2004 marked the 75th anniversary of the first Flying Santa flight to lighthouses. The flights were established by Capt. William Wincapaw in December 1929 as a gesture of appreciation to the crews and families that maintained the lighthouses along Penobscot Bay in Maine. Capt. Bill was a local floatplane pilot who often relied on these beacons as he navigated the coast. In honor of Capt. Bill, we were delighted to celebrate this occasion with the presence of William Wincapaw III, the grandson of our program's founder, on our NH & Maine flight.
Flight 1 - 12/04/04 - New Hampshire & Maine
On a bright and crisp Saturday morning, the Flying Santa crew gathered at the Fisher Scientific hangar in Portsmouth, NH to prepare for the day's flight to lighthouses and USCG stations. On hand were our dependable pilots Art Godjikian and LaRay Todd, veteran Santa Dave Waldrip and myself as the photographer. Our special guest for this anniversary flight, Bill Wincapaw III, his wife Denise and their two children, Madison and Billy, had traveled up from Florida to take part in their first Flying Santa experience. After Santa Dave surprised the two children with a few gifts, Bill boarded the Agusta 109 helicopter, and his family began their drive north to meet up with us later in the day.
Our first stop was the Portsmouth Harbor Light and CG station. We were excited about the presence of a special guest at Portsmouth. 103 year old Connie Small, the first lady of lighthouses, was on hand to greet Santa Dave and Bill. Connie and her late husband Elson were keepers at numerous lighthouses along the NH and Maine coasts. Connie was smiling just as brightly as the crowd of children that greeted Santa on the station's mess deck. After distributing gifts to all the children, Santa Dave and Bill presented a traditional Flying Santa gift box to Connie. She told Bill that she remembered his grandfather well and that Capt. Wincapaw and her husband had been good friends. After thanking Chief Lindsay and his crew for their hospitality, Santa was back in the air.
Our next stop was tiny Goat Island Light off the coast of Kennebunkport. On hand to greet us was Scott Dombrowski and the folks of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. After a warm respite of coffee and hot chocolate in the keeper's house we were soon on our way to Portland Head Light.
Arriving at this well known beacon, we were greeted by the beautiful snow-covered grounds of Fort Williams Park. Gathered below were the families of USCG Group Portland. Santa Dave and Bill were quickly into their duties of distributing toys. The crews of ANT South Portland and the CG cutters were, as always, a big help in handling the logistics for this visit. Before departing, we gathered everyone in front of the light for a group shot. By now Bill was completely immersed in the Flying Santa experience and was sporting a permanent grin.
Our next stop was the lighthouse on captivating Burnt Island in Boothbay Harbor. Greeting us as they have done every year since our first visit in 1995, were Elaine Jones of the State of Maine and the rest of the folks that support the Burnt Island living lighthouse project. They were delighted to see Santa Dave and honored to have the grandson of Capt. Wincapaw visiting their island. After visiting with each of the children, it was time for Santa Dave and Bill to hoist the massive wreath up the side of the tower.
We moved on to Pemaquid Point Light, where we were greeted by a large contingent of locals. They were all excited to see the "Santa of the lighthouses" once again returning to their light. Pilots Art and LaRay were very generous in showing off their helicopter to all the inquisitive children and adults. After exchanging greeting with all of the children, Santa Dave gathered everyone together for a group photo in front of the helicopter.
By midday, we had arrived at Knox County Airport in Owl's Head, ME for refueling and lunch. We would like to extend special thanks to the Rantala family for shuttling some of Santa's toy supplies from Boston to Owl's Head. As always, our hosts at Downeast Air, Bob, Leslie and Scott, took good care of the Flying Santa team. At this point, Bill's family caught up with us. Art and LaRay treated the Wincapaws to a short helicopter flight around the area. Due to fuel constraints, this is where Bill had to depart from the flight crew. However, he and his family would be driving over to join us at our next stop at Owl's Head Light.
Refueled, restocked and refreshed, we were back in the air for a short flight over to the light. Here at our largest stop of the day, we were greeted by the families of the CG base in Rockland as well as the CG residents of the light, CWO Paul Dilger and his wife Mary Ellen. Also on hand were "Mr. Lighthouse" Ken Black and his wife Dot with their grandchildren. Santa Dave was soon at work calling out the names of the excited children. Of course, Santa had gifts for the Wincapaw kids and when added to the helicopter ride and the spectacle of playing in snow for the first time in their lives, they would have much to tell their friends when they returned to Florida. Before departing, the Dilgers presented the pilots with a memorial wreath in honor of Capt. Wincapaw. As we flew past the light, LaRay dropped the wreath to the water below. In 1947, Capt. Wincapaw had suffered a heart attack while flying and was killed as his plane crashed into the waters off Rockland Harbor. We thank the Dilgers for their wreath in memory of the first Flying Santa.
Making our way across Penobscot Bay, we were soon in sight of Brown's Head Light on the island of Vinalhaven. Here we were greeted by a large contingent of the island's children as well as a half foot of snow. Kicking up their own little blizzard, LaRay and Art brought us to a safe landing in a field just down the road from the lighthouse. The children were as excited to see Santa as they were to see his sleigh. Art and LaRay never got tired of giving the kids an up close look at their helicopter.
Our next stop at Fort Point Light is always an enjoyable stop with Terry and Jeri Cole and the local children they host. On the bluff overlooking the entrance of the Penobscot River, the children gathered around Santa Dave, waiting patiently for their turn to visit. Wrapping up with a group photo in front of the helicopter, Santa was soon back in his sleigh and back to his busy schedule.
From there it was a short jump across to Dice Head Light and our landing in Castine's Fort George. Santa Dave distributed a fair number of candy canes to the enthusiastic crowd in addition to posing for numerous family photos. This was a quick visit, so with a hearty "Merry Christmas", Santa climbed back aboard the Agusta and we were off.
Our next stop was the USCG Group Southwest Harbor base. A new landing spot for us, much improved over the lonely field we previously used out near Bass Harbor Head Light. On hand to greet us was Commander Robert Burchell and the families of the unit. Assisting Santa Dave with his toy distribution was Karen Vanzura. Karen and her husband Pat have been helping with the logistics of our Flying Santa visits for a number of years. Also on hand with a gift basket of refreshments for the flight crew were our old friends and former lighthouse keepers Harold and Dolly Cummings.
Racing the sun as always at the end of these short winter days, we were soon off to USCG Station Jonesport. Upon landing, we were escorted into the mess deck where the families gave Santa Dave a warm and cheery welcome. This was a younger group with a few of the toddlers meeting Santa for their very first time.
Our mission for the day complete, we headed back to Rockland for refueling. Our friends at Downeast Air had kept the lights burning and were standing by to refuel us for the flight back to Portsmouth. Once again Art and LaRay had done an outstanding job in delivering Santa to the Coast Guard families of northern New England and Santa Dave had performed his duties as cheerfully as ever.
Editor's note: Connie Small, the first lady of lighthouses, passed away on January 25th at the age of 103. All of us at Friends of Flying Santa are extremely honored that Mrs. Small was able to participate in our visit to Portsmouth Harbor Light. We hope her memories will live on for generations to come through her wonderful book - The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife.
|Flight 2 - 12/05/04 - Mass., Rhode Island, Connecticut & New York|
After a successful flight to northern New England's lights, we were off the next day to cover lighthouses and CG stations across southern New England. Evan Wile was once again donating his pilot services and Bell Jet Ranger for our Flying Santa mission. Over the past three years Evan has been extremely generous in providing his services for our flights as well as our fundraising raffles. We are all very grateful for his assistance and dedication to our program. Our Santa for the day was CWO Tom Guthlein, officer in charge of USCG Station Castle Hill in Newport, RI. Tom first took on the role of Santa in 1997 and handles the role as equally jolly as Santa Dave.
Our first stop of the morning was USCG Station Cape Cod Canal. We were given a warm welcome by the families of the station as well as families from the area MSST unit. Our next stop was out to the island of Martha's Vineyard for an enjoyable visit at West Chop Light with the families of Station Menemsha.
A short flight back to the mainland and we were at Nobska Point Light. Our hosts at this light were Captains Judith and Scott Keene. They are the commanders of Group Woods Hole and First District Aids to Navigation respectively. The Keenes escorted Santa Tom and the large crowd of Coast Guard families into their home. Santa took his seat beside the Christmas tree and went to work distributing the gifts. After making sure that everyone was taken care of, he then led the children out for a group photo in front of the helicopter. Back in the air, we were on schedule and headed west.
After a stop for fuel in New Bedford, we were off to visit Warwick Light. Here we were once again greeted by Tom and Pam Jones and their daughter Madison as well as a number of families from the nearby CG engineering unit. The Jones family have been great supporters of the Flying Santa program over the years. We especially appreciate their hosting some of our lighthouse bus tours. Santa, with assistance from Tom, went right to work distributing toys to the enthusiastic group of children. During our visit, Santa Tom was interviewed by Rhode Island's Channel 12 News for a piece broadcast later that day.
Our next stop was a quick visit to the hearty folks of Prudence Island and their little light on Sandy Point. On hand for a cheerful welcome were representatives of their police and fire departments. After visiting with each of the children, Santa Tom posed for a few future Christmas cards before leading everyone down to his sleigh for a group photo.
Making our way down Narragansett Bay, we were soon over Newport and began our descent towards the CG station at Castle Hill. This was Santa Tom's station. He has been the commanding officer here since the summer of 2003. As we circled the grounds, the station crew had a surprise for us. On the lawn in front of the station, spelled out in huge white letters, was the greeting "WELCOME FLYING SANTA HAPPY 75th". This was reminiscent of the many lawn messages that greeted Edward Rowe Snow on his New England flights so many years ago. On the ground, Santa Tom was greeted by a large gathering of children and quickly escorted into the station's mess deck. Present for the occasion, were Tom's wife Vicki and sons Joshua and Patrick. Vicki dutifully stepped in to assist Santa with the distribution of gifts. Once Santa finished his visits with each of the children, we moved outside for the traditional group photo in front of the helicopter. We climbed back into the helicopter and as Evan lifted off, we were treated to one last view of the station's welcome sign. Our thanks to the crew of Castle Hill for their very special efforts.
Setting a course southwest across Narragansett Bay, we made our way to the Point Judith Light and Coast Guard Station. The winds were picking up and the temperature was dropping, but we still had clear skies. Setting down at the station we were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of youngsters. The youngest of which was Bryce Metcalf at two months of age. After a quick group photo in front of Santa's sleigh, we bid our goodbyes and headed west to Connecticut.
After a long stretch of flying, we were finally in sight of Lynde Point Light at the mouth of the Connecticut River. Evan made a few quick circles of the light before beginning his decent to a small clearing next to the light and keeper's house. As we dropped down past the top of the tower, we received our first welcomes from a small group enthusiastically waving from their perch just outside the lantern room. This is perhaps our most challenging spot to land of all our flights and Evan once again proved his flying skills as he set us safely on the ground. We were welcomed once again by Chief Mike Allen and the families of Group Long Island Sound. Santa was escorted into the keeper's house and went to work delivering a few more smiles to the beaming children. Before leaving, Santa Tom performed one last duty when he ceremoniously cut the beautiful holiday cake provided by the Navy League of the United States. We sincerely thank the Navy League for their show of support during our Connecticut visits.
We continued west along the coast, making our way to our next stop at Stratford Point Light. Here we were greeted by more CG families from Group Long Island Sound. Among them, the Milmoe family, who were participating in their twelfth consecutive Flying Santa visit. Son Ryan and daughter Megan have greeted Santa here and at Station Eaton's Neck with perfect attendance. One by one, Santa Tom called each of the children up to receive their present. After posing for various family photos, Santa said his goodbyes. But before departing, he invited Ryan and Megan for a quick flight over to the nearby airport where we were scheduled for refueling. Ryan took the copilot seat next to Evan and Megan, somewhat in awe, was seated securely next to Santa Tom in the back. Lifting off from Stratford Point for the short ride, they took with them some special memories of their very own Flying Santa flight.
After refueling, we made our way across Long Island Sound to Eaton's Neck Light and Coast Guard station. Upon landing we were greeted by the station's commanding officer CWO Mark Davenport. He quickly escorted Santa into the station and to a large gathering of patiently waiting children. With the assistance of SK1 Nelson Diaz, Santa was soon at work handing out his treasure of toys. After this enjoyable task was completed, Santa escorted all the children out to the helicopter for the last few photos. With our mission completed, we were rewarded with some freshly baked cookies from the galley. Lifting off from the neck, Evan set a course for home. As we crossed the Sound, we were treated to views of a spectacular sunset. A perfect ending to another successful day for Flying Santa.
|Flight 3 - 12/12/04 - Massachusetts|
The following Sunday, we were back in the air with Santa Dave Waldrip and pilot Evan Wile for the Massachusetts flight. Our first stop was Newburyport Harbor Light at the north end of Plum Island. On hand for the festivities, along with the local Coasties, were representatives of Friends of Plum Island Light who were kind enough to open up their historic tower. It was a quick visit and we were soon back in the air and on our way south to Cape Ann.
Our next stop was in Gloucester with the Craighead family at Annisquam Harbor Light. Chief Rob Craighead and his family have been welcoming Flying Santa to their lighthouse home for a number of years. Joining them were the families of Rob's Station Merrimack crew. Thanks again to the hospitality of their neighbor, Mrs. Barbara Smith, we set down in her waterfront yard next door. Santa was escorted into the old lighthouse cottage and was quick at work calling out the names of the children. After Annisquam, it was a short flight across town to Station Gloucester
This was our first time landing at this station and the helipad
on the end of their dock on Gloucester Harbor provided for an
easy landing. Chief Tim Hudson and the crew made Santa feel right
at home as they escorted him into the station's mess deck. Santa
Dave was warmly received by the children that gathered around
and made sure that each of them received a small gift to tide
them over until Christmas. Requesting promises of good behavior,
he said his goodbyes and made his way back to the helipad.
Moving down along the coast, we headed to the mouth of Boston Harbor and the well-know beacon of Boston Light. Here we would be greeted by the official keeper (and Friends of Flying Santa vice-president) Sally Snowman along with her husband Jay and fellow USCG auxiliarists Colleen Kloster and Jim Healy. As we circled the island, we noticed the large Christmas wreath crossed with boat oars and a red ribbon that hung beneath the lantern deck of the tower. The railing below was strewn with multicolored lights, a treat to the people of Hull who looked across to the island at night. After setting down, we made our way into the keeper's house. As Santa Dave posed for pictures with the crew around the lightstation's Christmas tree, he complimented them on the tower's beautiful wreath. Anticipating a large crowd of children waiting for us across the channel in Hull, we bid our good-byes and lifted off. With one last pass by the tower, we were able to get a great shot of Keeper Sally waiving next to the wreath.
Jumping across to the Hull peninsula, we set a course for Station Point Allerton. Seeing the children gathered on the deck outside the station, Evan dropped down for a fly-by. As we passed the deck we were greeted to the waves and smiles of the delighted crowd, including a 12 foot tall snowman of unknown rank. Landing in a ball field down the road, we were picked up by the station's crew and transported back to the station. Santa Dave marched into the mess deck and was warmly greeted by the festive crowd. CWO Paul Sordillo and his crew had timed their family Christmas party to coincide with our landing. Amongst the children was one of our youngest participants, one-month-old James Bodenrader. James appeared quite comfortable with Santa and was very cooperative during his photo-ops.
In the meantime, Evan had left with Santa's sleight to tend to another Yuletide commitment in Boston's North End. Point Allerton was kind enough to provide us earth-bound transportation to Marshfield Airport to await Evan's return. Santa Dave enjoyed the down time, but it was a strange turn from the usual hectic pace of a Flying Santa flight day. By mid afternoon Evan had arrived and after a quick refueling, we were back on schedule and off to Cape Cod.
We made our way to the elbow of the Cape and our largest gathering of the day at Station Chatham. As Evan brought us in over the Chatham break and overlook, we spotted the long line of crew and family stretched across the front of the lighthouse and station. Exiting the helicopter, Santa Dave greeted some of the puzzled folks staring from the overlook across the road. We sometimes forget that landing a helicopter at a lighthouse with Santa on board can create a surprising spectacle for the uninitiated. After an enjoyable visit with the Coastie families in their well decorated mess deck, we were soon on our way to our final stop of the day.
Following the outer beach of the Cape we made our way north to Cape Cod (Highland) Light in Truro. We arrived at the light just as the sun was setting and were greeted by a great turnout from the Truro folks, including their fire and police departments. Santa Dave was quickly escorted into the keeper's house by an excited group of kids. Once inside, the children all waited patiently for their visit with Santa. His duties finally completed at the end of a long and successful day, Santa breathed a sigh of relief and said his goodbyes as he made his way back to the helicopter. Once in the air, Evan headed for a quick refueling in Plymouth before setting our final course for Hanscom Field.
|Flight 4 - 12/18/04 - Massachusetts|
Due to a weather postponement, we had one more day of flying before our 2004 mission would be complete. I met up once again with Tom Guthlein and Evan Wile at the Hanscom hangar. We only had three lights to visit, so there was a much more relaxed pace to this day of Santa flights. With crystal clear skies, Evan lifted off towards our first stop in Scituate. Along the way we had some wonderful views of Boston and the harbor. Making our way along the coast of Cohasset, it was not long before the small beacon at the end of Cedar Point came into view. Gathered around the Scituate Light parking lot was a strong turnout from the Cedar Point Association as well as the local police and fire departments. Upon landing, Santa Tom was quick at work greeting the children and their parents. On hand to welcome Santa were Dave Ball of the association and Chief William Mack of the police department. Santa Tom handed out candy canes to the police and fire personnel that were present before posing for a group photo with Scituate's finest. We would like to express our sincere thanks to Dave Ball and the Cedar Point Association for their continuing generosity in support of the Flying Santa flights.
Back in the air we made our way down the coast to Duxbury Beach and the Plymouth (Gurnet) Light on the south tip. This historic wooden structure, once partnered with a twin tower, sits within the earthen walls of an old Revolutionary War fort. This beacon along with the nearby Duxbury Pier (Bug) Light is now looked after with assistance from Project Gurnet & Bug Light - www.buglight.org. Upon landing we were greeted by Inga Hanks, Gurnet resident, Flying Santa trustee and the longtime host of our Santa visits here. Also on hand, were Dolly Snow Bicknell and her family. Dolly is the daughter of the late Edward Rowe Snow, maritime author, historian and Flying Santa for over four decades. We were delighted that the Bicknell family was able to take part in the 75th anniversary of the original flights. Inga escorted everyone to her cottage just down the road from the light. Santa Tom made his way into the cozy home which was well-stocked with refreshments for the festive crowd that followed. Reading from a four-foot long list of names, Inga assisted Santa with the distribution of gifts. But before Santa Tom began, he made all the children promise not to tell his reindeer about the helicopter. As he tells all the kids, the reindeer are resting up for Christmas Eve and would not take kindly to being replaced by the helicopter. After a very enjoyable and special visit, we said our goodbyes to Inga, the Bicknells and all the families and headed off to our last stop of the day out on the island of Nantucket.
We made our way south to Cape Cod, jumping across from Falmouth to Martha's Vineyard before turning east for Nantucket. Our sunny day had turned gray, but visibility was still good. We made our way to the harbor with a quick circle of the Brant Point Light, decorated with an impressive wreath assembled by the Coast Guard. Evan made our approach to Station Brant Point, itself an earlier version of Brant Point Light, before finally setting down next to the station's docks. Senior Chief Sheila Lucey, was the first to welcome Santa Tom as he exited the helicopter. Senior Chief Lucey and Tom had first served together at Station Chatham across the sound over 14 years ago. We were escorted into the station's mess deck which was decorated with a beautiful tree. The crew of Brant Point is known for their tree decorating skills and has won first place a number of times in the Nantucket Stroll competition. After visiting with the families of this station and the island's Loran station, Santa Tom made his way out to the lawn overlooking the harbor. Lingering in the somewhat mild weather for December, Santa posed for some photos in front of the helicopter before joining the kids for a few passes with the football. Having thoroughly enjoyed our last Flying Santa stop of the year, we thanked Sheila and the crew for their hospitality and wished them all a Merry Christmas.
The 75th anniversary flights were now completed. As always, Evan, Santa Tom and Santa Dave, had done an outstanding job. Evan had generously flown us to over 20 lighthouses and Coast Guard stations in four states over three days. We can not thank him enough for his commitment to the Flying Santa program. Evan, along with our NH/Maine pilots Art Godjikian and LaRay Todd, are all members of the New England Helicopter Council - www.nehc.org. These gentlemen have shown a tremendous amount of professionalism, generosity and kindness in their many years of involvement with the Flying Santa flights. They have never tired of giving close-up tours of their aircraft to the many children and adults who have participated in our annual visits. You could not ask for better ambassadors for the world of helicopters. Their efforts will always be appreciated by all of us with Friends of Flying Santa as well as the hundreds of Coast Guard families that they have delivered our Santas to over the years. Thanks to all who made our 2004 flights such a wonderful experience.
We would like to say special thanks to the many product sponsors who continue to support the Flying Santa tradition. Thanks to their generosity our traditional gift boxes for the CG crews were well stocked.
Michael Roderiques of Big Valley Coffee Company - www.bigvalleycoffee.com
Donald Machado of Coastal Roasters Coffee
Desi Gould of Brady Enterprises
Webster Bull of Commonwealth Editions - Edward Rowe Snow books
Jean Patey of Twin Lights Publishing - New England Lighthouses books
and all the folks at Harbour Lights
And a hearty thanks to the CG crews of NESU Boston, Station Boston and MSST Boston for their assistance in wrapping the station boxes and hundreds of toys. We look forward to working with all of you again in preparations for our 2005 flights.
|We would like to take this opportunity to remind our friends that Friends of Flying Santa offers a fine selection of apparel sporting the Friends logo. Our hats, sweatshirts, polo shirts and T-shirts are available in most popular sizes. For more information on our full line of gift items, check out our Gift Items page.|