Pssst, listen up. I have a dirty little secret to tell: I love personal watercraft. That’s right, I said it. I’m crazy about those fast, flashy, impossible to ignore buzz bombs that drive some other boaters nuts. Sorry.
My first ride was on a standup Kawasaki in the Lake of the Ozarks when I was about 13 or 14. I probably spent more time ingesting water and swimming after the machine than actually driving it. (Thank goodness for kill switches.) But I still enjoyed every minute of that rental — to the tune of about $120 an hour.
Fast forward 10 years. My first assignment as an honest-to-goodness “marine journalist” was to evaluate Kawasaki’s model-year 2001 Jet Skis while riding down the Colorado River from Hoover Dam to Lake Havasu City, Ariz. How’s that for synchronicity?
By this time, sit-down models were all the rage, which was fortunate, because I was not about to ride 130 miles on a standup. The trip took two days; we camped overnight on a sandbar just north of Davis Dam, sleeping in a rented houseboat. Not only was this excursion great fun, it also introduced me to long-distance waterbike cruising. And that’s where the love affair really started.
Let’s face it, there are only so many times you can ride another circle in the bay. But touring on a PWC, like touring on a motorcycle, expands your horizons and opens doors to countless new adventures. In addition to that Colorado River trip, I’ve been fortunate enough to cruise parts of the Florida Keys, the Emerald Coast and Bayou Segnette State Park just outside New Orleans.
For the most part, these tours were arranged by the PWC manufacturers and their marketing teams, which made it easy on me. It’s a lot more daunting to set off over the horizon all alone. But don’t worry! There are several professional watercraft tour operators out there who offer similar all-inclusive group outings to destinations both exotic and unexpected.
Discovery River Tours (www.pwctours.com) has trips from two to five days in locations including the Low Country around Savannah, Ga., the Atchafalaya Basin in south-central Louisiana, and beautiful Cape Fear, N.C. For all the neutral (or negative) opinions that boaters have about PWCs, there are some things these craft can do that even the smallest dinghy can’t — like skim through mangrove hummocks and explore shallow wetlands.
Historical cruises along the Hudson River and across the Chesapeake Bay are offered through Watercraft Adventure Tours (www.watercraftadventuretours.com). Each trip and operator differs slightly, but most include experienced guides, hotel accommodations, meals, marina mooring and ramp/permit fees. Typically, all you pay for is travel, PWC rental, gas and incidentals.
For the truly brave, WaterTop Unlimited (www.watertopevents.com) offers the Bimini Road Challenge, which involves crossing the Gulf Stream en route to the closest Bahama island — with considerable time spent in the Bermuda Triangle. The 70-mile open water passage is not for the meek, but the rewards include premium accommodations and the satisfaction of knowing you’ve achieved a one-of-a-kind accomplishment.