Florida has a new attraction -- a Hydro Jet, a first of its kind hybrid boat and jet ski that takes beachgoers on a scenic ride.
DESTIN — It was a busy Tuesday for HarborWalk Village as tourists packed the docks while trying to find their rented rides for a day on the water.
It was a lime green hybrid machine, however, that caused a traffic jam at the docks by noon as people stopped to admire the vessel. The sleek ride was guarded by a gentleman known only at the docks as "The Boat Man," who was happy to let anyone who asked know it was the only one if its kind in the world — the Hydro Jet.
"It's the world's largest Jet Ski (personal watercraft)," The Boat Man said. "It's a 27-passenger tour boat that takes you out to see the beach, jump waves and find dolphins. It's a hybrid of a boat and a Jet Ski."
Dolphins and sharks are just what riders saw Tuesday while the boat coasted along the sandbar near the beach. Several sharks jumped out of the water, while curious dolphin calves circled the boat below.
The Hydro Jet is operated by Coast Guard-certified captains including Chandler Clark who, along with a crew member, guides tourists into the Gulf of Mexico waters at a max speed of 35 mph. During Tuesday's ride, young married couple Kyle and Amanda Padilla were front and center while searching for pods of dolphins near the beach on Okaloosa Island.
"Our adrenaline was pumping," Kyle said after Tuesday's ride. "You got to see something you normally didn't see with the dolphins and the sharks. It was cool to be able to ride without being in a seat belt but a motorcycle-type seat instead."
"It actually did feel like a jet ski," Amanda added. "I remember them saying when we were on the Hydro Jet that some times it's about the adventure of the ride and others it was about seeing the marine life. I liked seeing the dolphins, sharks and the sea turtles because that's not something you get to see just anywhere."
The Hydro Jet is the first of its kind, as it uses a 500-horse-power John Deere motor and a six blade propeller. It was designed by Mike Bonner, who passed away in 2013 before the boat was completed. His son, Jordan Bonner, carried on the project in his father’s place.
The boat was then sold to R. J. Stough, who operates it out of the harbor.
Stough said there is one half-finished Hydro Jet stored in his Alabama garage. He plans to have the vessel completed, so it can likely operate in another beach town in Alabama.
The hour-long boat ride is for ages 5 to 75. Adults pay $29 per person and children from ages 5 to 12 years pay $17.