The flying boat you may have seen in the skies around Campbell River lately is a birthday present. Claude Lapointe bought it for himself when he turned 50.
The pilot has raised a lot of eyebrows as he cruises shorelines all around the city and areas further afield. In fact, the reason he moved to Campbell River was directly related to his flying boat. Lapointe had lived in Sooke, but the flying there was limited and so was the scenery compared to his new home up Island.
One of his trips from Sooke took him over and around Campbell River. It didn't take long for him to realize that, far from being limited as to in what direction and how far he could fly, the sky was virtually the limit here.
"It was amazing, you have the mountains on this side, and you have the Comox glacier on this side and you have those beautiful mountains over there, fantastic," he said. "In Sooke I was limited to the south tip of the Island. Here I can go anywhere, in any direction."
The Italian-made boat is one of the few of its kind in Canada, and it is called the Ramphos. It is named after a flying dinosaur that skimmed across the water looking for prey just below the surface.
He has about four hours of flight time on a full tank of gas, so trips over Desolation Sound, Powell River and Lund area are all very do-able as are trips to lakes on the Island. "I can go just about anywhere, but I make sure I follow the coastline and have water somewhere available, just in case," he said. "If the motor goes, then I just glide down and find somewhere safe to land."
The two-stroke engine, he says, isn't 100 per cent reliable so staying near water is important for emergency landings. On one memorable trip, Lapointe made a perfect landing in a river near Port Renfrew. However he quickly learned the landing had a catch to it. "Some natives were conducting a fishery and I landed in their net," he said.
"They pulled in the net with me in it. I asked how they were going to prepare me, canned or smoked."
Aside from being a passionate pilot, he loves fishing. And although some could call it fly fishing of sorts, he uses a spinning rod for most of his efforts. With a wing span of 40 feet, the craft can go 50 miles per hour.
Lapointe says the key to his craft is weather. "It has to be calm, it doesn't handle well in the wind, so I become kind of a weather follower," he said. The craft did have wheels at one time, but the holes for the wheels to come out and go in would sometimes get jammed open with weeds or mud.
"And then it becomes very hard to handle, so I decided to just take them off," he said. "And it is now about 40 pounds lighter."
He trailers the boat to and from water take-off areas, one being the end of Perkins Road in the Campbell River estuary.
As for the future, Lapointe says he might treat himself to another present for his 60th birthday. "I might get a four-stroke," he said. "It's more dependable and faster too."
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