Jet boating has never been high on my list of things to do mostly because I didn’t know what jet boating was. But all that changed last week when I got a text from a colleague who had just vacationed in New Zealand.
“If you haven’t taken a jet boat ride down the Dart River, it’s a must,” she wrote. “Ask for Eliot to be your guide.”
At $200 an hour, I was tempted to ignore her advice. But, as it happens, the tip was coming from the woman who recruited me for my current job and urged me to accept their offer because she thought the place had “a lot of opportunity.” And we all know how that turned out. Best decision of my life… And maybe Elliot would be my second.
Sadly, we’ll never know. Because when I walked through the front door at Dart River Safari and asked if Elliot was available, the clerk refused to give me any information at all – which is perhaps an understandable reaction to have when a crackpot wearing a ski jacket in the middle of summer wanders in off the street claiming that “a friend” sent her to meet one of the boat drivers. But still. For a company that rents something called a “funyak,” I expected more.
But back to jet boating. Here’s the deal: A jet boat is a high-speed watercraft that’s powered by drawing water into the boat and then expelling it through a high-powered nozzle. Unlike some lame-ass speedboat, a jet boat doesn’t have a propeller, which means that it can be piloted in extremely shallow water. And that’s what makes it exciting – or terrifying, depending on your tolerance for adventure. It’s essentially boating in a puddle.
Here’s a video to give you a sense.
“We can hit a maximum speed of about 90 kilometers an hour,” the driver explained during the tour. “And we only need four inches of water.”
Four inches?! I have heels higher than that! I’ve eaten cakes that were deeper. Propeller or not, how exactly is this possible? And more importantly, why do we still need to wear life jackets?
Before I could ask, the pilot turned the boat on a 45-degree angle and drove in a direction that I can only describe as “left” even though the nose of the boat was pointing straight ahead. It seemed to be the most efficient way for him to get from point A to point B, with point B being the mental mile marker where everyone else thought we were about to hit a bridge. Although, to be fair, he also could have been doing an impression of a hyperactive shark. It never came up.
All jokes aside, my friend was right – as usual. Jet boating is fun. I haven’t felt so alive since the time I took a New York City taxi during a snowstorm.
To add an extra element of excitement to this trip, I should note that I was sitting next to an elderly Indian woman. I don’t know what her thought process was when she hobbled onto the boat with her husband and looked at row after row of empty seats and then wedged herself next to me. I can only assume that she thought I looked like the sort of person she’d like to look at as she injured her back.
“There are some open rows in the back if you want to sit with your husband,” the pilot said to her.
She shook her head. Why do that when you can sit next to me? And maybe that was a good choice on her part because when the boat did a 360-degree turn, she lost her grip on the rail, slammed into me and then went sprawling in the opposite direction. She was never in danger of getting thrown overboard, but she was possibly on her way to losing some teeth so I grabbed her by the arm and yanked her back into the seat. She didn’t say a word, which made me wonder if she spoke English.
She did. I know because later, when we were back on the shore, the woman walked over to me and in very broken English said, “I heart you.”
“I heart you too!” I replied, delighted by her unexpected use of teenage slang.
“No, I hurt you,” she said, and then pretended to push me. I realized that she was apologizing for bashing my shoulder into the metal banister earlier, which was nice of her because that actually did hurt – but only because the day before I had slipped on a rock while trying to get a picture of a glacier and broke my fall with that arm. But none of that was her fault, so no apology necessary.
I waved her away. “It didn’t hurt. That’s OK.”
Then her husband said, “Thank you for looking after her. I saw,” which made me wonder if the two of them, like me, signed up for a day of jetboating without actually knowing what they were getting into.
If that’s the case, I hope I’m as adventurous as them when I’m 80. Because life’s only worth living when you have to hold on tight.