High-speed cruises coming to city

'History tour meets thrill ride' when Seadog launches in harbor April 3

  • The Seadog III will take up to 120 passengers at a time from the Inner Harbor to the Key Bridge and back, reaching speeds of 32 knots once the vessel passes Fort McHenry. "I think it will be a major attraction," says Tom Noonan, president and chief executive of Visit Baltimore, the city's tourism agency.
The Seadog III will take up to 120 passengers at a time from the… (Handout photo by Entertainment…)
March 26, 2010|By Edward Gunts | ed.gunts@baltsun.com

First there was speed dating. Then speed job interviews. And now, speed tourism?

That's what's coming to Baltimore.

Entertainment Cruises, operator of the Spirit of Baltimore and Inner Harbor Spirit vessels, is planning to offer "high-speed sightseeing cruises" of Baltimore's harbor starting April 3.

An open-air speedboat called Seadog III will take up to 120 passengers at a time from the Inner Harbor to the Key Bridge and back, reaching speeds of 32 knots once the vessel passes Fort McHenry.

The captain will narrate the tour with information about sights along the way, including Federal Hill, Fells Point and Canton. The company plans five trips a day that will each last 55 minutes and cost $25 for adults and $15 for children.

"It's history tour meets thrill ride," said Tom Noonan, president and chief executive of Visit Baltimore, the city's tourism agency. "I think it will be a major attraction."

It's a new way to experience the harbor and learn about the city at the same time, said Laurie Schwartz, executive director of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore. "It's not a traditional boat ride," she said. "You can go slow and learn about history and then go fast and have a fun, adventure experience."

Baltimore's Inner Harbor Task Force has given its approval, according to Colin Tarbert, Inner Harbor coordinator for the Baltimore Development Corp.

A final "wharfage agreement" for the use of an Inner Harbor pier will be presented to the city's Board of Estimates in the next few weeks, Tarbert said. The city will receive a wharfage fee plus amusement taxes, which amount to approximately 10 percent of all ticket sales, he added.

Steve Dutcher, vice president and general manager of Entertainment Cruises, said his company has been very successful with speedboat tours on Chicago's waterfront and that Baltimore is the second city where it will offer them.

Dutcher said he expects the rides to appeal to a wide range of visitors, including out-of-towners and families with children. He said the Chicago version started in 1996 and now has four vessels that carry 2 million passengers a year, including corporate groups, schoolchildren and even wedding parties.

"It's the most successful attraction at Navy Pier in Chicago, and we expect that it will be very successful in Baltimore," he said.

Dutcher said the vessel will be required to travel below 6 knots within Baltimore's Inner Harbor basin but can speed up to 32 knots once it passes Fort McHenry. The narrated portion of the tour will take place when the boat is starting out, stop when the boat picks up speed, and resume when the boat heads back to the Inner Harbor.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor is a good location for an "impulse buy" such as a speedboat tour because it draws a steady stream of pedestrian traffic for much of the year, he said. "The majority of people who visit Baltimore end up at the Inner Harbor at one point or another."

Noonan said the relatively short Seadog tour means that many visitors on a tight schedule won't have to make a choice between riding the Seadog and visiting the National Aquarium or Maryland Science Center.

Measuring 70 feet long and 15 feet wide, Seadog III was built several years ago by Yank Marine Services of Tuckahoe, N.J.

Dutcher said Seadog III has been inspected and certified by the Coast Guard and must comply with all applicable maritime rules and regulations. He said passengers will not be required to wear life jackets, but there will be seat belts for every passenger and life preservers aboard the vessel. He added that the company will have three crew members on each ride, including the captain. The Seadog tour will create 25 jobs.

Dutcher said he used to oversee the Ride the Ducks tour, an amphibious-vehicle tour that took passengers on the water and over city streets before it ceased local operations last year. One difference between the Ducks rides and the Seadog rides, he said, is that the speedboat won't ever get stuck in Pratt Street traffic on a hot summer day.

"This is a better product, and historically, the numbers have proven that," he said. "Who doesn't want to be out on a boat in July ... versus Pratt Street? People love to be out on the water."

An earlier version of this article misstated plans involving life preservers. According to company officials, passengers will not be required to wear life jackets during the tour, but life preservers will be on board. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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