If you live near the water in Nanaimo or Parksville, you may have seen a hovercraft in recent days.
The Canadian Coast Guard (CGG) formerly owned it, but a private company recently purchased it. The vessel is spending its last days on the west coast before heading east.
In Departure Bay, people are used to seeing float planes and ferries but seeing a hovercraft is unusual.
“It’s pretty cool. [I] haven’t seen anything like this before, especially this close to the beach, so it’s kind of fascinating,” said Rylee Janzen as she visited Departure Bay Beach Monday.
On Saturday night, the Penac arrived in Departure Bay and surprised many residents.
A private owner purchased the former Canadian Coast Guard vessel in October. The government has been trying to sell it since decommissioning it in 2017.
“There was no real interest just because of the cost of getting it up and running,” said Paul Tobin, the acting officer in charge of the Sea Island Hovercraft Station for the CCG.
The Coast Guard reached out to Gino Leblanc, whose company in New Brunswick already owns a hovercraft. The Canadian Coast Guard confirms they sold it to Leblanc’s company for just over $350,000.
“It was a good price,” said Leblanc. “When we showed up in January, the craft didn’t move or hadn’t started for the past three years.”
The CCG says there was a lot of work to make it operational again. In fact, it took three months to get it into working condition and to obtain the required inspections.
“There was a lot of maintenance involved to get it running cause hovercraft don’t like sitting around. They have to be serviced,” said Tobin.
On Wednesday, the hovercraft will be lifted onto a cargo ship in the Nanaimo harbour that will take it to Florida by month’s end.
“From Nanaimo to Fort Lauderdale, it’s half a million dollars just to move it there,” said Leblanc.
Leblanc and his crew will then sail the nearly 3,500 kilometres to its new home in Caraquet, N.B.
The Penac can easily go 45 knots or 90 kilometres an hour and has been pushed up to 110 kilometres an hour during past search and rescue missions.
When asked what he plans to do with the hovercraft, Leblanc said it’s a good question.
“It was bought first just because I’m passionate about hovercraft,” he said.
Leblanc’s diving company Northeast Diving Ltd. bought a similar one two years ago.
He’ll explore private search and rescue and ice-breaking options but says he’s looking forward to the adventure of travelling north on the Atlantic Ocean and what other travels will unfold.
The Penac was involved in search and rescue missions, helping hundreds of people on Canada’s west coast during its tenure with the Canadian Coast Guard between 2004 and 2017.