Seaplanes and Clear Lake, A History

In 1937, Pan American Airlines made arrangements for their Boeing 314 Clipper flying boats to use Clear Lake as an alternate landing venue when Treasure Island was fogged in. The ANZAC Clipper was photographed when it landed at Clear Lake on Nov. 11, 1942, but remarkably few photographs of Pan Am operations at Clear Lake are available today. 

By 1940, the U.S. Navy had begun using Clear Lake for takeoff and landing practice in the PBY Catalinas. Soon there after the Navy also used the lake as a train ing venue for Martin PBM Mariners, VP 63 Mad Cats and PBY Coronados. 

The Navy eventually established VR-2 Nice Detachment in Nice, California at Clear Lake. The detach ment included an operations building with bunks, a message center and a gal ley. It remained in use until the Spring of 1958 and was used as an alternate landing venue for the huge Martin JRM Mars fly ing boats coming from Hawaii. 

In 1972 Walter Windus organized the first seaplane fly-in that eventually evolved into the Clear Lake Splash-In. 

CalTrans was exploring the possibility of creating new seaplane bases in California and partnered with Walt to organize a seaplane fly-in which would generate information about California seaplane operations for the agency. 

That first seaplane fly-in took place at Thermalito Afterbay, a diversion pool down stream of Lake Oroville, in April of 1972. Because Afterbay operators did not coordinate the release of the water from the Afterbay during the seaplane fly-in and because of limited hotel and other services, participating seaplane pilots decided that Thermalito Afterbay was not an ideal location for the event. 

Seaplane pilots eventually selected Lakeport as the new venue. Among the benefits of Lakeport as a Splash-In venue are that: 

1) Clear Lake is large enough to accommodate even the largest flying boats and has an altitude of only 1,300- feet which enables excellent seaplane performance compared with lakes at higher altitudes; 

2) The Skylark Shores Resort in Lakeport has enough rooms and cabins to accommodate a larger group together with docks at which seaplanes can be tied up and a beach from which seaplanes can launch; and 

3) There is enough space in Lakeport to organize the display of aircraft within walking distance of the services of central Lakeport, including numerous restaurants and retail establishments. 

The first Clear Lake Splash-In took place in Lakeport during the Spring of 1974, and event has been held in Lakeport since then. 

Once airline and Grumman Albatross pilot Chuck Kimes assumed responsibility for organizing the Splash-In, the event grew to more than 45 participating sea planes. In 2007, with additional organizing efforts by retired Navy pilot and IBM marketing maven Damon Trimble, the event attracted more than 5,000 people. 

Because Chuck was an Albatros instructor, there were instances during previous Splash-In events when more than one of the huge flying boats would show up for the Splash-In. 

While the Clear Lake Splash-In was a continuously held annual event for 40 years, COVID and an unprecedented drought in 2022 resulted in the cancellation of the event for three successive years. 

The Clear Lake Splash-In takes place again this year on Saturday, April 27, 2025 at Skylark Shores Resort and Xabatin Community Park in Lakeport. 

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