Get Ready to Rumble!

Rockin’ Thunder adds to boating fleet

Husband-and-wife team’s venture
a big attraction in Madison

(May 2017) – Life along the Ohio River at Madison, Ind., seems to get wilder every year, thanks to the captains at Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides.
Capt. Paul Nicholson and his wife, Capt. Janet Harding, are adding a new 35-foot, twin-diesel powered Jet Boat to their fleet. The new boat is a Hells Canyon style Jet Boat they had custom built in Washington State. It has nearly 900 horsepower.
“The Hell’s Canyon boat design has an extremely strong hull and was built to run the Class 4 and Class 5 rapids in Idaho,” said Nicholson. “It will carry 20 passengers with protection from the rain and sun. We will use it for the 155-mile, two-day Kentucky River Adventure (to Frankfort, Ky. and back) and three other tours ranging from 40 to 90 miles.”

Photo provided

Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides’ new 35-foot passenger boat seats 20 people and will add to the company’s fleet this season, which opens in May.

Nicholson grew up in Oregon and bought his first boat at age 15 before he could drive a car.
“I drove jet boats out West until my 20s when I joined the Army,” he said. “Janet and her family did water skiing all over Indiana and Illinois nearly every weekend.”
He continued, “We work together 24 hours a day. Most couples couldn’t do that, but it works well for us.”
The couple worked together in Antarctica for three years, where Janet was an ice road truck driver a few hundred miles from the South Pole. The couple made their first trip to Madison in 2010.
“We fell in love with the town and looked for a way to move here,” said Nicholson. “We saw there were no boats and thought that was a perfect business to start. Madison has a magic hold. People who live here all their lives are too close to realize it, but there is something special about this town.”
This is the fifth year the couple will operate Rockin’ Thunder on the riverfront in Madison.
“For over two years, we looked at different designs and chose this one for safety, strength and comfort,” said Nicholson. “There is not another commercial passenger vessel like this east of the Rocky Mountains. This is going to be a head turner.”
This is the first commercial passenger vessel built to run between Madison and Frankfort, Ky., in more than 100 years. Construction began in August 2016 and was certified by the U.S. Coast Guard for passenger service in April 2017.
The boat has the latest safety and navigation equipment.
“The boat features joy stick steering instead of a wheel,” he said. “A joy stick offers precise steering, which is perfect for some of the tight turns on the Kentucky River.”
The 155-mile Frankfort tour is the company’s most popular excursion.

Photo provided

Rockin’ Thunder’s new boat features twin diesel engines with 900 horsepower. It will be used for several tours.

“The Kentucky and Ohio Rivers were the two super highways in frontier days,” said Nicholson. “If you didn’t move down these rivers, you couldn’t go West. They are the difference between a two-lane and a four lane highway.”
“There are not many places where you can see a bobcat or bald eagle in the wild,” said Harding. “The Kentucky river is virtually unchanged since the 1840s.”
The people who promote tourism in Frankfort say they are thrilled to have the jet boat tours.
“The visitors that Rockin’ Thunder brings to Frankfort on the Kentucky River get one of the most unique experiences in Kentucky,” said Robin Antenucci, executive director of VisitFrankfort, the local tourism office. “We are thrilled to have Rockin’ Thunder as one of Frankfort attractions. They have helped us showcase the beautiful Kentucky River to a wide range of travelers.”
Antenucci said she is excited about the boat’s itinerary. “They travel on the beautiful Kentucky River through scenic and undeveloped areas,” she said. “Upon arriving in Frankfort, these guests stay overnight in the beautiful Capital Plaza Hotel located along the river in our historic downtown. They have the evening to enjoy the shops, restaurants and entertainment we have to offer.”
The round trip, two-day tour begins in Madison and passes through four historic locks constructed in 1838 on the way to Frankfort. Along the way, bald eagles and the occasional bobcat may be sighted. A picnic lunch stop on the riverbank at an 1850s plantation offers a glimpse into the past. The overnight stay in Frankfort includes a visit to Buffalo Trace Distillery and a tour of the historic downtown.
“The Kentucky River is beautiful,” said Harding. “It’s pretty much untouched. I enjoy sharing river stories, spotting bald eagles and exploring a river very few ever see.”
Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides LLC opens for the 2017 season on May 27 and operates into October. They offer five different tours, including a 15-mile Rockin’ Thrill Ride on a New Zealand Jet Boat, a 40-mile Scenic Tour and a 75-mile Wednesday Lunch Excursion. There is also a 90-mile Sunday Dinner Adventure, and the 155-mile, two-day Kentucky River Adventure.

• All tours can now be booked online at www.RockinThunder.com or by calling (812) 701-1155.

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