Thursday, September 15, 2011

Jerry's Jets on the Rugged Rogue River

One of Jerry's Jets speeding down the Rogue River.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
Jerry’s Rogue Jets, now Oregon’s only mail boat outfit, has come a long way since the days of pike poles and sails. The Gold Beach-based company still delivers the mail up stream on the Rogue River but now, carried even more often on the shallow-draft vessels, are vacationers seeking adventure. The fully-loaded 32- to 42-foot boats can carry 38 to 65 passengers and are able to navigate in depths of as little as eight inches of water.

The company dates one part of its history back to three brothers: one who had an ability to entertain, one who was a boat designer and one who was a boat pilot. Working off of a jet propulsion system originated in 1954 by Sir William Hamilton in New Zealand and the Berkeley Pump Company in California, Alden Boice created a performance hull capable of handling the rocky shallows of the Rogue. His brother Jerry launched a company -- Jerry’s Rogue Jet Boats – in 1958 and their brother Court served as their first pilot. A year ago in March, Jerry's purchased its one competitor, the Rogue River Mail Boat Company that had been in existence since 1895.

Coming into the rapids. Photo by Gene Hailson.
Now, with a combined fleet of 15 vessels, Jerry’s nature-based jet boat trips on Oregon’s “Wild & Scenic” Rogue River are a must do for 800 or more passengers per day in high season and more than 30,000 coastal travelers each year. On offer on the river is a blend of interpretive narration, meal stops at riverside lodges, rugged scenery, abundant wildlife, Pacific coastal estuary, and adventurous whitewater jet boating.

In Episode 15 of On the Road with Mac and Molly, I speak with Nic McNair who owns the company along with his brother Scott, mother Cherie, and father Bill (the only original interest holder still attached to Jerry’s). From Nic, we learn how jet boats operate over the recreational, scenic and wilderness sections of the Rogue. We hear about some of the boatmen who have grown up alongside these waters and we marvel at the wildlife that can be seen along the banks and in the river.

Black Bear on the banks of the Rogue.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
In our time together, I also share from my own and Gene’s experience of the 104-mile round trip “Wilderness Whitewater Adventure” that takes folks up to Blossom Bar Rapid, which is as far as is navigable by jet boat. The journey takes in all that is found in Jerry’s shorter trips: the 64-mile “Historic Mail Route,” that meanders along the Pacific Coastal Estuary, with its magnificent snowy egrets, black bears and bald eagles, playful otters and black-tailed deer, and the 80-mile “Whitewater Excursion,” where guests race over 2-Mile Rapid, Shasta Coasta Rapid, Wildcat Rapid, Old Diggins Riffle, Fosters Rapid and Watson Creek Rapid. We end with a note about Cherie’s border collie Rogue who has maneuvered herself into position as Jerry’s mascot, keeping guests entertained while they’re waiting to board the jet boats.

For more on our life as Rubber Hobos, traveling about the country in a rubber-tired vehicle, visit
Photo by Donna Hailson.