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JET BOATING AT OTTER LAKE RESORT — LA RONGE SASKATCHEWAN

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We will never forget our first jet boat tour with Garry Thompson. At the time, Thompson owned Thompson's Camps Otter Lake Resort, 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of La Ronge, Saskatchewan, on Hwy 102, in Missinipe.

Garry Thompson brings guest on a jet boat tour.
Garry Thompson brings guest on a jet boat tour.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

La Ronge is 235 miles (379 kilometers) north of Saskatoon on Hwy 2. Driving time is about four hours.

Popular water sport

"Do you want the wet ride or the dry ride?" asked Garry. We opted for something halfway in between, because we were carrying cameras.

The question, we soon discovered, was irrelevant. We ended up soaking-wet anyway. (Fortunately, Thompson had advised us to stow our cameras safely under the prow of the boat.)

Although Saskatchewan has more than 100,000 lakes, we didn't expect to find jet boating here. Few people have tried this thrill-a-minute sport outside New Zealand, where it is very popular among adventure-seekers.

How jet boats work

An innovative Kiwi created the revolutionary propulsion unit that allows navigation of shallow waterways where a normal propeller might snag or be torn away. The propulsion unit sucks water in at 80 to 100 gallons (375 liters) per second, thrusting the boat clear of water as shallow as four inches (10 centimeters).

The jet boat ejects the water through high-pressure stern nozzles, which help raise the craft in the water and give it a high speed, even against a strong current.

While jet boats can reach speeds of over 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour, Thompson drove his boat under 45 miles (70 kilometers) an hour, to ensure easy navigation of the seven sets of Churchill River rapids. (Otter Lake is part of the Churchill River.)

Jet boat wake on Churchill River near Missinipe SK
Jet boat wake on Churchill River near Missinipe SK
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Churchill River rapids

It is a safe trip, but certainly not one for the faint-hearted. Especially when Garry Thompson is at the helm.

Thompson is the Crocodile Dundee of Saskatchewan's Churchill River. We should have known that we would get wet, when he donned his broad-brimmed felt hat to protect his face from the spray — leaving us with rivulets of water dripping over our foreheads.

Thompson delighted in telling us about the ride he gave a group of girls who visited Thompson's Camps Otter Lake Resort, when he operated it with his wife, Bonnie.

"The windshield wipers are broken," he told them, straight-faced. "You have to operate them by hand so I can watch out for rocks in front of us."

The girls dutifully stood at the front of the boat, moving the wipers, which Thompson had turned off, as wave after wave engulfed them. (A spectator on the riverbank was so amused that he made a video of the jet boat ride and sent it to Thompson.)

Otter Lake Bridge

Our trip began uneventfully, as we zipped under Otter Lake Bridge and over Otter Rapids. Spruce trees, lining the banks, rushed past in a green blur, while whitewater licked the sides of the boat.

The next set of rapids was bigger. Thompson propelled the jet boat through the waves, slicing them like a blade. He then cut the engines so the surf curled over the sides on top of us.

Padded seats softened the bumps as we hit the rapids, but nothing protected us from the skidding sensation we felt as the boat veered toward the next set. It was like riding a car with no brakes over an ice rink.

Suddenly, Thompson yelled out, "Hang on tight! Killer Falls coming up!" Adrenalin surging through our veins, white knuckles gripping the sides of the boat, we gazed, open-mouthed at the wall of water churning in front of us.

Thompson roared toward it, but veered away, with seconds to spare. We then realized that he had no intention of going over Killer Falls. In fact, its name wasn't Killer Falls at all, but Sluice Rapids. (We later learned that his nickname wasn't all in jest. A person was killed here several years ago, attempting to bypass the falls in a canoe.)

Otter Lake Bridge behind guest on jet boat tour
Otter Lake Bridge behind guest on jet boat tour
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

On our way back to the Otter Lake Resort, Thompson invited us to come up to the front of the boat where the windshield would protect us from the seething foam. By now, we knew better. We decided to stay at the back of the boat, where we wouldn't be drenched by tidal waves.

Priding ourselves in finally outsmarting Thompson, we enjoyed the scenery as the breeze dried our hair — until Thompson stopped the boat with a 360-degree turn.

You guessed it. With all the fury of a tsunami, water inundated any dry spots previously missed. Everything except Garry Thompson's smiling face, protected by a now soggy broad-brimmed hat.

Adventure Destinations International

Garry Thompson has since sold Thompson's Camps Otter Lake Resort to Adventure Destinations International. We were delighted to learn that the current lodge manager also offers jet boat tours.

We can't wait to go jet boating again on the Churchill River's Otter Rapids. But this time, we'll be prepared and wear hats with wide brims.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Otter Lake Resort Jet Boat Tours: www.adventuredestinations.ca

Tourism Saskatchewan: www.sasktourism.com

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