Source: Lewiston Morning Tribune
Author: Eric Barker
Jets take a trip to Niagara
Idaho-made boats go where no power boat has been
LEWISTON - Chris Bohnenkamp has run some of the biggest whitewater in the West, but none of it compares to the stretch of frothing insanity below Niagara Falls, N.Y. It pushes through the Niagara Gorge at 38 mph, is littered with holes that can swallow a 26-foot jet boat and is haunted by 25-foot rollers. Until last Saturday, it had never been successfully navigated by a power boat. But Bohnenkamp, a jet boat maker from Boise, and Beau Value of McCall each made the 2-mile run from the bottom of the Class VI Whirlpool Rapid to the calm pool beneath the falls on the U.S.-Canadian border. In between was nothing but angry whitewater that has claimed many lives. "As soon as you cross into Whirlpool, it's total chaos for the next 2 miles," said Bohnenkamp. "You are in the middle of that wrath for 2 miles. You are in nothing but back-to-back whitewater with 25-foot rollers." Bohnenkamp and Value, along with co- pilots Jon Freguila of La Grande, Ore., and Rob Kirsch of McCall, picked their way through the holes and the waves in 26-foot Gatling Series, 1,100-horsepower, twin-engine jet boats made by his company, BWC - short for Bohnenkamp's Whitewater Customs. Although the boats are made in Boise, the engines are custom-built by Marine Power of Clarkston and the jet pumps were customized by Maverick Water Sports, also of Clarkston. The daring ride alarmed border patrol agents and law enforcement agencies from both countries. They were followed by helicopters and Canadian border patrol agents tried to wave them ashore once they reached the calm water below the iconic falls. But Bohnenkamp said lengthy research prior to making the run revealed there were no laws against it so long as the boat didn't land on the Canadian side of the river, which would have constituted an illegal border crossing. So they ignored the waves, idled away and soon were back up on plane running back down through the mayhem. "When we got back down through Whirlpool it felt like we jumped over the moon," he said. Bohnenkamp is partnering with a man from the Niagara Falls area to run jet boat tours in the gorge. They will go from Youngstown, N.Y., to just below Whirlpool. They won't run the dangerous stretch between Whirlpool and the falls. Bohnenkamp said the run proves his boats are more than able to handle the water below Whirlpool, which is described as similar to whitewater in Hells Canyon. "It was great to get up there and test our boats and prove to the world we have one of the strongest performing boats in the industry," he said.