The current of the Humber River may be intimidating for some to tackle but for Charles Foote, it’s all about the challenge. Charles has been an instructor for CNA’s Heavy Equipment and Commercial Transport programs in Stephenville Crossing since 2006, but what many people at the college don’t know is that he is also a Master Sailor – a certification he achieved so he could start his own seasonal business.
Before joining the CNA team, Charles was employed at the Abitibi Consolidated mill in Stephenville for more than a decade. But when the future of the paper industry started to look bleak, he began formulating a backup plan. “I was very observant to what was going on with global markets and watching how their stocks were dropping rapidly. Seeing how the paper industry was going, to me it was the writing on the wall that the place wouldn`t last. So I figured I would prepare myself because a closure was inevitable – I had to figure out what to do.”
He knew he wanted to stay in the province and the answer he came up with was to start his own business. “I always had an interest with starting my own business but working with Abitibi didn’t provide that opportunity because of the schedule I had.” That changed when he became an instructor at the college, a position where he had the summers off. That’s when he started considering various ideas and began drafting a business plan. “I got really lucky when Abitibi shut down,” he says. ”I applied for
funding and partnerships with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and Industry, Trade and Rural Development and got a grant which helped me open the business.” It was a lengthy process. To protect himself he wanted to find something that would be difficult to duplicate as he was worried about competition springing up. “At that point, I decided I would put a boat tour into operation on the Humber River in Corner Brook. I had time to sit back and look at the type of business I wanted to start – with all businesses you want something where it`s very hard to duplicate.” His thoughts kept returning to one thing — sailing. “My father lived on the water. He was born back in 1914 and he was on the water all his life and ran boats. He didn’t have a lot of education but he was able to navigate boats, read charts and set navigation on boats.
I found it interesting that he could do that technical information. Today’s instruments change that a lot, but back in the old days, you used rulers and markers. I was never involved in that – he had long given it up but he would talk to me about it and that grew my interest,” he says. “I found myself drawn to boating and some of the more challenging things about boating. I watched programs about river boating for years and I found it so interesting to see how they navigated through the narrow channels. The other part that encouraged me is there is no other operation within Newfoundland that has a commercial riverboat tour.” Starting the business wasn’t without its challenges – especially when designing a boat for the low water levels and heavy currents of the Humber River.
“The business required a specific type of craft. That`s where the concept of the catamaran came into play. I got the idea from other places abroad.” A company from Bay Bulls won the tender for the 40-passenger craft that can operate in as little as one foot of water. Once the craft was fabricated, Charles was finally able to open his seasonal business in 2007. It took two years for him to receive his Master Sailor certification through Transport Canada and his training required spending a number of hours running an empty boat on the river before he was permitted to take on passengers.
“A large group might want to do a barbeque, for example, and I had the boat designed so that we can land on a beach, lower a ramp and walk off. We’ll have a BBQ and have a fire on the beach. It’s more than just a boat tour – it’s a nice outing.” — Charlie Foote
“The riverboat operation was really attractive to me because it’s not like you just get in the boat, set your course and go. It’s more of a challenge. I have a specific course that I follow but I’m in a different track all the time depending on the conditions of the day, so you really have to know your stuff and that’s what I was interested in – the challenge.” He also has two seasonal employees – a tour guide who explains the history of the area, and a deckhand. “I have a retired person who used to work for Parks Canada as a biologist who talks about the river, the fish in the river and the history of the area.
There is quite a bit of history like the legend of the Old Man in the Mountain and how it got its name. We have a really good vantage point since we pass right under it. His job is to keep the passengers informed.” The average tour takes about two and a half hours. Five-hour trips are also available, where the boat stops at an island for a snack. “A large group might want to do a barbeque, for example, and I had the boat designed so that we can land on a beach, lower a ramp and walk off. We’ll have a BBQ and have a fire on the beach. It’s more than just a boat tour – it’s a nice outing.”
For more information about Humber River Cruise visit http://www.humberrivercruise.com