The Canadian Coast Guard calls and they want you to buy a hovercraft.
No known scenario?
It’s for Gino LeBlanc, from Caraquet. He wasn’t surprised when the call came in last fall.
“It’s a small world in the world of big hovercraft,” he jokes.
But when they thought they’d found the perfect buyer, LeBlanc initially said no. For starters, he already had one.
Finally, after visiting the Coast Guard hovercraft base on Sea Island in Richmond, BC, to see the retired search and rescue vessel, he changed his mind.
Only one problem remained.
“Unfortunately, the hovercraft was not on the right ocean,” LeBlanc said.
In the months that followed, LeBlanc and his crew would prepare for – and embark on – a “once in a lifetime” journey to take the hovercraft all the way to his hometown in northeastern New Brunswick, where he co-owns Northeast Diving Ltd.
BC to New Brunswick, via Panama
Most Canadians would happily cross a cross-country road trip off their bucket list. But when you’re the proud new owner of a hovercraft, it’s not that easy.
Too big to transport by road, would have to sail.
LeBlanc spent the winter in BC at the Coast Guard base learning the ins and outs of this particular craft.
“We gained tremendous knowledge there that you can’t buy. It would take years to learn on our own,” said LeBlanc.
The hovercraft, known as the Penac, has an international history. Built in 1984 by a British company, it was first used for passenger transport in Copenhagen.
Fast forward to 2004 and it was taken over by the Canadian Coast Guard, used for search and rescue until it was decommissioned in 2017.
Six years would pass until the Penac’s next great adventure.
After his training was complete, LeBlanc said he loaded the craft onto a freighter to leave BC for Baltimore, Md., through the Panama Canal and around Florida.
While he wouldn’t say how much he paid for the Penac, he did say it cost $500,000 to ship it to Baltimore.
When it reached Baltimore, the real adventure began.
LeBlanc and three crew members sailed the vessel north, accompanied by a Canadian Coast Guard captain who had piloted the vessel for years before it was sold.
The old saying is true, even for a hovercraft journey: it’s about the journey, not the destination.
“We didn’t have an ETA to get to Caraquet, so we took some time,” said LeBlanc.
The hovercraft had to refuel every day and stop at a beach at nightfall, giving LeBlanc and his crew plenty of excuses to stop along the way.
“All the locals were great, everyone provided us with food and many people went through the craft. We were guides on the ocean for two weeks.”
From the captain’s seat, LeBlanc got to see the entire East Coast on what he calls a “trip of a lifetime.”
“The highlight was going through New York, and Rhode Island was great scenery, beaches, beaches — Cape Cod, Boston,” he said.
And while the Penac garnered attention in the United States, it’s not such an odd sight in its neighborhood.
“Here in the Acadia and Gaspé Peninsula, we’re used to hovercraft,” said LeBlanc, explaining that the Coast Guard regularly uses them to break ice in the region.
A new home in New Brunswick
The journey may be over, but LeBlanc’s involvement with the ship is just beginning.
With a maritime background overseeing his diving and wharf building businesses, LeBlanc is quick to list the possibilities.
Aside from tourism purposes, it can be used for search and rescue, cargo transport and scientific research.
“It’s all rigged for it,” he said.
He’s only been back for a few days, but companies are already reaching out to show interest.
As for this adventure, would he do it all again?
‘Not now. I’ve been at it for two and a half weeks,” LeBlanc said with a chuckle.
But once he’s back to his seaside life in Caraquet, he’s excited about what comes next.
“I’m open to going anywhere with it,” said LeBlanc.