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Hay River's Ray Benoit and his son Mark aboard the Eagle 2005, a cabin built on top of two 30-foot pontoons. The Eagle arrived in Inuvik three weeks after heading out on the Great Slave Lake from Hay River.

Homemade houseboats

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Aug 26/05) - Two curious-looking watercraft docked in town last week at the end of a three-week voyage down the Mackenzie River.

"I did this trip in a zodiac back in 1988 and decided to do it in style this time around," said Ray Benoit, captain of the Eagle 2005, which is basically a shack built on two 30-foot pontoons.

Benoit, who has lived in Hay River for more than 20 years, admitted his first trip nearly ended in disaster when his group got lost in the Delta.

"They sent the helicopters looking for us," he said. "This time I brought a compass."

Benoit also equipped the Eagle 2005 with a radio, a barometer, a nautical clock and detailed maps of the river.

Benoit's son Mark, two friends from Germany and Florence and Vern Burger - also longtime residents of Hay River - joined the adventure, as well.

The Burgers travelled in their own custom boat, a yellow shack mounted on two 15-foot pontoons and appropriately named the Queen Bee.

"You should've seen the Queen Bee on the (Great Slave) lake," said Benoit, recalling some rough weather the two boats navigated through. "I couldn't believe she made it."

Vern Burger's version of the events that transpired at the beginning of the trip spoke less of disbelief and more of the confidence he had in the Bee and his seamanship.

"I was proud of her," he said, patting his custom river-craft. "I had to open the front and back doors to let the waves pass through the cabin, though."

A perhaps-wiser Mrs. Burger opted out of the stormy lake crossing and rode to Fort Providence with her son.

There she rejoined Vern and the crew of the Eagle 2005.

The plan to run the river in such a manner was hatched, according to Benoit, five years ago, but the ship itself took just two weeks to construct.

As for the group's plans after disembarking, Benoit and company plan to take in the sights of Inuvik.

The younger Benoit spent the weekend at Noel and Alice Andre's fish camp in Tsiighetchic, learning how to make dry fish.

"I'm happier than a clam," said Ray, resting his feet on the Eagle's bridge. "When I was my son's age living in New Brunswick, I built a raft with a sail, took it out to sea and had the best time. Now look at me. I'm 60 and still having a ball with rafts."