Seadog III makes first high-speed trip at Inner Harbor

Tours go out to Key Bridge at speeds of up to 32 knots

April 27, 2010|By Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun

The Strasser family came from New York to Baltimore this week to see wrestling at 1st Mariner Arena, dolphins at the National Aquarium and baseball at Oriole Park.

On Tuesday the Strassers were also the first in line to experience Baltimore's newest attraction: high-speed sightseeing cruises that take passengers from the Inner Harbor to the Key Bridge and back at speeds of up to 32 knots.

"This is our second time coming down to Baltimore," said Julie Strasser, who traveled with her husband, Jack, and 10-year-old son, Anthony. "We wanted to take a cruise that lets you see more than you can just walking around the harbor."

After the ride, Anthony had not only seen the harbor but felt it. "He was trying to get wet," his mother said, "and he did."

The Strassers were passengers on the inaugural voyage of the Seadog III, an open-air speedboat that can take more than 100 passengers at a time on narrated tours of Baltimore's harbor.

Entertainment Cruises, operator of the Spirit of Baltimore and Inner Harbor Spirit vessels, received city approval earlier this month to begin offering the cruises, which have been dubbed "history tour meets thrill ride." It plans up to five trips a day.

The boat left the Inner Harbor's west shore around 12:30 p.m. with a mix of tourists, downtown employees and representatives from Baltimore's tourism agency, Visit Baltimore — about 40 passengers in all.

Besides the Strassers, there were passengers from Seoul, South Korea; and Tel Aviv, Israel. Joseph Cho said he bought tickets to the Seadog by mistake but decided to board with his wife and grand-nephew anyway. Brenda Running, visiting with her 16-year-old son Griffin from Seattle, Wash., let him pick a cruise. He said he chose the Seadog because "it looked like more fun than the other ones."

Operated by a female captain, Jamie Riddell, and billed as "the fastest boat ride in Baltimore," the bright-yellow Seadog is required to travel below 6 knots within Baltimore's Inner Harbor basin but can speed up once it passes Fort McHenry. A crew member narrates the tour when the boat is starting out, stops when the boat picks up speed and resumes when the boat heads back to the Inner Harbor.

As the boat left the shore, first mate Jake Spence pointed out sights along the way, including Federal Hill, the Domino Sugars sign, Tide Point and Fort McHenry. Once the boat passed the fort, Spence said it had reached the point where it can speed up. "Once we get past the no-wake zone," he said, "we'll throw this dog a bone and see what this puppy can do."

Spence told passengers to make some noise if they wanted to go faster.

"The louder you ask, the faster she goes," he said. "Who wants to go for a speed boat ride?"

When he didn't get much response, Spence asked again. "That was pathetic," he said. "WHO WANTS TO GO FOR A SPEEDBOAT RIDE?"

The passengers yelled out, and the boat sped up to 32 knots. Just before the boat got to the Key Bridge, the captain circled around and headed back toward downtown, causing waves to splash up on the sides and get more than a few passengers wet.

Heading into the wind coming back, the ride felt faster than going out, like a roller coaster on water. Passengers laughed and joked with each other as the boat hit bumps or dodged buoys, and they waved at slower vessels in the water and a TV helicopter circling overhead.

As promised, the boat docked about 50 minutes after it left. The high-speed part lasted about 15 minutes.

Entertainment Cruises has been operating high-speed sightseeing cruises in Chicago since 1996 and now has four boats drawing a total of 2 million passengers a year.

In Baltimore, tickets cost $25 for adults and $15 for children ages 3 to 11. Dogs ride free. For the first week, Entertainment Cruises is offering three rides a day on weekdays and five on weekends. Updated tour information is available at http://www.seadogcruises.com/Baltimore or by calling 888-957-2325.

Chip Lee, director of marine operations for Entertainment Cruises, said he was pleased with the first ride and expects the Seadog to be a big hit in Baltimore.

"This has been real successful for us in Chicago," he said. "We think it will be in Baltimore, too. It's something fun and exciting and new to do."

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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