The skies were threatening as we arrived at Barefoot Billy’s at the Reach Resort in Key West for our waverunner tour. Led by two staff members in front and in back, nine jetskis were ready and waiting for the assembled crowd.
As we mounted our waverunners, the photographer took a few photos – for sale afterward – and off we went to practice how to drive the waverunner after a little instruction at the beach. Lightning struck on shore, and fears of it being less than desirable conditions were running through my mind. Still, I figured the tour guides should have consulted radar and weather reports; tourists were merely there for a good time; they couldn’t be expected to be in charge. We had all signed a waiver, so maybe the vendor thought all was A-O.K.
The waverunners took off on a northerly direction while we saw other tours already under way had headed south. The two guides argued about which way to head, and north we went.
One guide explained this is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico, a cool feature of Key West’s main street, Duval, which begins at one ocean and ends at another!
The best part of the tour came soon thereafter: a calm no-wake channel that went under Cow Key Channel Bridge. Surrounded by mangroves and boats anchored in a tranquil harbor, the going was easy and there was time to enjoy the views.
But our waverunners roared back into action on the other side of the bridge as Key West faded from our view. Skies grew darker and we were told to run our waverunners on our own and enjoy figure eights, full-out speed or merely cruising. However, this was cut short as the weather chased us back south on the eastern side of the island.
Then, things turned ugly. The seas were so rough, we were pounding over and through and around washboard seas. Waves traveled in multiple directions. Some waverunner drivers had to stop because they couldn’t see with all the salt spray in their eyes. I wore sunglasses but they were only minimally helpful. I could see just enough to keep the waverunner going, bumpety-bumpety, as my 11-year old hung on for dear life. When I almost lost him off the back in one nasty wave swivel, he asked if I would slow down. I had been going around 30 mph hoping to be able to maintain being on a plane, but honored his request. I checked behind us for my husband accompanied by our other kid taking up the rear of the tour. Then, near Sunset Key, a scenic, no-car exclusive island arrived at by boat, my kid asked me if we “could just stop.”
Because of the rough conditions, we only stopped twice for historical information to be shared about the many sights in Key West. I knew about Sunset Key from being a Keys resident; others never got to learn about or enjoy the sights we were whizzing by. We couldn’t see in front of us and had to handle the waverunner with a tight grip. There wasn’t sufficient opportunity to enjoy the scenery.
I had hoped this would be a highlight of our family trip. But, we should never have left the beach on this tour, I thought. The weather should’ve prompted re-bookings, and only the heartiest warned of terrible conditions should have carried on.
Rounding the cruise ship channel and Mallory Docks, nearing where we started, the rains came down. My hands were numb from the tight grip I had to use to control the machine in the stormy conditions. The cold rain, pelting our faces, stinging the areas not covered with life jacket or clothing, was a final insult to those who had tried valiantly to enjoy a guided tour.
Afterward I asked a beautiful Italian couple in the pool about their thoughts of the waverunner tour, and the woman said, “It was an endurance contest.”
Wow, precisely. She had nailed it; it was something to get through, to endure.
The lesson learned is this: insist on re-booking a tour if bad weather threatens. Ask about wave heights and how it will affect the tour.
To see a different perspective from three years earlier, visit http://www.examiner.com/article/touring-key-west-and-nearby-islands-by-waverunner.
To learn more, visit https://barefootbillys.com or call 305-900-3088.