Inger and Jeff Latreille
Class V For Sure!
~Monday, August 23, 2021~
We enjoyed a leisurely morning until our wild 1:00 tour with Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours. Their story is actually pretty cool. In 1978, Wilderness Tours started operating motorized rafts during springtime high-water levels on the Ottawa River. A test run was conducted on the Lachine Rapids in 1979 using one of their 30-passenger inflatable boats. Although the raft made it through the rapids, it became apparent that taking passengers on these inflatable rafts was not suitable for these ferocious currents and that to do so, would require a more powerful boat. A jet boat would be the only alternative. At the time, the only commercial jet boating in North America was on the St. Lawrence River. Lachine Rapids Tours began in 1982, prior to establishing Whirlpool Jet Tours, with two, specially designed jet boats. Many improvements were made over the years, but the most significant was making the switch to turbo-charged diesel engines. What was completely unnavigable was now part of the standard trip, thanks to these boats.
We’re so excited to be doing something like this, with no forethought or initial plan. We just dove right into the idea (sorry no pun intended). We launched from Lewiston, NY. Lewiston is a darling town just minutes from our campground so hope we have some extra time to check out the scene there. When we finally arrived, we were briefed on what to expect, signed our lives away on a few forms, and got fitted for life jackets before we were off. They offer 2 choices of rides: the go get ‘em “get soaked” version and the wimpy “stay dry” version. Which version do you think we decided on? Why the “get soaked” version of course! And to top it off, we volunteered for the front seat of the boat. I don’t think a poncho would have served its purpose.
Most of our rapids were in the Devil’s Hole area of the Niagara River which boast 15 to 20 foot waves, have currents with speeds approaching 20 mph and is labeled as a solid Class V rating. Class V rapids are defined as “approaching the limits of navigability and should only be attempted by whitewater experts after taking every available precaution”. And we learned something new. There is such a thing as a Class VI rapid which is basically undoable. This Class VI type of rapid is in the “Whirlpool Section” of the river where we simply just stopped to admire from a short distance. In the early 1990’s, the aforementioned company, Lachine Rapids Tours (now Whirlpool), came to Niagara to test out these specific rapids at Devil’s Hole and in 1992 began commercial operations. Today, they have more guests in a single day than they did their entire first season. They now have 9 custom-built vessels and a staff of over 200. If you ever have the opportunity, you need to go through Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours (no I am not getting any kickbacks for pushing their service). They have a great staff, great boat captains, and fantastic boats. It was an absolute thrill and we were so glad we did it!!
I guess we didn’t want our boat tours to end there, so we took it down a notch or maybe 10 notches to tour the Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises ⚓️in Lockport, NY. Originally built in the 1840’s, the main building had an old Canal town vibe with its 100 windows overlooking the historic Erie Canal. They also have a small cafe, gift shop and outdoor picnic area. Because our group was not very big (maybe 25), we took the 47-foot, single deck Lockview-IV boat which is a 48-passenger motor vessel built to resemble the African Queen and was also made famous by Julia Roberts film “Mystic Pizza”). Snacks and drinks were provided for a small fee. They also have the Lockview-V double-deck 125-passenger vessel built for The Great Lakes as well as the Lockview-VI which is a 75-foot double deck Mississippi-style paddle wheel motor vessel. This one carries up to 150 passengers with an upper and lower deck and a fully licensed bar.
Our tour guide was excellent as he explained how the Lock system works and prepped us ahead of time for each sequence of events. First, we passed under Lockport’s “Upside Down Bridge”, and Lockport’s “Big Bridge” which is the widest bridge in the U.S. at 399 feet wide. The whole time we’re floating down the canal,
I was astounded at the work it took to create 350+ miles of this, some through “deep cut rock” and under lift bridges, and without modernized tools no less. Commercial enterprises were present along the canal back in the day, with stores and shops built as close to the towpath as possible. Farmers with produce stands and merchants with their wares all contended for monetary opportunity from these water’s passing vessels. Though the delivery of goods on this canal is a thing of the past, today 55,000 pleasure craft use this waterway and the towpaths running alongside provide hiking and biking alternatives.
It’s astounding that it takes three million gallons of water to fill Locks 34 & 35 to raise the boat 50 feet. Each lock, going up, takes about 6 minutes to fill with the descent being a little quicker due to nature’s gravity. As we made our way, we enjoyed a few crowd-pleasing tunes, such as “Goin’ Down the Erie Canal”, among others. Definitely added to the overall experience!
As I mentioned before, I was hoping we would end up back in Lewiston which is where we ended our day. We definitely worked up our appetites with all of that water time today so decided on an earlier dinner. So this is what it’s like to have dinner at a reasonable hour?! It was so nice of Shane to treat us to such a nice evening. The place…..Casa Antica, an Italian bistro. With the weather so lovely, we just had to sit outside. Despite the flies, it was the perfect choice. While we sipped a few delicious cocktails, we enjoyed our dinners of grilled salmon and pizza, over more catch-up conversation. What a great way to top off such an amazing day and week with our son.