For more than three decades, Malcolm Bunting has ferried tourists to the foot of one of Canada's most famous landmarks, his steady hands guiding the Maid of the Mist into the powerful spray of Niagara Falls.
One of the tour boat company's longest-serving captains, Mr. Bunting has made the 800-metre voyage some 110,000 times, pushing through mighty currents past the American falls to the more dramatic Horseshoe on the Canadian side.
It's a job many would find exciting, maybe even glamorous, but for the 63-year-old Mr. Bunting, it's routine.
“The first few years, it's different,” he said on Wednesday while sitting in the cabin of the Maid of the Mist VII, the newest vessel reserved for senior captains. “But it's like anything, you get used to it.”
Mr. Bunting, who goes by the nickname Mal, was to set to step away from the wheel for good Wednesday night.
As he led the vessel on back-to-back trips during his last day before retirement, the seasoned sailor admitted he'll miss the routine of heading out into the waters up to 22 times a day for eight months of the year.
At the same time, “I think I'm going to fit into retirement,” he said with a chuckle.
“It'll be different, but at first, it'll feel like the off-season came early.”
Only a dozen or so have piloted the Maid of the Mist boats in the past 50 years, the company said. With 36 years under his belt, Mr. Bunting has been at the helm the longest on record.
Over the years, he's driven countless celebrities, politicians and royalty on the half-hour trip, including former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and the duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson.
He spotted the late Princess Diana and her sons, William and Harry, on their famous tour of the falls in 1991, although they didn't ride his boat.
Still, it's the everyday people the retiring captain said he remembers most.
“The most interesting people to me are the people you see out on the deck right now – the families, the kids, the people that are here on vacation who have never seen anything like this before,” he said.
“They come up to us at the end of the trip and say ‘Wow, that was great, can we stay on and go again?’ ”
Mr. Bunting has spent most of his life on or around boats. His family moved to Canada from England when he was four years old, and he started working at a marina in Oakville, Ont., at 14.
He remembers riding the Maid of the Mist during a school trip in Grade 7 or 8, “but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would finish out my career here.”
He applied for the job of first mate in 1975 after reading an ad in the paper and worked his way up to the rank of captain.
But Mr. Bunting plans to stay on dry land for a while, criss-crossing the country by motorcycle with his wife of 40 years.
“I plan to stay as far away from boats as I can,” he said.
Thousands of people ride the Maid of the Mist boats each day during the tourist season, the company said. Eight full-time captains work eight months of the year, with four winter months off.
Each boat can hold up to 600 people.