I have this love-hate relationship with boats.
I love being on the water. I hate feeling seasick. I love being on the water. I hate sharks and jellyfish. But boy do I love being on the water!
So when I recently had the opportunity to tour Boston Harbor in my own private mini speed boat via Boston Harbor Mini Speed Boats, I was thrilled – mostly. I knew I’d probably be fine on the seasick front because I’ve only had issues on sailboats. But as I sat and signed my life away (you know the drill…“risk of bodily injury, death,” blah blah), I have to admit I was a little nervous.
Over the next 90 minutes, I am happy to say I was seasick-free. But a shark and plenty of jellyfish were in my near future. I’ll get back to that.
I handed over the papers, fastened a life jacket to my chest, and climbed on board the yellow F-13 mini speed boat. It was a beautiful Boston day, bathed in blue skies and sunshine – a great day to be on the water. After a quick tutorial, I learned how to put the boat in drive, neutral, and reverse. Then, our pack of three boats, which consisted of our guide, a mother/daughter team from New York, and me pushed off from India Wharf (located next to the New England Aquarium) and began our sightseeing tour. I had to ask: Has anyone flipped over in one of these things?
“It’s never happened,” said Cody Arrington, the operational manager, who perhaps thought he was calming my nerves by saying, “It’s like driving a car, but with no brakes.”
Cody, 21, was our fearless guide that day. He grew up in Middleton but spent his summers on the water, driving boats on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire as a kid.
“We’re a family that all loves boats,” Cody said.
And that’s why his father, Dan Arrington, opened Boston Harbor Mini Speed Boats in 2012. Cody helps run it every summer while home from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, where he’s studying biology. He says the company does 2,000 to 3,000 tours a season and sells about 500 Groupons a year.
“You won’t see Boston like this on any of the tour boats,” said Cody proudly.
As we began our tour, Cody told us to play follow-the-leader and so we did. We accelerated slowly in single file through the no-wake zone. Cody communicated with us via a walkie-talkie lodged in the boat. We went through Fort Point Channel, past the touristy Boston hot spots I’ve seen many times before — the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, the Barking Crab restaurant, the Boston Children’s Museum. But seeing them from the water was a refreshing experience.
When we passed the Boston Children’s Museum, I couldn’t help but smile as children waved from the railing in front of the water and yelled shouts of delight when I waved back. When passing by the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, tourists stood elbow-to-elbow on Eleanor, a replica of the ship that was a part of the 1773 tea party. We quietly glided by down below, taking in the sight from our comfortable little vessel while Cody provided our own private history lesson.
As Melissa Haacker, 33, from New York (the daughter in the mother/daughter duo in front of me) aptly commented later on, “It was intimate.”
Soon it was time to leave the no-wake zone behind, pick up the speed, and cruise toward the Boston Harbor Islands. That’s when my nerves kicked in. The boats go up to 30 miles per hour but I spared my boat any wear and tear that day. As Cody and the ladies took off, I very much brought up the rear. Feeling like a wimp, I kicked it into a higher gear. As I gained speed, the bow of the boat lifted briefly and I frantically tried to see over it (I was told this would happen as the boat moved on top of the water, but I still panicked). My arms were tight with tension. As I sped up, it felt like I caught a little air, which freaked me out. Water shot up and sprayed my sunglasses. I attempted to clean them while keeping up with the group, steering with my left hand (I’m a righty) because I had to control the speed with my right. In the middle of this most frantic 15 minutes of my adventure, I glanced to the side and saw a private boat named “Bedlam” with a picture of a shark go by and thought, “How appropriate” (you didn’t think I encountered a real shark, did you?).
While I was struggling with my own personal fears, the ladies and Cody looked as relaxed as could be up ahead. We all met up in Dorchester Bay, where we threw our boats into neutral so Cody could tell us about the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, which is located on the west shore of the bay. As I sat, grateful for the slower pace, Cody instructed me to look over the side of my boat. I peered down at what must have been hundreds of jellyfish. The water was teeming with them. I caught my breath, but not because I was afraid. It was spectacular. Later on, Cody would say, about the jellyfish, “That hasn’t been like that for the past couple of years, so that is pretty cool.”
Soon, we were on the move again, speeding toward the Charlestown Navy Yard. And this time I felt more confident. I may have even hit close to 20 miles per hour. But there was no pressure by Cody to go faster, which I appreciated, and he always kept me in his sight. We passed by the Nantucket Lightship . Then we were at the USS Constitution and gazing at the Zakim Bridge and TD Garden.
I couldn’t help but think how much more pleasant it was dealing with boat traffic, rather than car traffic, on a Friday morning. There was a friendly vibe that’s sorely missing from our paved highways. I was sharing the waterway with boats sporting names like “Good Times,” as well as kayakers, sailboats, ferries, whale watch boats, and more. It sounds corny, I know, but a seagull actually flew alongside me as we heading back for India Wharf. A warm and pleasant feeling of being one with nature oozed through my body.
We cruised by—and ogled—million-dollar yachts parked at Commercial Wharf before heading back to our dock, where I parallel parked a boat for the first time and didn’t do too bad of a job.
Back on the dock, Melissa and her mother Linda couldn’t say enough about their experience. They discovered Boston Harbor Mini Speed Boats online through a Google search. The pair has become sort of professional tourists in these parts, admitting to going on “just about every tour of Boston” during their frequent visits here. As much as she loves tours, you roll the dice with the company you wind up having to keep on them, Melissa said, commenting, “There’s always that one person on the tour that makes it rotten.”
“It was phenomenal,” said Melissa. “What a great way to view all of Boston.”
If you go: Boats depart from India Wharf Marina at 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. weekdays and 10:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through September 14. The cost is $139.95 per boat for a 90-minute rental. The boat seats two people. Arrive 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure. Each driver and passenger must sign a boat rental contract, a liability waiver agreenment, and participate in a boat safety and operation review.Kristi Palma can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on twitter @kristipalma.