DALVAY BY-THE-SEA, P.E.I. – Prince William traded navy blue for drab olive and the luxury of a landau for the throb of a Sea King helicopter Monday as he donned a flight suit and practised a quintessentially Canadian manoeuvre — landing on the water.
The Duke of Cambridge traded his crisp jacket and tie for a flight suit and helmet before climbing into the co-pilot’s seat of a grey Sikorsky CH-124, its lower half sealed up with yellow tape, and plopping down repeatedly on the surface of Dalvay Lake.
With William at the controls, the chopper tried the “waterbirding” move several times — sometimes turning circles on the water like a giant mechanical duck, windshield wipers clearing the spray from the windscreen, other times performing a touch-and-go exercise that at times pushed the water levels nearly to the windshield.
Waterbirding is an exercise that was invented in Canada to ensure Canadian Coast Guard pilots are equipped to deal with emergencies when operating over water. And if the number of times they tried it was any indication, the duke was smitten with the technique.
Before taking off, the duke could be seen through the helicopter windows strapping in to the co-pilot’s position as Kate — the Duchess of Cambridge — chatted and watched from a distance.
William is no stranger to the Sea King — as a flight lieutenant with the Royal Air Force, he’s a fully qualified helicopter pilot who currently serves on board a British Sea King as a member of the British military’s Search and Rescue Force.
Canada’s CH-124 helicopters are notorious and controversial for their age and constant service requirements — 30 hours of maintenance for every hour of flight. However, the exercise with the duke appeared to go off without a hitch.
The demonstration took place at the Dalvay by-the-Sea resort during the Prince Edward Island leg of the royal tour.
“I have followed the Royal Family because I grew up with the grandmother and her sister, of course, and followed along all those years,” said Shirley Hennessey, 86, of Charlottetown, who sat by the water’s edge, protected from the elements by a blue poncho.
“I think they’re just gorgeous, they’re just beautiful,” she said of William and Kate. “They’re so natural looking and seem to be enjoying themselves.”
Earlier Monday, the cradle of Confederation was teeming with smiling faces young and old as William and Kate began their day in Prince Edward Island at the site of the Charlottetown Conference, which laid the foundation for Canada’s birth.
Thousands of people, many of them having spent the night outside, were gathered at Province House, P.E.I.’s legislature and the site of the historic meeting some 146 years ago that paved the way for Confederation.
A sea of small Canadian flags had gathered beneath slightly overcast skies to catch a glimpse by the time the duke and duchess arrived — Kate in a cream pencil dress by Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen, William his traditional blue suit with a burgundy tie.
“It is quite a moment for Catherine and me to be standing here in the Atlantic Canada, in front of Province House, where Canadian federation was forged,” William told the enthusiastic, cheering crowd.
“Here, in the crucible of Canadian nationhood, we look forward to meeting many of you.”
Premier Robert Ghiz introduced William, announcing the establishment of a scholarship fund in the name of the duke and duchess.
“We have both so looked forward to this day, and discovering more about your beautiful island,” William said.
“We are also delighted that you have chosen to inaugurate a scholarship in our names. Thank you for this wonderful and generous welcome.”
From there, the duke and duchess split up and began working the crowd, shaking hands with the many spectators pressed up against the barricades along the street, utterly unfazed by the spitting rain that began to fall.
Jennifer Thomson, 26, had a poster saying “Kate can I borrow your outfit?”
“I think she’s setting a new fashion trend and I personally love them and would love to wear them,” Thomson said.
It was important for the couple to come to Canada, she added. “I think it will only strengthen the ties between Canada and England and the monarchy.”
The crowd was almost universally friendly, save for one lone protester toting a small sign that read, “You are not my prince.” Unsympathetic spectators nearby used umbrellas to obscure the sign.
With a gentle rain falling, the duke and duchess climbed aboard their open-air landau, a choir singing in the background, for a short procession down crowd-lined Great George Street towards the waterfront.
Once there, they took in a brief musical theatre performance of “The Talking Stick,” which tells First Nations stories from across the country, before climbing the stage to greet some of the performers.
That was followed by another mad scrum of hand-shaking and picture-taking with the legions of fans gathered by the shoreline.
They’ll end the day in Yellowknife, the next stop on their nine-day tour.