Friday, 27 July 2018 10:15

Air-cushion vehicles coming to southwest Saskatchewan for inaugural hovercraft rally

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The Canadian-made AR45 hovercraft is suitable for use in the extremes of the Canadian climate. Visitors to the public events for the Great Canadian Hover Rally will have an opportunity to see one of these vessels close up. The Canadian-made AR45 hovercraft is suitable for use in the extremes of the Canadian climate. Visitors to the public events for the Great Canadian Hover Rally will have an opportunity to see one of these vessels close up. Photo courtesy of John Maczko, CRHPA

The Canadian Rescue Hovercraft Pilots Association (CRHPA) is hosting the first ever Great Canadian Hover Rally in southwest Saskatchewan during the August long weekend.

 

The event will be an opportunity for hovercraft owners to get together and to pilot their vessels on Lake Diefenbaker, while members of the public will be able to take a closer look at these air-cushion vehicles during demonstration events in Swift Current on Aug. 3 and at Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park on Aug. 4.

John Maczko, the founder and president of the CRHPA, expects there will be between six and  10 hovercraft present during the weekend, including home-built hovercraft. There will also be specialized equipment on display that are used by members of the Amphibious Response Support Unit No. 1 (ARSU1).

“There’s going to be a lot to see and a lot to take in,” he said. “Some very unique things will be happening. ... We’re hoping that we can encourage people to come out and spend some time with us, ask as many questions as they like, take a lot of photos, and hopefully it will also encourage some, both young and old, to get involved in hovercraft, which we love to promote to them.”

Hovercraft owners and pilots from across western Canada and possibly even from the United States will attend the rally.

“Our pilots are very interested in having the opportunity to see other craft as well as flying with fellow pilots,” he said. “The evenings, when we get together, there’s going to be a lot of stories that are told and a lot of techniques that’s going to be discussed. That’s what they’re looking to get out of it. It’s those discussions, it’s sitting down over a campfire in the evening and talking about how we pilot our craft and the conditions and a lot of things that go along with that.”

The rally will kick off on Aug. 3 with a demonstration event in the parking lot at Riverside Park in Swift Current from 1-5 p.m. A number of hovercraft will be on location as well as ARSU1 members with their specialized equipment.

“We will be conducting some demonstrations and we will be providing safety and other tips,” he said. “We’ll talk about water safety, we’ll talk about ice safety. ... For the kids we’re going to have a number of different forums and ways that we can involve the young folks in learning about water safety. So we’ll have some games going on.”

A Canadian-built AR45 hovercraft, which is well suited for the extreme challenges of the Canadian environment, will be on display. Maczko is hoping to also have a Russian-built Christy hovercraft at the event, which is the first of its kind to be coming to Canada.

“We are just hoping it arrives in time, because it’s in transit right now,” he said. “They are a little bit bigger and they’re a very modern version. They unit that I’ve seen coming in is quite something. It is really more of a luxury model and probably costs about US$200,000.”

From Aug. 4-6 the rally activities will be based at the Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. A similar public event will take place on Aug. 4 during an open day at Cottonwood Beach from 10 a.m. until about 5 p.m. There will be a variety of activities during the day for all ages and opportunities to learn about water safety. Food vendors will be present to offer food, drinks and ice cream to visitors.

In addition to seeing the hovercraft close up, this event will be an opportunity to watch demonstrations both on the shore and on the water.

“You’re going to be able to see our vehicles in motion, because on the Friday, depending on the water levels and what happens, we may have a hovercraft on the creek or we may not,” he said. “It’s kind of up in the air, because we need to ensure that all of the conditions are met.”

On Aug. 4 some of the hovercraft will travel on the water to Beaver Flat Marina, Herbert Ferry Regional Park and Prairie Lake Regional Park.

“We welcome folks to be on site,” he said. “They’re expected to arrive somewhere around noon. So we invite people to be out there before 12 o’clock and cheer them on as our hovercrafters come on to shore.”

The rest of the weekend will be an opportunity for the hovercraft pilots to use their vessels on Lake Diefenbaker. On the morning of Aug. 5 they will provide support on the water during the Saskatchewan Landing triathlon, which will be a test event for the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games. Afterwards the hovercraft pilots will take another trip on the lake towards Cabri Regional Park and Eston Riverside Regional Park.

“The public will be able to engage with us at those locations,” he said. “So if they’re out and about in those areas, keep an eye out for us because we plan to leave somewhere around 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock.”

Visitors to Saskatchewan Landing Regional Park might still see the hovercraft pilots on the water on Aug. 6, when they will do freestyle hovercrafting.

The CRHPA was established in 2015 to represent both professional and leisure hovercraft pilots in a single organization.

“We provide a forum for all members that are involved in piloting such craft to ensure that we have a set level of standards when we operate and pilot the various types of craft that we use across Canada and abroad,” he said. “At the moment we are under 50, because most of the people that are joining are in fact actively working with their craft, and the number of pilots across Canada are relatively small in comparison to the U.S.”

The CRHPA initiated the concept of amphibious response support units for professional hovercraft pilots that are involved in first response and emergency support roles. The intention is to create such units across the country and the first one, ARSU1, was established for Saskatchewan about two years ago and it now has more than 11 members.

“Our unit is relatively new,” he said. “We are now building our unit, but we have had situations where we had call outs. We’re engaged with many first responders across the province.”

Maczko, who has a law enforcement background and is a certified swift water rescue technician, leads the ARSU1 in Regina. He learned to operate a hovercraft while living in the United Kingdom in 2005. He was the director of operations of a first responder unit in Europe before returning to Canada in 2014, and he was part of a team that provided assistance during major flooding of the Great Danube River in central Europe.

CRHPA members share an interest in air-cushioned vehicles and a desire to operate these vehicles in a safe and organized manner. They also take water and ice safety very serious, and one of the goals of the public events during the Great Canadian Hover Rally is to raise awareness about these issues.

“Our association recently signed on to the Saskatchewan Safety Charter and Mission Zero campaign, and we as an organization and as a unit believe that every accident is preventable” he said. “We also believe that the best way that we can influence accidents from happening is to talk about safety and prevention.”

The CRHPA decided to host the inaugural rally in southwest Saskatchewan because of the enthusiastic response to the idea from the Swift Current Fire Department, Tourism Swift Current and other organizations they spoke to in the region.

“They made all the difference in the world when we talked about what we do and the interest that was shown, the support that was shown, and the hospitality that we’ve received from Swift Current and the surrounding area has been phenomenal,” he said. “It’s much easier to start to plan an event when you have an excellent working relationship with very dedicated people.”

For more information about the CRHPA and the 2018 Great Canadian Hover Rally, visit the association's website at www.crhpa.com

 
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Matthew Liebenberg

Reporter/Photographer

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