DALVAY BY-THE-SEA, P.E.I. — Prince William has embarked on the most nail-biting adventure of his visit to Canada — an over-water manoeuvre aboard a Sea King search-and-rescue helicopter.
The Duke of Cambridge traded his crisp jacket and tie for drab olive flight suit and helmet to take part in a demonstration of “waterbirding,” an emergency water landing procedure.
He could be seen through the helicopter windows strapping in to the co-pilot’s position before taking to the air, as Kate — the Duchess of Cambridge — chatted and watched from a distance.
After looping around, the grey helicopter, its lower portion covered with spots of yellow tape, descended to the surface of the water, then moved in a circle for several minutes like a boat with rotors as a crowd of invited guests watched from the shoreline.
They took off and then repeated the exercise several times, landing on the water — the chopper’s windshield wipers clearing away the spray — before taking off and circling around for another go.
William, a flight lieutenant with the Royal Air Force, currently serves as co-pilot 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 for their age and constant service requirements — 30 hours of maintenance for every hour of flight. However, today’s exercise 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.
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.