flat-bottomed boats that are powered by an aircraft engine
and propeller. The engine, prop and seats are mounted high
on the boat to raise the center of gravity so that the
boat will skim over the surface rather than having to push
it's way through the water.
The ideal trail for
an airboat is a couple of inches of water over a sandy
bottom, but they are not restricted to that. They can go
over grassy plains, through mucky swamps, on deep water,
and over totally dry ground...for a ways. That's pretty
rough on the bottom of the boat, but several local airboaters
still claim to be the one who drove an airboat two miles
down the middle of State Road 192 from the Sweetwater ramp
to the parking lot of the County Line Saloon. (Ran out
of beer, you know.)
Driving an airboat
requires a few different skills than driving anything
else. To start with, you have a big heavy boat sitting
on a couple of inches of water. For an airboat to function
properly you really have to stand on the gas and get
it up on a plane so that it skims the surface of the
water. To accomplish this you have an accelerator at
your right foot. No brakes, just an accelerator.
At your left hand you
have the stick to control the rudders. See the big square
things behind the prop cage? Yeah. Those are the rudders.
When you move the stick forward or back they go to the
left or right to channel the flow of air and turn the boat.
A little tricky, since you have to coordinate your acceleration
with the turn. Don't even think you can let off the gas
and just hold the rudder stick to make a turn - I'm here
to tell you that if you don't have air flowing the rudders
aren't doing a thing! Try it yourself... you will be learning
a little something about the laws of inertia, and noticing
the lack of brakes.
Your right hand is
for holding your beer or soda. It gives you something to
clutch in terror without your passenger seeing you white-knuckle
the arm rest.
So here you are, flying
through the marsh happy as a bird! Don't get too happy
- you must stay aware of your surroundings and be prepared
Trails are often
very narrow and you must be alert for other boaters approaching
or stopped in the trail ahead of you. Some plants are slick
and can be rode over to cross a dry spot, but other plants
are very rough and will clutch at the bottom of the boat.
Don't stop in the middle of a mud or muck hole, you may
never get moving again. When passing ranging cattle beware
being charged by a bull. Be on the watch for root clumps,
large 'gators, and other obstacles in the trail - an airboat
is so top-heavy that if you hit something in the trail
it can easily knock you over. (Even assuming you aren't
injured, you really don't want to have to walk out of the
knees can rip the bottom right out of your boat. Stopping
or turning in deep water requires care - the way the boat
is balanced makes it very easy for it to roll right over
and sink. Just a few things to watch out for.
Makes you wonder what
the great attraction is, doesn't it? (It's the scenery.)
airboats include using a car engine (usually a Cadillac)
rather than an aircraft engine, different types of props
(some have 2 blades, some have 5 blades), or different
Most airboats have
1 seat for the driver and then another seat that holds
1 or 2 passengers, but many only have a seat for the driver.
(A passenger in this case rides on the footrest and gets
a very close-up view of all the scenery they are hurtling
towards...er, riding through.) Places that offer airboat
tours have boats that can hold 20 or more passengers, but
the ride just isn't as much fun.
A friend of mine
once built himself a one-man airboat specifically to get
down small canals to gig frogs.
The boat was so small there was just room for him to sit
in the bottom and steer, and the prop and cage were so
small they looked like they came off a household fan. It
looked a little strange, but it did the job.
on the hill.
airboats are a little extreme, but very, very interesting....
Airboats are expensive
to build and need a lot of maintenance. They also
cost a great deal in gas, oil and beer (you don't think
anyone would drive one of those things sober, do you?),
but they can travel remote and otherwise inaccessible
trails where you see the most beautiful scenery and wildlife
in the world. They are squirreley in deep water, dangerous
at the best of times, and still the most fun you can
have with your pants on!
Deep in the Cypress
- if you don't have an airboat, you can't get to this spot.
Lake Sawgrass after a weekend of hunting and camping.