Photos and story by Dorie Cox
A group of yacht industry people watched from the dock as the seaplane descended over an underway barge and steered clear of anchored sailboats. The Cessna continued its flight toward Rybovich in West Palm Beach and landed in the Intracoastal Waterway just east of the marina docks.
Once the rotors slowed, the plane’s 1st officer, Laiss Khairzada, opened the port side door, climbed out onto one of the plane’s float pontoons and unscrewed the anchor compartment. When the rotors stopped, he dropped a small anchor in the water.
The group from the dock motored to the plane in a tender, pulled side-to and passed a line to Khairzada to hold the tender to allow passengers to climb onto the floats. Once seat-buckled in and briefed, Tropic Ocean Airways pilot Capt. William Coggan and Khairzada navigated the plane through the water toward the north and into the wind for lift-off and a flight to Miami Seaplane Base and the Miami Yacht Show in mid-February.
Yacht Capt. Mark Downes was one of about 50 people who flew with Tropic Ocean Airways on that days’ flights. As captain on M/Y Qing, a 150-foot Cheoy Lee, he marveled at his first seaplane trip since he was a kid and noticed the similarities of the amphibious float seaplane to the maritime industry.
“That was awesome, being able to stay low along the coast,” Capt. Downes said of the flight. “It’s a much more interesting way to go. We’ll hang out in the Bahamas in the future, and I’ve been looking at options for transport.”
Capt. Downes has often watched seaplanes land when he has been anchored in a bay on a yacht.
“They need it calm and protected, but it’s crazy where they can land,” he said.
Capt. Coggan agreed and said landing speed can be 50 to 80 miles an hour on the water.
“We can work in extremely congested waterways,” he said. “We are also privileged in Miami to be able to land in this base with cruise ships.”
Capt. Coggan commented on maritime similarities including the use of Garmin 1000 for navigation and weather.
“When we’re on the water, the FAA has nothing to do with us,” Capt. Coggan said. “We follow maritime rules of navigation in the water.”
Both boats and seaplanes monitor the weather and are cautious not to operate in unsafe conditions both in the air and on the water, he said.
“The airplane always points into the wind,” Capt. Coggan said. “That makes for a fun challenge. Every takeoff and landing is different and it does take creative problem solving with wind and waves.”
As the plane landed in Miami’s Government Cut and passed the cruise ships toward downtown, officer Khairzada prepared to lower the airplane rudders from a center console.
“Before a flight, the gears are up, tucked and streamlined,” Khairzada said. “Way before water operations begin, we slow on the water and then drop them for rudder control.”
Passengers disembarked and made plans to visit the nearby Miami Yacht Show while Capt. Coggan and Khairzada supervised filling the fuel tanks in the wings.
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.