suitable for a safe take-off run. A smooth application of power soon had us back up to a safe altitude and we winged our way to the outer edge of Fitzwilliam Island. If you look on a map you will see this beautiful island just south of Manitoulin Island, in the cold, deep waters of Lake Huron. The small lake in the center of the island was our destination this day, as it had been several times before. It was a beautiful, sunny summer day, a typical Fitzwilliam afternoon.

Clearing the edge of the island, dad eased back on the throttle and GNNR settled onto the surface of Lake Huron. With GNNR pulled up and safely tied off, we grabbed our fishing tackle and raced to the small lake just inside the bush. We had no need for a boat or waders here, we had safely wet-waded this lake out to at least twenty meters from shore. The small-mouth bass fishing here was fantastic! Often we would have a double-header going with other fish swarming the hooked fish all the way in. My father always used his favorite lure here- a blue and white, jointed, floating Rapala- and it never let him down. We spent the rest of the morning, and on into the afternoon, wading the perimeter of the small lake and catching bass. The odd leach was picked off, but that didn’t bother us, it was just part of the adventure. Suddenly dad’s expression changed. He swivelled his head this way and that, looking very concerned. He craned his neck skyward as he strained to see some invisible distraction. “We have to go now!” he said with a tone of urgency. I waded back to the shore and stumbled after him as he raced off in the direction of GNNR. He offered a brief explanation as I tried to follow, “The wind changed” he puffed, “We have to get airborne…NOW!” As a pilot, dad was always watching the sky. As a kid, I was always watching everything else. We burst out of the bush and onto the edge of Lake Huron and suddenly it all made sense to me. The waves were changing direction; our calm docking bay was rapidly turning into a frothing torrent. GNNR was stirring, and the rocky shoreline was threatening to puncture her floats. If that happens, we’re camping! She roared to life and we taxied out for a take-off run. Huge waves were striking us broadside as we cleared the edge of the island. Suddenly dad applied power, turned into the waves and all hell broke loose! We were both sweating the kind of cold bullets that make you nauseous and leave that metallic taste in your mouth. The aircraft shuddered and shook with the force of each wave. Tackle was flying everywhere and the stall siren was screaming in our ears like an ambulance chasing us home. POW…POW…POW, dad leaned back hard on the yoke and we were suddenly up, then back down ...POW… then GNNR leapt into her element and gained airspeed. Waves grabbed at her floats, she wallowed a bit and then climbed hard from the reach of the churning surface. We didn’t speak much on the way home that day, and we never told mom about our take off run. What really mattered, to dad, was that we were home safely. What really mattered to me was that my dad was the best pilot in the world!

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