The writer’s 16-year-old son, Jacob, was excited to drive the boat himself. // © 2017 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Feature image (above): Guests drive their own mini-speedboats around San Diego Bay with San Diego Speed Boat Adventures. // © 2017 San Diego Speed Boat Adventures
When my teens found out they would be driving their own speedboat around San Diego Bay, they were beyond excited. They couldn’t believe that it didn’t mean they would be riding in a speedboat with a professional driver, or taking the wheel for only a few minutes. When I assured them that, indeed, they would be at the helm the entire time, I was suddenly mother of the year.
On an excursion with San Diego Speed Boat Adventures, drivers who are ages 16 and older can experience the thrill of navigating their own speedboat on the open water with the security of knowing they are under constant supervision of a skilled guide. The company’s 13-foot mini-speedboats accommodate up to three people and offer guided narration via a one-way communication system.
Our guide, Glen, told us that Speed Boat Adventures runs its tour in a “ducks in a row” fashion; the guide is in front (Glen says he is the “lead duck” or “daddy duck”), and the rest of the boats follow in a line behind him as his “ducklings.” That means a guide can always see all the boats, and if anyone needs help, he can get to them quickly.
Although Glen made a point of telling us that it wasn’t a race, he also said that for 80 percent of the excursion, the boats go fast — about 30 mph.
“That way, we make it around the bay; you get to see everything in one lap; and you get to drive speedboats, which is what you came here to do,” he said.
Once we were all well outside the no-wake zone of the harbor, we took off. Glen wasn’t kidding — we were going fast. The first leg of the tour took us to a bait barge, where California sea lions spend their day basking in the sun. Nearby is Ballast Point, home of Naval Base Point Loma, where we saw two nuclear-powered military submarines in the water — something Jacob, my 16-year-old son (and personal driver), thought was pretty impressive.
After a big U-turn, we were off again, this time for the longest leg of the tour: toward downtown San Diego. With the city skyline as a backdrop, we proceeded to the USS Midway, a 972-foot-long U.S. aircraft carrier that that served as the Persian Gulf flagship in Operation Desert Storm. From the water, we got the full impact of the size of this massive ship, especially as we passed directly underneath its bow. From the USS Midway, it was a just short jaunt back to the harbor. That’s when we saw the spectacular Attessa IV, a luxury 330-foot super yacht — complete with a helicopter on its deck — built by Montana-based industrialist Dennis Washington. For my boys, it was certainly a highlight of our speedboat tour.
On the cruise back to the dock, I asked Jacob what he liked most about the experience.
“I like that I was able to drive the boat myself,” he said. “It was so much cooler than just sitting on a big tour boat listening to a guide.”
While this is definitely a family-friendly activity, Speed Boat Adventures recommends that riders are at least 5 years old. However, children under 5 are welcome on a case-by-case basis as long as the water conditions are favorable and the child is physically able to hold on, since there are no restraints in the boats. In addition, Glen says the company recommends that families choose the first or last tour of the day. Dani Kimmel, office manager for Speed Boat Adventures, adds that it is also recommended that small children ride between two adults to ensure protection on both sides.
Two-hour tours depart daily at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. The use of a single boat (one person per boat) is $120 and $140 for a double boat (two people per boat).
Agents should note that even if clients don’t usually get seasick, it’s a good idea for them to take medication or wear a seasickness patch or band, because the speedboats rock easily with waves and wakes. Since it can be cold on the water — particularly in the morning and evening — bringing a sweatshirt is also a smart idea.
In addition to San Diego, Speed Boat Adventures offers tours in St. Petersburg and Miami in Florida, and Los Angeles and San Francisco tours are coming soon.