posted: Thursday, 14 July 2016
by: Barb Sieminski
Want to navigate the inland Everglades this summer?
Well, even though Fort Wayne (Indiana, USA) doesn’t really have that coveted bit of Florida property, it does have airboat rides on its three historic rivers, thanks to Mike Gasdorf, a visionary from Churubusco, and his incredible watercraft.
For years, Gasdorf contemplated starting his own business that would in turn highlight Fort Wayne’s famous waterways.
“But things didn’t really start moving until 2011 when I purchased my airboat, and spent most of the first year working on it and figuring out where I needed to run rides,” said Gasdorf, a 1986 Northrop High School graduate.
“I had a hunch that airboat jaunts on our mighty rivers would be a great asset to Fort Wayne, and sure enough, it’s taken off tremendously,” said Gasdorf, who offers bits of local history during his popular sightseeing tours.
Gasdorf trailers his boat to Fort Wayne, where he launches it from the only Department of Natural Resources-approved public access boat launch for downtown Fort Wayne on the St. Marys River at the Guildin Park site. He then skims up the river to The Deck, a popular riverbank food-and-drink patio behind Don Hall’s Old Gas House (305 E. Superior St.) where eager folks await their ride and a history lesson or two from the pilot, who is passionate about the local waterways.
His aluminum-hulled boat, a 1999 Alumitech Airboat-1 Saltwater Series fully decked with two livewells for bait and fish, is 17 feet long and 8 feet wide, Gasdorf said.
“The Alaskan series is fully equipped to run mail or other goods to remote areas over ice and snow to people in need or simply general deliveries,” he said.
“Most airboats, whatever their design, can run on ice or snow and should have enough power to get you free, if you get stuck. The last thing you want is an underpowered airboat stuck in a frozen river in the middle of nowhere and where you’re trying to get to and you’re 50 miles away from anyone.”
In the winter, Gasdorf and his brother Nathaniel did the Crooked Lake Winterfest three years ago, flying across the ice at 60-plus miles per hour at 2/3 throttle, but on calm water slowed to 40 mph. When running normally, the airboat rides 20-26 mph.
Gasdorf has his DNR certification from the Indianapolis Law Enforcement Division for inland waters non-navigable, and is currently working on an upgrade to navigable waters and adding all the equipment necessary to pass inspection here this month.
“Once that happens, mine will be the only airboat with that type of certificate,” Gasdorf said.
“Airboats are basically amphibious, and with enough power they can run on land, up hills, and then into the next lake or river. I have run over many log jams and sandbars.”
Airboat-1 has a small list of requirements (for navigable waters) before Gasdorf can call DNR for the upgraded inspection; nevertheless, it is already the only certified ride boat in northern Indiana (inland waters only). It is also scheduled for a two-day fishing charter on the Ohio River the first weekend in August, so final inspection is in three weeks.
Guests enjoy riding in this type of watercraft that slides over water and land when on the move. Gasdorf provides hearing protection for each passenger due to the sound of the fan. He says that he now has the “quietest Whirlwind propellers with the whisper-soft feel” but they are still quite loud, even though his previous propellers were much louder.
If you are prone to inner-ear imbalance or vertigo, you might want to take half a Dramamine about an hour before getting on the boat because Gasdorf often does some huge curves at increased speed to thrill his riders. The boat seats six riders at a time.
Rides are approximately 25 minutes to Main Street and about the same for the Northside Park run at $20 for adults. The full downtown tour is from The Deck to Main Street and back, then through the confluence up the St. Joseph River to Johnny Appleseed Park and the Coliseum Boulevard dam.
“Fort Wayne needed something more to do especially on the downtown rivers and most people can’t believe how beautiful the rivers are after the ride. I also like bringing awareness to my people of what’s going on with the rivers in our community and why they’re so important, and what the city is doing to improve water quality.
“I have had a tremendous amount of positive feedback this summer already, saying ‘keep doing what you’re doing,’ and that makes it all worthwhile.”