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      Seaplanes make a splash in Grand Marais

      On Saturday, there were more than just boats cutting the water in Grand Marais Bay. Over a dozen seaplane pilots from all over the United States flew in for this weekend's annual Splash-In aerial festival.

      The amphibious aircraft make for an unusual sight, which gets a lot of attention from those in town and others coming to visit.

      "All the motels are full, the restaurants are busy, the campgrounds are full, people come up to their cottage," explained Ed Bowen, organizer of the event. "The spectators just enjoy it, they love it."

      The pilots are members of the National Seaplane Pilots Association, and they come with extensive backgrounds in aviation. Many of them have served in the military, while others operated on airlines.

      Their unique hobby has built a sense of camaraderie between them.

      "Flying is fun to enjoy with people, and everyone who's here is really here because they want to be here," reflected Fred Rakunas, a retired 747 pilot. "Just like people go out and play golf together, this is our golf game here."

      Trade golf clubs for water balloons and a floating target, and you have balloon bombing, just one of the games the pilots competed in Saturday.

      They also tried to best each other in splash-landings, where the pilots attempt to land as close to an invisible line as possible.

      Grand Marais Bay serves as a beautiful backdrop for the festivities, which helps bring the pilots back each year.

      "This is one of the most enjoyable spots to come with the scenery," said Cliff Kinery, a pilot.

      After Saturday's competitions, the pilots grabbed dinner and swapped stories, and Sunday they will jump in their planes and fly back to wherever they came from.

      Rest assured the wind will bring many of them back next year, and there will be plenty of adoring fans on the ground waiting.