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St. Croix Watercraft offers boating for beginners

Eighty-five horse is a lot of power for a boat eight feet long. Push the thumb-controlled throttle on the Sea Doo Jet Ski and there's an instant response.

A reporter, accustomed to the sluggishness of an underpowered compact car, took almost guilty pleasure in the snappy acceleration.

Jet Skiing is fun. It's akin to water skiing, without having your arms pulled out of their sockets. And you steer the boat.

The joy of Jet Skiing came as a revelation to someone who had never understood the allure of personal watercraft, and at worst, viewed them as pesky bugs of the waterways.

"Yeah they're a lot of fun - a motorcycle on water," agreed a co-worker when the novice returned to the newspaper office gushing about his short ride on the St. Croix River.

Steve Robinson and Clare McDonough say most of their customers at St. Croix Watercraft are like the reporter, unfamiliar with the equipment and the river. And like the reporter, have a whale of a time.

The husband and wife team opened St. Croix Watercraft in May, operating out of a shop at 120 Second St. In addition to their fleet of six Sea Doo GTI LE and Yamaha XL 700 Jet Skis, they offer a 155 h.p. jet boat and four kayaks.

The Jet Skis seat three people, and the jet boat, four.

For anyone who wondered how a personal watercraft rental business would do in Hudson, the answer is just fine.

"June was great and July has been even better," said Robinson.

They noticed a spike in business when college classes let out for the summer. Other customers include vacationers staying at local hotels and inns and year-round Hudson residents who want to Jet Ski occasionally without the expense of owning one of the machines that cost $6,000 and up.

"We didn't expect that kind of business from Hudson alone, but it's been great," McDonough said.

Not surprisingly, it's a weather-dependant business. On a hot, sunny day, the phone will start ringing and people driving past will stop in to rent a Jet Ski on an impulse.

Customers are taken through a process to make sure they understand river regulations and how to the personal watercraft.

"Safety is a big thing for us," Robinson said.

McDonough generally handles the administering of the rental agreement and the instruction in riverway rules, which are posted in the shop.

Customers are required to sign a waiver saying they're liable if they're cited for a boating violation, damage the Jet Ski or somebody else's boat, or injure themselves or others.

A credit card is required for the $250 security deposit. The deposit is authorized to the card but not actually charged unless damage occurs or the operator is cited for a boating violation.

The regulations include maintaining a distance of 100 feet or more from other boats, personal property and swimmers. The stretch of river between the I-94 bridge and the railroad swing bridge is a no-wake zone, with the exception of the bay just north of the dike road.

McDonough also instructs customers on the rules for meeting other watercraft on the river.

Rental fees vary from $45 for one hour on the river during a weekday to $320 for a full day on a weekend. Customers also pay a minimum of $5 for gasoline, a $3 launch fee and sales tax, which pushes the least expensive rental to just over $55.

A variety of package deals are also available, including a corporate package that McDonough calls a steal. It's four Jet Skis for three hours for $400 on weekdays.

Robinson or one of his helpers trailers the Jet Skis to the Lakefront Park boat launch and gives the lesson on operating them. It includes instruction on how to right the watercraft should the customer overturn it.

The first-time Jet Skier will be relieved to find the watercraft is easy to operate. The only two controls to worry about are the steering handle bars and the throttle.

It turns nimbly under acceleration and slows down quickly when you take your thumb off the throttle. St. Croix Watercraft's Jet Skis reach a top speed of about 45 mph, but 30 mph was plenty fast for this reporter. He didn't want to have to use those instructions on righting a capsized boat.

For a complete listing of St. Croix Watercraft's equipment and rates, go to its Web site at www.st croix watercraft.com. You can reserve a Jet Ski online or by calling the business at 531-1477. To contact Randy Hanson, e-mail him at rhanson@rivertowns.net.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

(715) 426-1066
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