When I first found out that my dad, a co-owner at Tamarack North Ltd, was planning on bringing home one of their work hovercrafts for a weekend of fun I was absolutely speechless. Having had an opportunity to ride in and drive a hovercraft last fall ,I knew what kind of a treat we were in for!
My dad and I took the short drive south of Ontario's Parry Sound to the Air Rider Hovercraft headquarters to pick up one of Tamarack’s two hovercrafts. Tamarack North Ltd builds custom high-end homes, cottages and boathouses in Muskoka and Georgian Bay. You might be thinking: what on earth does a company use a hovercraft for, let alone two? Well, let me first explain what they are and how they work.
A hovercraft is a vehicle that can travel over land, ice and water. A cushion of air is created under the vehicle by a large powerful fan that lifts the vehicle up, allowing it to “float” over most surfaces. Another large motor drives the propulsion fan that moves the hovercraft forward, and backwards. Some hovercrafts are built with hard rigid hulls, but the Air Rider Hovercrafts are designed with an inflatable hull that helps create more stability, making it safer on water and to help absorb shock for a smoother ride.
The hovercrafts come in handy during the in-between stages of fall, winter and spring. During these in-between seasons, ice can be thin, non-existent or scattered, especially out on Georgian Bay. The hovercrafts allow Tamarack to continue working on clients’ island projects continuously, as they don’t have to worry about waiting for the Bay or lake to freeze solid. Instead they can travel safely across the ice, transitioning onto open water and back onto ice or land with no hassle involved. Hovercrafts are also ideal for accessing remote locations as they can travel across swamps, bogs, muskegs and other difficult terrain impassable by other vehicles.
Having the chance to experience a hovercraft first-hand has also given me peace of mind. I now feel confident that my dad and brother are safe every time they are out in the hovercraft for work no matter the weather or ice conditions. To me, that alone makes the hovercraft a vital piece of machinery.
We launched the hovercraft, just like you would a boat, on Lake Manitouwabing in McKellar. The hovercraft gave us the opportunity to travel around the lake, and to visit areas that would be too shallow for a boat without giving it a second thought. We were flying down rivers, across rocky shoals and over dead trees lodged under water without any issues or concerns. Did I mention how much fun they are, not only drive, but to also ride in? Nothing beats the confidence you get from knowing there is almost no place you can’t go. There is also no place you can go without drawing attention from onlookers. The hovercraft is big, loud, and very unique, making it extremely noticeable out on the busy lake. People were pointing, taking pictures, and smiling everywhere we went.
After the excitement of exploration, we were in need of refuelling our bodies so we headed over to the beautiful Ridge at Manitou. Once again, here was a great example of the versatility of a hovercraft. We could literally park anywhere we wanted; shallow waters where boats normally can’t go left the perfect parking spots wide open for us. We also drew a lot of attention here as well. We met an adorable little girl who was downright fascinated by the hovercraft; we let her sit in the drivers seat and she was nothing but smiles of wonder. The Ridge at Manitou has always been one of my favourite places to eat, visit and work. I helped pay my way through University and College working at the charming little Halfway Cottage on the eighth hole of the golf course and driving the beverage cart around the spectacular course designed by the famous Thomas McBroom. Yes, I have my dream job now, but I also had the perfect summer job growing up!
All in all, the hovercraft made for lots of fun, a unique way to explore the lake and an exciting conversational piece for the weekend. Hovercrafts are great for personal use, for people with water access only cottages, and especially for companies who need access year-round to remote locations. I certainly hope I get the chance to take one for a ride this winter so I can really get the full four-season experience on a hovercraft.