Niagara jet boat tours a good soaking
QMI Agency's Craig Glover sits soaked in the fourth row of a Whirlpool Jet Boat after a run through Class V rapids in the Devil's Hole during an excursion from Niagara-on-the-Lake on Monday June 4, 2012. (Courtesy Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours)
There were waves of excitement, and waves of adrenaline. Then, as the boat dropped into the Class V rapids, came the three-metre-high wall of water.
The people of Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours had promised we would get soaked, and they delivered, in waves.
On an overcast, breezy day earlier this month, I sat with 47 other adventurists, cruising away from the docks of Niagara-on-the-Lake for what began as a gentle run down the historic Niagara River.
Our friendly adventure guide, Sam, regaled us with facts about the historic forts on both the Canadian and U.S. side of the river.
Out of respect to nearby marinas, the captains of the eight-strong fleet keep their speeds down.
"We don't want to rock too many boats," quips Sam.
But that all changes after a few minutes when the captain opens up the throttle on the three 600-horsepower jets that power the specially built hot pink boat, sending us rocketing down the flat water at speeds of up to 105 km/h.
After throwing those numbers out, Sam pauses for a second.
"Want to see what this thing is capable of?" she asks coyly.
Under her instruction, with our fingers twirling in a circular motion above our heads, we ask the captain to perform the jet's signature move, the Hamilton Turn.
The boat lurches right, then quickly left, leaving us spinning on the spot as water sprays across the riders.
At my left 14-year-old Adam Hall is in shock from the cold water rushing past our feet. Adam and his dad, Ken, were vacationing in Niagara Falls from Amherst, Ohio.
"I expected cold, wet and miserable because of the weather today," Ken says. "It's cold and wet, but this is going to be fun."
And the volume of water is no accident. "How many of you thought this was a regular windshield?" Sam asks, pointing at the panels of glass at the front of the boat. "They're not actually what you think. They're really there to make sure as much water gets directed up over the top of you as possible."
Speeding further down the river, the walls of the Niagara gorge begin to tower 175 feet above us. Within minutes, we are facing down Devil's Hole, a series of Class V rapids. We run down them several times.
After waving to a crowd gathered on the banks, the captain turns the boat around, and we make our first run.
From the fourth row, all I can see is a mishmash of white-topped waves toppling over each other.
The boat dips down, then quickly rides up before crashing back down with incredible force, sending a tsunami of water crashing across the open top boat.
After a few runs through Devil's Hole, Sam and the captain seem pleased everyone is thoroughly soaked.
"You'll be ringing out your undies for days!" Sam happily exclaims.
Next, we speed through the mouth of the canyon into its open whirlpool, where once again the signature move, sends a plume of water spraying over us.
Using all 1,800 horsepower to manoeuvre, we make our way over to a series of Class VI rapids.
With an eight-metre vertical drop, Sam explains the rapids which are within our reach, are off-limits due to safety concerns.
There are strong undertows in and around the rapids which have been known to suck entire trees underwater.
"I thought were going to die," Adam says, eyes wide.
Hoots and hollers abound as we thrill to more drenchings on the return voyage. The smiles on every face walking back from the dock sum up the experience.
"That was just great!" Ken says. "If we come back, I'll do it again and make the rest of the family do it too."
NEED TO KNOW
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours operates seven open-air boats and one closed-top boat at three locations: Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls, Ont., and Lewiston, N.Y. Wet Jet passengers must be over 3-foot-8 tall. Prices for a one-hour ride: Adult $61, Children (6-13) $51. See whirlpooljet.com.