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JULY 01 - JULY 09, 2014

Niagara Jet Adventures to Run Rapids to Falls In Hope of Offering Regular Tour Service

By Mike Hudson

July 01, 2014

The toughest part of the rapids (bottom left) nobody runs, but Mike Fox (bottom right) and his Niagara Jet Adventure boats (above) are going to give it a whirl.

While the Maid of the Mist and Hornblower Niagara tour boats confine themselves to the relatively peaceful waters of the falls basin, and the Whirlpool Jet Boat only ventures from Lewiston to the start of the Whirlpool Rapids, entrepreneur Mike Fox's Niagara Jet Adventures, which began operations this season, has something entirely new in mind.

And if he's successful, it may change the face of riverboat tourism forever in Niagara Falls.

In April of last year, Fox and his partner, Chris Bohnenkamp, tested one of the new 26-foot BWC Gatling series jet boats with a run up the length of the lower river, from their dock in Youngstown, past Devil's Hole and beyond the Whirlpool Rapids, all the way to the falls basin.

The run had never been attempted by jet boat before, though an earlier iteration of the Maid of the Mist did it once and, each year, a handful of experienced kayak men pit themselves against nature, facing the 25-foot waves known as the Himalayas that occur in the rapids.

Fox's boats were built in Idaho and tested on the Snake River, the "River of No Return" made famous by Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe in the 1954 film of the same name.

Fox faced naysayers from the beginning. Back in 1972, three people died when a so-called "unflippable" raft designed by engineers at Cornell University capsized and threw all 29 of its passengers into the rapids. Had it not been for police and Coast Guard helicopters, the death toll would have been higher.

These and other disasters led some, including Whirlpool Jet Boat operator John Kinney, to call Fox's attempt foolhardy. Kinney told the Buffalo News at the time that Fox was tempting fate by running the rapids.

But Fox was undaunted. With Snake River veteran Sean Value piloting the jet boat, they began their historic run up the Niagara rapids.

The tough part of the trip, from the start of the rapids to the base of the Horseshoe Falls, took about seven minutes, Value said.

This week, the Reporter learned, Fox and his crew will make the run again. Authorities on both sides of the river have been informed of Fox's intentions, something he didn't do last year.

"Stunting is illegal at the falls, and we were worried that people would think of it that way," he said. "What we're doing is not a stunt. We're practicing."

Practicing for what?

"If we are successful, we will be the first tour boat company to deliver the complete Niagara experience," he said, "through the rapids and to the falls themselves."

Imagine. Previous jet boat expeditions using the older generation watercraft employed here for decades allowed visitors only the slightest taste of one of the greatest whitewater stretches in the world. Fox wants to give thrill seekers an experience to last a lifetime – a chance to roar through the Himalayas and down what daredevil kayakers have dubbed "the Pipeline," a 30-meter long crashing diagonal wave named after the treacherous North Shore Oahu surfing spot, and through the Whirlpool itself to the falls.

Fox would not just be competing with Kinney and his Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, but with Jimmy Glynn's Maid of the Mist and the newly launched tour boats operated by Hornblower Niagara.

"They control the docks (below the falls)," Fox said. "The water belongs to everyone."

One of the main aims of this week's run will be to begin mapping the uncharted rapids waters. Value said last year's expedition was accomplished by "reading the rocks," something that would be impractical given a regular schedule and paying passengers.

"Our rivers are way rockier," he said, referring to the Western waterways he'd been accustomed to. "We've run stuff that's never been navigated before with rocks. But we read it, determine where it is (the rocks), and how the water flows."

Fox said that the complete navigation of the Lower Niagara has been the goal of Niagara Jet Adventures from the start.

"This is what these boats were designed for," he said. "At this point, we just have to show that it's safe."

Should he succeed, Fox's company will be able to offer a 21st Century thrill ride unlike no other anywhere in the world. That will translate into success for his fledgling business, and an even greater numbers of adventure tourists making Niagara Falls their destination.





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