It’s a Boat! It’s a Plane! It’s a…. Hovercraft!

According to Peter Basko, the only people who can retire peacefully, as he puts it, are those with a hobby. For most, this might take the form of travel to warm locales; for others, perhaps an antique car to tinker with. At 67, Basko’s retirement plans have drifted slightly quirkier; he bought a hovercraft.

“This vehicle belongs here, though not everybody shares my vision,” says Basko. His 22-foot-long, 11-foot-wide Canair 512 arrived last December, on a truck from Iowa. This particular model is bright orange in colour. It originally came in white, but Basko repainted it to stand out from the snow and ice. It also comes in a smaller size, which Basko thinks should be more popular up here.

“It replaces an ATV, a ski-doo, and a small boat. It’s a very versatile machine.”

Right now, the craft is operating intermittently, working through mechanical issues. “There’s a bunch of little things to do. We’d like to get it running as soon as possible,” he said. Basko worked as an automotive mechanic for 50 years, 30 of which he’s spent up here in Yellowknife, but the proper outfitting of a hovercraft requires somewhat more unusual expertise. “Chief engineer Greg,” he says with a little chuckle, “is doing the repairs. He’s been an automotive mechanic for 30 years.”

Despite the hovercraft’s closer resemblance to a boat, it’s classified as and operates much like an aircraft, with a pilot instead of a captain. As for the feeling of riding in one, Basko says “I can’t even really describe it to you in words; you have to be in it.”

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He’s planning on using the craft commercially for tourism in the summer and winter, but will be on-call for emergency rescues. He points out that the plane forced to land by engine failure on Great Slave Lake last November would’ve been a perfect situation to use a hovercraft for rescue. “The planes had iced props, and the ice was too thin for the ski-doos. Nobody wanted to put the rescuers in danger,” he said. One of the advantages of a hovercraft in these conditions, “especially in spring and fall,” adds Basko, is that it’s capable of navigating on both land and water, going up to 90km/h with both engines working in the water, and can handle thin ice with open patches of water with relative ease. Attention houseboaters: sounds like a cure for freeze-up and break-up blues.

Nevertheless, he wants to be absolutely sure everything is working before he takes it out with the public on board. “Can you imagine if we got it out and something didn’t work?” After all, as he put it, “you can’t get a tow truck out there,” and the very attributes that make a hovercraft so useful may also make it a big problem if it were to be stranded.

“I picked this model because it runs on two Honda Civic engines,” he said, “so if one fails the thing isn’t stuck; it’ll go slower but it can still go.”

The Canair 512 he owns is one of only seven ever made. He declined to say what it cost him: “Might put some tears in your eyes.”

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