The pilot maneuvers into position, points the prop into the wind and opens the throttle. For canoeists, there aren’t many moments as exciting as the takeoff of fly-in trips.
Of course, when the altitude rises, so do the stakes. As you plan your first private fly-in adventure, keep these expert tips in mind to avoid common mistakes.
1. Only one weatherman counts
Daryl Vaillancourt, president and pilot at Air Kipawa, flew canoeists into the Dumoine River area in Quebec before relocating north to James Bay. He says the biggest mistake his clients make is assuming they know what sort of weather is safe for flying.
“They’ll try to pressure pilots, saying, ‘Looks good to me’,” says Vaillancourt. They may have forgotten that the landing strip, meaning a remote lake, doesn’t have an air traffic control tower. “It’s a visual flight,” says Vaillancourt.
2. Lighten up about weight
Vaillancourt says excessive weight is an often overblown concern. His single engine de Havilland Beaver floatplane can haul up to a thousand pounds, enough to handle two canoeists, one canoe and corresponding gear.
Larger single-engine planes like the Otter can take four people and two canoes. The Twin Otter can handle six people and three canoes. Don’t expect to save money by nesting two canoes and tying them on together. “Those days are over,” says Vaillancourt.
3. Consider the straight and narrow
It’s not true that floatplanes land only on lakes, not rivers. “I’ve landed planes in pretty tight places,” says Vaillancourt, estimating that a waterway twice the width of the Beaver’s 50-foot wingspan ought to be enough room. Discretion rests with the pilot, of course, but don’t be afraid to ask the air service about river takeoffs and landings.
4. Arrive early and then proceed immediately to the gate
Lin Ward of Canoe North Adventures sends dozens of fly-in trips a year from their lodge in Norman Wells, Northwest Territories. She recommends you plan to arrive at or near the airbase the day before you are scheduled to depart.
“You don’t want to arrive and scramble to do all that last-minute packing while the charter pilot is waiting at the dock,” says Ward. “I’ve seen groups have meltdowns. It’s no way to begin a trip.”
5. Coffee and Kevin
If your drop-off involves multiple trips from the base, remember that the second trip might be delayed by weather. “Whatever plane goes in first, that group should have everything it needs to stay out,” says Ward. This means food, shelter, fire and a person capable of putting all those things together should get priority loading.
6. Declare your bear spray
For 15 years Jonathan Friesen has been flying canoeists into the Barrens, Bloodvein and Pigeon rivers for Bluewater Aviation in Bisset, Manitoba. He says most clients don’t know that bear spray is forbidden inside any aircraft. Declare it to your pilot and he or she can duct tape it to a thwart of the canoe riding outside.
7. Research and relax
Some canoeists simply don’t do enough research when scheduling their routes. One thing that affects rate of travel is river water levels. Read trip reports carefully and Friesen suggests checking levels as the trip approaches. He also recommends scheduling rest days that can be used to make up time if you get wind bound. “I never understood the ‘test yourself’ mentality,” says Friesen. “Why not plan a day off and enjoy it?”
8. No need to get a CB handle
Friesen says VHF radios are cumbersome, complicated and not a practical way to communicate with pilots. Instead, buy or rent a satellite phone—some even have text capability. Or carry a SPOT satellite locator device with the air base’s email address programmed so they can keep abreast of your progress, or lack of. If you do need to contact a pilot to change your pickup location, you may need to provide coordinates. Make sure you have proper topographic maps with intact margins.
LOOK FOR A PILOT WITH AN IFR RATING — I FLY RIVERS