Keith and Bob graduated in the University School class of 1954. Even as they pursued far different careers, they often shared fishing trips. Usually, those trips were to Canada's Manitoulin Island.
The trips were made in one of Bob's aircraft -- sometimes his Aero Commander 560, and sometimes in his sprightly Twin Commanche. Both were well suited to the over water route taken in this story.
In this first installment, Bob and Keith re-live a typical flight and arrival. In the doing, we learn something of the people and beauty of Manitoulin and nearby Georgian Bay.
About the Great Lakes Photo
The Gore Bay airport lies almost due north of Port Columbus so Bob chose a NASA satellite photo to give the reader a clearer picture of the aeronautical portions of this story. The large lake in the upper half of this photo is Lake Huron. You'll note that there is a large island along the north shore of Lake Huron ( Manitoulin Island ) as well as a spit of land jutting northward from the Ontario mainland.
About Air Traffic Communications
To give readers a better idea of International Air Traffic Control procedures, Bob has included the lingo and jargon of pilot-to-controller communications
The flight described in this chapter crosses Lake Erie from over Sandusky Bay, then directly north on a long over water route to make land at Providence Bay on the south shore of Manitoulin Island. For the most part, these communications relate to position reports. For example, Sailfish is an intersection of two navigational aids at mid lake.
Pilots and controllers speak to one another via radio channels that are identified by their frequency
"Contact Toronto Center now on one thirty one point three" instructs the pilot to call a Canadian Air Route Traffic controller in Toronto on a radio frequency of 131.3 megahertz.
Time, on pilot-to-controller dialogue refers to minutes past the last hour.
The term IFR is used to describe a flight that is taking place entirely under the control of ground-based controllers. The letters stand for Instrument Flight Rules. Pilots may cancel their IFR flight plans in flight and return to VFR ( Visual Flight Rules ) to continue their flight.
About the Aircraft
The flight in this story takes place in an Aero Commander model 560 aircraft. This airplane is still in wide use today for charter and executive transport. It seats seven people, has two Lycoming 350 - horsepower engines. Its gross ( fully loaded ) weight is about 7500 pounds. Bob's AC-560 was equipped with deicing equipment, and fully IFR certified. For long flights, it even had extended-range fuel tanks that provided up to 1700 miles non-stop range.
Aero Commander 560F
Piper Twin Commanche
The fishing flights to Gore Bay were made in several of Bob's aircraft -- and on some trips, when many people were traveling, two or more aircraft would be used. Some visitors would occasionally choose to drive as well.
For small fishing parties, Bob usually preferred to use his Piper PA30 -- known as a Twin Commanche. The smaller aircraft was very comfortable for two or three people on the flight to Gore Bay.
The Twin Commanche is no longer in production and photos are hard to come by, so we've included a photo of a NASA PA30 in landing configuration.
Piper PA30 Twin Commanche
Remembrances of a Far-Away Place and Time That Shall Forever Remain Near to the Heart
They Called Him Colin
He claimed to be from Toronto, but his Irish twang said he grew up in Sudbury. Truth be told, he sometimes lived in Toronto in the winter, but Colin Montgomery was never a city dweller. His place in the Sun was called Manitoulin -- a gentle and sprawling island nestled along the north shore in the Georgian Bay region of Lake Huron.
"It's all bullshit," Colin would enthusiastically proclaim to some unwitting Yankee who might show off his knowledge of Canada by saying that Manitoulin Island is the largest fresh-water island in the world -- which is true. True or not, it was a prime opportunity for Colin to ply his peculiar sense of humor. "Problem is tellin' what's island and what's lake," he would explain to the newcomers, more than a little tongue in cheek. "Don't-cha fellers know there's eighty great big lakes on this here island?"
By this time, insiders knew one of Colin's tall-tales was coming. Such tales sometimes left first-time visitors uncertain about whether they had offended their Canadian host. They listened intently as the ruddy faced Irishman with the unlit remainder of a cigarette dangling perilously from the left side of his mouth, continued.
"Hells' bells," he would confidently proclaim to the unwary, "we didn't even have cars out Kagawong way 'til last summer. It's a lot better now," he would assure the newcomer with the rarest of twinkles in his eyes, ". . . we don't have to swim into town fer groceries any more."
For reasons I don't fully understand, this story always left new visitors perplexed and confused. Maybe that was how Colin wanted it -- for anybody who wasn't wise to his colorful tales of the north bay was in for tough sledding.
We had only been in the air for 30 minutes when I sensed a smile spreading across my face. It was a beautiful day -- the flying weather was sensational -- and already I was anticipating seeing Colin on our arrival at Gore Bay. Shortly after passing over Sandusky Bay, on Ohio's north shore, we could see the Ontario shoreline 70 miles ahead and the southern bay of Lake Huron a hundred or more miles further north. There wasn't a cloud in sight that warm July afternoon. As we approached the international border at mid lake, I reached for the radio to report our position to the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center.
"Cleveland Center, November Two Three Three Echo Sierra at Sailfish, ten thousand."
Lakes Erie, Ontario and Huron from Earth Orbit ( NASA photo )
"Two Three Three Echo Sierra, Cleveland. Contact Toronto Center now one thirty one point three."
"Roger, Echo Sierra -- Toronto on one thirty one point three. Good day. . ."
"Wanna fly a while?," I asked Keith.
"Sure," he replied, taking the control yoke into hand. "Where do you want me to aim it?"
"See if you can hit Canada," I said, wryly.
"Good afternoon, Toronto," I announced into the microphone, "November Two Three Three Echo Sierra by Sailfish at ten thousand. Requesting direct Gore Bay."
The trick known to pilots flying frequently into Canada was not to ask for direct routings to Canadian destinations on the original flight plan. Asking in flight was something else -- perhaps an unwritten understanding between pilots and air traffic controllers. If I could get a direct route approved by Toronto Air Traffic Control, we could fly the short route to Gore Bay. The direct route would take us over the middle of Lake Huron -- and normally saved as much as 20 minutes flying time.
"Negative, Echo Sierra," Toronto replied. "Proceed on course via Goderich, Wiarton, direct Gore Bay, maintain ten thousand."
So much for the pilot-controller bond idea. Maybe the long route was best in foul weather, but not today.
"Cancel IFR, Toronto. We've got 200 mile visibility up here today. I think I'll put some of it to use."
"Roger, Echo Sierra, canceling IFR at fifty-one. Better report abeam Wiarton so somebody can wake up the flight station crew at Gore Bay for your arrival."
Keith looked at me quizzically. "They're just making fun of the sleepy Manitoulinders," I said matter of factly.
Returning to the radio, I added, "Roger, Toronto, we'll check in when abeam Wiarton. Good day."
"How am I doing?," Keith enquired. "So far, so good," I assured him, "you hit Canada sure enough. Now see if you can hit that big lake ahead."
"Then turn the damn autopilot off," Keith insisted. I did, and laid back my head to rest my eyes. "Wake me up if there's any danger of a crash. . ."
About a half-hour later, Wiarton radio was happy to take our mid lake position report. Soon we were in range of the aeronautical communications station at Gore Bay. About 30 miles out, I radioed Gore Bay that we would be landing in about a half-hour. That would allow plenty of time for me to let down en-route to the eastern end of Manitoulin.
A Picture Story for Adults by Robert Butche with Keith Bemis
After a successful career with Sears, Keith retired to his first love -- America's great outdoors. Today, Keith and wife, Lois, are the proprietors of a lovely new home in the Minnesota Lakes country. Keith calls the place The Bears Den -- but it's far more like heaven to those who visit.
This year's visitors included Ellen Doan ('54) and her husband -- and one of Keith's oldest and most enduring fishing friends -- Bob Butche.
The Bear's Den Nevis, Minnesota
I radioed the Gore Bay aerodrome to report that we
were inbound for landing.
"Nothing important," I assured him. Keith was clearly puzzled, so I offered a little more information about the strange box.
"One thing they cannot easily obtain on the island is radio tubes," I explained.
"Fortunately, the Customs and Immigration Officer, Monte Goodman, is the radio and TV repairman on the island. Goodman tells me what tubes he needs to fix things around here and I bring him enough radio tubes to keep everybody on the island running for at least six months." Keith had an uncertain look on his face.
It wasn't long before Monte Goodman arrived in his Customs and Immigration uniform. He carefully recorded the mileage when he parked his car, then came over to the aircraft. "Good to see you again, Mr. Butche." We shook hands even as Goodman gave Keith the eye. "What are you fellows bringing into Canada?," he asked.
"Nothing, I assured him, we've no baggage of any kind." Keith looked perplexed -- for there was now baggage and fishing gear strewn all over the tarmac. "Nothing to declare today?," Goodman asked Keith.
"Not a damned thing," Keith told him, with a twinkle of mischief rippling across his face.
"Very good," Goodman said in full dead-pan. Thereupon he signed our customs forms and immigration papers. "Any trash I can dispose fer you fellers?"
"Yes," I replied, pointing to the box Keith had inquired about. "Just this box . . .," I said.
"Well . . . I suppose I can get rid of it for you."
I motioned toward the box and asked Keith, "Would you give Officer Goodman a hand getting this box of trash into his car?"
Moments later, as Goodman pulled onto the dusty road to Gore Bay village, we could see a flume of dust approaching the airport from the other direction.
"There's Colin," Keith exclaimed with joy, "Now we can have some fun."
For the longest time we saw a plume of dust approaching. Then, with a squeal of tires, Colin raced along the tarmac and pulled up to the aircraft.
"Emma too late for the smugglin'?," he shouted as he jumped from the car -- a giant grin overtaking his ruddy, red cheeks.
"Afraid so," I responded, motioning for Colin to keep his voice low. He couldn't wait to share important island news with us, so he continued, "Seems they got the TV workin' again over to the bar in Mindamoya -- ever body seems happy about it, too."
We shook hands as old friends do -- for I had known Colin for well over a decade. Soon we were riding in a car with depleted shock absorbers on roads of gravel and ruts with dust everywhere. "Seems like home," Keith said looking at the sparse countryside and rocky terrain.
It is home, Keith," I assured him -- "If only this crazy man gets us there in one piece."
"It's been a hell of a great day," Keith said, in a tired, but happy voice. Then he motioned toward my empty glass, ". . . want a little more scotch?," he asked.
"How do I know its really scotch?," I enquired impishly.
"Scots Honor," Keith replied, ". . .it's your own Chivas . . ."
"Sure," I replied, "give me another finger or two." Before long, darkness engulfed the cabin leaving the room drenched in the flickering yellow light from an oil lamp and the crackling fire. For the longest time there was quiet in the cabin.
"You forgot to declare the Scotch at the airport," Keith said quietly.
"Imagine that," I replied, while watching the flickering fire.
"Fish probably won't care."
"Probably not," I agreed.
Before long we were fast asleep. Dawn would come quickly -- and Colin would have the bait ready and the boat loaded.
This had been quite a day. Better yet, these were the good days -- and we knew it.
What we didn't know was coming our way would change our lives and add maturity to our thinking. But we were young and foolish so many years ago, for we thought these trips to the beautiful Georgian Bay area of Canada were about fishing. They weren't. They were largely about becoming responsible men -- and learning firsthand about being successful at the business of life. So too were they about learning more of who we are -- and making our short visit on this tiny planet one of meaning and understanding.
Next Time: Adversity and Redemption