Story and photos by Terry Duffy
You can say one thing about the folks at Niagara Jet Adventures: They always seem to come up with the unexpected.
Thursday evening, NJA co-owners Mike Fox, and Chris Bohnenkamp of Bohnenkamp's Whitewater Customs of Meridian, Idaho, introduced NJA's latest series of boats - called spinners - to a small gathering at the NJA docks in Youngstown.
NJA expects to have one in operation by this Monday. As shown, the boat is 25 feet in length and seats 21 with two crewmembers and a deck hand. They promise an exciting ride, says Bohnenkamp.
"They're exhilarating; it's like a sports car. They're basically built for fast maneuvering, hot dogging."
Featuring two LSA super charged 6.5-liter engines, they deliver a combined 1,100 horsepower.
"It's fast maneuvering, quick thrust, quick throttle response, it has fast spins," says Bohnenkamp. "There's water thrashing at you - it's a whole 'schmear!' "
"That boat can do 70-plus."
Bohnenkamp says the boats will take passengers on rides at speeds 40 to 50 mph in the lower river and gorge. He intends to take the boats up to the Devil's Hole area.
Bohnenkamp says the new spinners will offer passengers a far different experience than what is found on Whirlpool Jet Bout Tours' open vessels in Lewiston.
"John Kinney's boats are more open. They're like a big bus. You can take them (riders) up, run through the rapids."
"This is a different venue," he continues of NJA's new spinners. "They're kind of like the New Zealand boats: spin real fast, quick maneuvering. It's more of an exhilarating trip. It works awesome up there."
As to the boat's design, Bohnenkamp says they feature "a real shallow Delta bottom (flat bottom), no strikes, no chimes.
"They slide on the water real nice, no hooks in the turns, super maneuverable."
Of the visitors' first experiences on Thursday, he comments, "Awesome. We just had the boat loaded; we were doing 360s coming down. It's super stable, super fun; it doesn't throw you around."
Bohnenkamp, who operates on the Snake River canyon in Idaho, pointed out the new NJA spinners, constructed at a cost of "around $280,000 apiece," are the first his company has ever built. And the first boat will go into operation Monday, once final Coast Guard certifications are complete. "(Then) we'll be up and rolling."
A second spinner boat will be arriving from Idaho in about two to three weeks, he adds.
"With these, we'll have people who are wanting to get wet," says Bohnenkamp, noting the difference to the ride found on NJA's three other vessels, which provide passengers the utmost in comfort on the inside, and for the daring, the thrills of an open wet deck in the rear.
The spinners are a whole different lot.
Of the spinners, "We can run through super shallow water, at high speeds," he says. "It's more of a technical boat (designed) for more technical waters."
He says that feature is simply not found on the WJBT boats upriver.
Bohnenkamp says, when water conditions permit, NJA would be offering spinner rides out on Lake Ontario. "We'll be operating not more than 1 mile off shore. We'll be offering it on those days when it's super smooth. We'll go out there, do spins."
Noting NJA's current whitewater tour boats, he adds, "It's another offering.
"This one is for those kids, families, who want a thrill ride. It's like a carnival ride, quick spins, fast maneuvering, high performance. You can do 40 mph spins on the water."
As said ... the unexpected.
NJA is also moving on its plans to run its enclosed boats completely upriver from Youngstown to the base of the falls. Over past weeks, Bohnenkamp has been making trial runs up river to gauge the maneuverability of NJA's other models, and plans to offer riders the full experience come the first of next season.
"It's going great so far," says Bohnenkamp of the trials. "We've made 14 successful missions up there so far, that section of the river. It's easy to navigate, once you figure it out. That's our specialty, whitewater.
"Starting the first of next season, we'll be going full tilt."
Check out NJA's new spinners, starting this Monday. For more on NJA, its new spinners, and to purchase tickets, visit the NJA website at www.niagarajet.com or call 1-855-NJA-Tour.