August 26, 2014
History Made by Boat Tour That Can Change Face of Tourism
The Himalayas, part of the one mile stretch of the fierce Whirlpool Rapids on the Lower Niagara River, is what prevents boaters from traveling under the falls.
That and the Devil’s Hole Rapids.
These two stretches of wild and furious water stand between the falls and people boating in the placid waters upstream.
These two stretches of rapids are also what made James Glynn of the Maid of the Mist fabulously wealthy.
Glynn, for 42 years, had leases to the only docks on both the Ontario and New York sides of the river, docks located south of the Whirlpool Rapids – between the rapids and the falls.
And these two stretches of rapids are why Hornblower Cruises is paying some $300 million more than Glynn to have the exclusive use of Canadian docks, a right which the company won in a bidding war in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Glynn still has the New York docks and was recently awarded the right to build winter docks at the site of the old Schoellkopf Power Plant owned by the state.
Glynn, who did not have to bid against competitors in New York, pays eight percent of boat tour sales to the state.
Hornblower, who had to compete against Glynn and other bidders, pays 22 percent to Ontario – meaning the smarter Ontario government gets millions more per year than New York for the same boat tours.
But were it not for the rapids, especially the high rising Himalayas, the Maid of the Mist and Hornblower’s leases for their docks would not be worth much at all, since anyone could boat from places north on the Lower Niagara and travel right under the falls.
The water itself is no one’s monopoly -it belongs to the people.
But if rapids prevent boaters from getting there, and two companies have monopolies on the only two docks between the rapids and the falls, then these two companies can make their fortunes, as Glynn has done, and Hornblower expects to do, by giving people boat rides under the falls.
But that may change now.
Historically no boat could make it past the rapids and certainly the few that ever did, did not carry paying passengers.
Of the two stretches of rapids, the Whirlpool Rapids (and its Himalayas) are more fierce, being a category six rapids (the highest ranking), while the Devil’s Hole rapids are rated category five.
About 10 years ago, a company called Whirlpool Jet Boat tours designed boats that were able to traverse the Devil’s Hole Rapids – but not the Himalayas.
The company has successfully been giving tours to thousands of paying customers from launches on both sides of the Niagara, from Lewiston and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Through and past the Devil’s Hole Rapids all the way up to the edge of the Whirlpool Rapids – just before the Himalayas, it is a wet ride for passengers who seem to love the fun of getting drenched and rocking up and down in the Devil’s Hole rapids.
Of course the boats have to stop at the edge of the Whirlpool Rapids since the Whirlpool Jet boats cannot risk the Himalayas.
Over the course of time, a few hardy souls made one time trips past the Himalayas at risk to life and limb and several survived, but no one ever seriously considered these waters passable on a regular basis.
That is until last year when Niagara Falls businessman Mike Fox and rapids shooter Chris Boehnenkamp teamed up to design a boat that not only could traverse the Himalayas, but take passengers comfortably as well.
They designed their boat and ran the run once last year with a skeleton crew to the surprise of all.
This year, Fox and Boehnenkamp decided to bring a few witnesses including for the first time in history a journalist (this writer) and a four-man TV production crew from At Your Leisure TV that included Darren Kinder
Scott Miller, Kory Toone, and Tyler Pollock to traverse the entire Lower Niagara.
This constituted the press and along with Captain Bohnenkamp, his crew, consisting of Clay Hayward (marine mechanic) Lloyd Schrack,(pilot) Aaron Dey, (guide), Eric Elben, ( pilot) and Paul Grainger (pilot) the party set out to traverse the Himalayas and go under the falls.
What this in effect did, and it has been given to few to ever witness it, was to take its passengers through the entire Lower Niagara River – from where Fox’s boats disembark – next to the Youngstown Yacht Club, not far from the mouth of the Lower Niagara where it meets Lake Ontario, all the way to under Niagara Falls. In between, both coming and going, the boat dared the Devil’s Hole Rapids and Himalayas and, adding a measure of comfort, in a dry boat as well.
The ultimate idea is that, if Fox and Boehnenkamp – under the name of Niagara Jet Adventure Tours – can design boats that can safely take passengers beyond the two rapids and under the falls, they have opened up a whole new tourism opportunity for this area.
Something no tourist ever got before.
Imagine, Fox offers everything that the Maid of the Mist and Hornblower offer and everything the Whirlpool Jet Boat offers, plus a cascade through the Himalayas which no one offers.
And more: the fact that their boats alone can go the whole of the Lower Niagara which includes calm waters and scenes below the gorge of rare and exquisite beauty, the passengers seesights never seen before by boaters or tourists.
The two men have three boats which can take 42 passengers at a time and plan to build several larger vessels next year.
Combined, these boats and the tours they offer can revolutionize the boat tour experience on the Lower Niagara and Niagara Falls.
Naturally the prices – once they open for commercial business – will not be the $17 for a 20 minute boat trip that the Maid of the Mist offers.
The trip takes about two hours and will almost certainly exceed a $100 price tag and maybe double that.
The Whirlpool Jet boats, which can’t get anywhere close to the falls, charge $60, which, by the way, is the same price Fox charges for his current tours – which, like the Whirlpool Jet boat tours – cross the Devil’s Hole Rapids and stop at the edge of the Whirlpool Rapids.
But Fox wants more for tourists and he needed to prove it could be safely done, with credible witnesses.
So I and several others took the maiden tour, captained by Bohnenkamp, on the morning of July 4, 2014.
It was a success.
And it bodes well for his tour becoming the premier boat tour of Niagara Falls.
Does that mean that Maid of the Mist and Hornblower Cruises are doomed? Probably not..
Only now there will be more competition.
The Maid and Hornblower boats can take between 600 -700 passengers at a time.
There will always be people who want the 20-minute, $20 boat tour under the falls.
But what Fox and Boehnenkamp offer — the entire river – this is different, this is bigger.
Broader and larger.
This is the best.
by Frank Parlato
Source: Niagara Falls Reporter