Brother-in-laws’ fantastic float

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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For three brother-in-laws, a handmade raft is all they need to travel 350 miles through the Prairies.

 

Putting the final touches on their custom-made pontoon raft, Marcel Pelletier, Roland Joubert and Phil Gaudet capped off its three-day construction in Prince Albert on Wednesday.

“The pontoons were ordered from the States and everything else was built the last three days,” Joubert said, resting his hand on one of two long pontoons that rested under a large aluminum structure.

“The rest is just put together -- we’ve got our covers, the steering wheel, the motor at the back and then we’re going to go down the river.”

The raft is a step up from their previous pontoon raft, which they’ve sailed every year since its maiden voyage in 2008, when the trio travelled from Edmonton to Prince Albert down the North Saskatchewan River.

“Since then we’ve put many thousand miles on that raft going down the North Saskatchewan, the South Saskatchewan, the Red Deer River… but it was getting old and the pontoons were worn, so we retired it,” Gaudet began, quickly correcting himself.

“Well, it retired us on the Athabasca last year when it flung us into some spear-like tree branches that were sticking out of the river and burst the pontoon.”

With their previous pontoon now just a mixed memory, their new boat should fare better.

Whereas the previous boat consisted mainly of wood, the new boat is made of a much lighter aluminum, custom cut from metal they got from a Saskatoon steel yard.

The pontoons were ordered from the States and everything else was built the last three days. Phil Gaudet

Weight is an important factor while floating over the sand bars that line Prairie rivers, Gaudet said, noting that this year’s 350-mile trip down the Athabasca River to the river’s Alberta namesake will be no exception.

That’s the main reason the trio of friends built their own boat, he explained, noting that you can’t buy pontoon boats with inflatable pontoons.

“We wanted it to be a bit bigger and we didn’t want to be heavier so we went with aluminum,” he explained.

“This one is lighter and it’s inflatable, so the minute we step off we can lift it over a sand bar.

“How can you go on a river when there are going to be shallow points and deep points without getting stranded? That’s why we went with the inflatable pontoons.”

Now a tradition, the trip was initially sparked by one of the brother-in-laws’ notion of canoeing from Edmonton to Prince Albert, since Gaudet lives in Edmonton.

“I thought, there’s no way I’m going to kneel in a canoe for a week. I want to ride in comfort, so we built a raft,” Gaudet said.

The trio will ride in comfort down about 350 miles of the Athabasca River beginning on June 3. 

Organizations: Prince Albert

Geographic location: Edmonton, North Saskatchewan River, Athabasca River South Saskatchewan Red Deer River Athabasca Saskatoon Alberta

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  • Michael
    June 13, 2014 - 12:47

    What an excellent tradition! They've kept up the adventuring spirit of the voyageurs and did so in their own backyard of the prairies. Thank you for this story. It's easy to underestimate how much thought and effort goes into building a river craft and planning these trips. People who are not so young anymore, and who know how an adult's eye for details matures with wisdom, will understand that this takes commitment and a healthy dose of patience that's rare to see among friends.

  • Brian Kinney
    June 13, 2014 - 11:47

    Looks good.How made your pontoons as I am looking to purchase some pontoons.If you would sent address of manufacture I would appreciate.Thanks B rian