White Knuckle Fun

‘Wild Thing Jet Boat Rides’ plans summerlong season in Madison

New thrill attraction set to open
in May on the Ohio River

MADISON, Ind. (April 2013) – The Ohio River draws tourists to Madison, Ind., to view the beauty of the river and scenery along the shores. Most would like a more up-close view, but no one offered that option – until now.

Jet Boat

Photo by Patti Watson

Paul Nicholson and Janet
Harding got permission to operate their thrill boat rides soon after having moving to Madison, Ind.
This will be their first summer.

Paul Nicholson  and Janet Harding traveled through Madison on their way to a restaurant in Vevay, Ind. They were instantly attracted to the friendly people, the quaintness of the town and the beauty of the river. “We have seen rivers all over the world, and the Ohio is as pretty as any. We asked several merchants where we could take a boat ride on the river and always got the same answer, ‘Nobody does that here,’ ” says Nicholson. “We knew a huge opportunity existed for boat rides in Madison.”
Nicholson and Harding relocated to Madison to fill that niche. They will debut Wild Thing Jet Boat rides in May, just in time for tourists and residents alike to spend the summer on the water.
Wild Thing features two jet boats offering uniquely tailored rides to meet every taste and budget. Wild Thing will open in conjunction with the RiverRoots Festival in May and run daily through the Madison Chautauqua weekend, Sept. 28-29. Those interested in riding can purchase tickets at a booth at the foot of West Street, just across from Bicentennial Park, then board at the Madison Boat Dock. Ticket prices begin at $15 per person and increase depending on length and focus of the tour.
Madison Mayor Damon Welch said he eagerly anticipates Wild Thing’s opening and the benefits the business will bring to residents and the town alike. Andrew Forrester, special assistant to the mayor, says, “They approached us last summer with the idea, and we were beyond ecstatic. They offer a service desired by residents and an attraction to get people here.”
Forrester notes that the city supported the business by making space available for the ticket booth and for boarding at the city dock. “We were excited to help them,” says Forrester. “We hope the community will support this new business.”
Nicholson and Harding express deep appreciation for the welcome they have received both from city officials and other businesses. Their enthusiasm for Madison and the new endeavor infuses every detail of the project.
“We will offer rides that appeal to thrill-seekers with spins and slides and rides for those seeking a scenic tour,” says Nicholson.
Harding and Nicholson use a New Zealand style jet boat, noting that its sleek design and small size are uniquely tailored for adventure rides.
“The boat can turn its own length,” says Harding, “giving passengers spins and slides at speeds that thrill.”
Most jet boats, shaped more like a barge and with a larger capacity, simply can’t perform the moves of the New Zealand style. “Ours is the only New Zealand style boat in the Midwest, so passengers will get an experience like no other in the area,” says Harding.
Their second boat holds more passengers and will be used for scenic tours. “We will take passengers up the Ohio to Carrollton (Ky.) then go on the Kentucky River to the first lock,” says Nicholson. “We’ll point out the unique sights and wildlife on the shores and give a little history of the area. Did you know about the river pirates that terrorized river travelers? Come on a ride and find out,” says Nicholson, laughing. “These were not cartoon pirates.” 
While scenic tours will vary in length, Harding notes they will average about two hours.
Harding adds that they plan to expand the leisure trips to include dinner cruises. Tours would focus on a theme, such as the Civil War. The boat tour would point out locations of significance while giving a history of the war’s impact on the area, dock for a civil war themed dinner, then travel back.
“We want to add options as we learn what passengers would enjoy,” Harding says. The two hope to work with local historic re-enactors, ghost storytellers, and caterers to bring the tours to life.
Nicholson and Harding are certified through the U.S. Coast Guard as master captains. Harding, one of the few women to hold this distinction, began boating when she was 8 years old and has been on the water ever since. Her last job involved driving the huge buses that transport scientists and military personnel across the glaciers in Antarctica.
“Her love of boating and her training in transport make Janet a great captain,” says Nicholson. “I hope the girls who see one of the few women in the maritime industry at the front of their tour boat get inspired,” he adds.
Nicholson began his love for boating at age 14 and bought his first boat when 15. He later hosted a fishing show for a television station in Oregon for four years. It featured boating and fishing throughout the Northwest. “I fell in love with jet boats as a teen and can’t wait to introduce others to the sport,” he says. He became a captain in the U.S. Army and likewise worked in Alaska transporting soldiers and scientists.
Nicholson says, “I’ve lived all over the world. The friendliest people I have found are in New Zealand and here. I’ve never had people just say ‘hi’ as I walked down the street before. We love Madison and can’t wait to work with other businesses to draw people to Madison.”

• For more information about Wild Thing Jet Boat as well as coupons for rides, visit: www.RideTheWildThing.com.

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