Home Business St. Thomas business EAGLE'S NOT A BIRD, NOT A PLANE, BUT A SUPERBOAT



Sept. 10, 2003 – The boat is called the Screamin' Eagle. It's easy to see why. After 45 minutes of sharp twists and turns in the water, the kids in the jet boat are screaming — with pleasure. And sometimes the older "kids" are, too.
"I see a lot of 60-year-olds come out of the boat feeling like they're 10 again," owner Tony Daggar-Nickson says in his Australian accent.
Built in Tasmania, Australia, the 22-passenger Screamin' Eagle was brought to the Virgin Islands this summer specifically for the waters in the Charlotte Amalie harbor. Atlantis Adventures based in Havensight runs and markets the rides aboard the U.S. Coast Guard-certified boat that are attracting visitors and locals alike.
A jet boat differs from other motorboats in that it uses an internal propeller (an "impeller") to provide propulsion. Water is drawn through an inlet in the bottom of the boat and then driven out with tremendous force through a nozzle at the rear. Turning the nozzle changes the boat's direction. The vessel can brake and reverse using deflectors and "thrust buckets," similar to jet aircraft. The result is an exhilarating ride.
"We've seen more demand from tourists for more action, especially among the younger crowd," Achille Barbel, Atlantis sales manager, says. "So we came out with the Screamin' Eagle, which basically delivers the adrenaline and the action with its high-speed turns and maneuvers. Our submarine tour is a beautiful tour and very educational, but we're noticing that some people want more and more excitement."
After launching from the Yacht Haven Marina, the 30-foot jet boat leisurely circles around the mammoth cruise ships docked at Havensight. Once the vessel is safely out in the harbor, the captain picks up speed, heading toward Frenchman's Reef. As the two 350-horsepower diesel engines roar and the speed picks up to about 30 knots, the boat seems as if it's heading for a collision with the jagged cliff. Suddenly, the boat stops on a dime, then does a 180-degree spin as waves splash the smiling faces of the tourists who just got a taste of what this mean machine can do.
"The fastest we got today was from 25 to 35 miles per hour," Capt. Dave Smith, who has 25 years' boating experience, says afterward. But the boat can go up to 50 mph. "The whole time I'm out there, I'm reading the water and the waves, because the nature of the boat, being a flat-bottom boat," he said. "So, I try and smooth it out by the angle and speed in which I take the waves."
Leaving Frenchman's Reef, the boat speeds to the seaward end of Hassel Island, where there are few boats and no swimmers or snorkelers. It's there that Smith executes his intense power stops and smooth spins.
"It's the only tour on St. Thomas that brings you up close to Hassel Island, where you can see a lot of history," Barbel said, including Gregerie East Channel, where there used to be land before it was blown up with explosives, making the St. Thomas harbor "a free-flowing port."
After the Hassel Island action, the passengers speed past Water Island toward Crown Bay, where they get more twirls and spins. You understand now why some describe this as a "rollercoaster on water," with kids screeching and outstretching their arms to the sky.
Getting wet is part of the fun for the passengers, who never know exactly when and where a jet of sea spray may wash into the boat. For most of the youngsters, that's why they enjoy the ride.
"I liked the part when we would turn so I could reach down and touch the water," Kathryn Eisenhauer, who lives on St. Thomas, said afterward. "I had a really good time."
"I liked when we spun around and then stopped, and then the water went over into the boat," Kelly Wallace, 10, said. Shannon Nolan, 9, said the same thing.
Kelly added: "I liked when it stopped, 'cause that's when all the water came in. We got soaked."
After showing off in front of beachgoers at Lindbergh Bay, the captain drives back toward Frenchman's Reef. On the return trip, curious onlookers aboard the Kon Tiki barge stand, drinks in hand, waving at us. When we reach the Havensight dock, the captain does even more fast spins and turns as we wave at the tourists watching and videotaping us from the dock.
What amazes this reporter about the ride is the boat's excellent stability and balance during the sudden stops. With its spoiler in the rear, the Screamin' Eagle hugs the water. No one is jerked forward during the stops, and metal handlebars brace passengers inside their seats.
"A real good naval marine architect," Smith says in explanation of why the boat is so stable in the water. "The way the engines are positioned makes for these turns to be one big, quick, smooth motion."
"I would do this for kids and adults," St. Thomas resident April Newland, who was aboard with her daughter, Shannon, said. "It's a fun thing to do. We forget to be tourists a lot of the time, and we can get all bogged down in work and not have fun."
For tourists, the trip costs $39 for those age 17 and older and $30 for children ages 4-16. For locals, the rates are $30 for adults and $25 for kids. Children under the age of 4 are not allowed on the ride. For more information, call 776-5650 or visit the Atlantic Adventures Web site, where you can book Screamin' Eagle reservations online.

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