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“That was cool,” Sandy Olsen said as a curtain of water sprayed over the cockpit of the hovercraft she was riding in. The craft had come to an abrupt stop after making a quick, tight, 360 degree spin in — or more precisely over — Lake Surprise.

A few minutes later Olsen, her husband Lee, and fellow visitors from Wisconsin. Larry and Kathy Sweeney, laughed with delight as a pod of playful dolphins surrounded the hovercraft in Blackwater Sound. Pilot Guven Sen slowed the craft down to a crawl and said, “Wait. They always come.”

Soon a dolphin surfaced, and then another and another until the hovercraft became surrounded by a pod of jumping dolphins.

“They seem curious. They always come up to check my craft out when I come in here,” Sen said.

The couples had boarded the hovercraft Lady Hawke on a bayside beach next to the Caribbean Club, near mile marker 104, to take a 30-minute tour of Blackwater Sound and Lake Surprise. Run by Hover-Tour.com, Lady Hawke is available for rides and charters every day, weather permitting.

With its large rear prop fans and its bright yellow and blue paint job, Lady Hawke is a curious sight sitting silently on the beach next to its sister craft, the red Dragonfly.

Lady Hawke is a 35-foot, 8,000 pound, 1994 Ranger model fiberglass hovercraft. It takes six passengers in its glass enclosed, air-conditioned cabin.

“We usually cruise at about 32 knots out here,” said Sen, “but she is capable of 45 knots over the water and up to 60 knots on ice.”

“Hovercrafts ride on a cushion of air above the surface. There is no real contact with the water or land” said lead mechanic Jim Sukow.

Lift comes from two contra-rotating axial flow fans. Two fixed, pitch ducted props provide propulsion. Direction comes from rudders on the prop ducts.

Riders enter the Lady Hawke from a staircase rolled up to the craft on the beach.

The interior looks like an airplane cockpit with its curved glass top and sides and the high back, cushioned seats. The airplane feeling heightens when the pilot, much like a flight attendant, gives a brief safety talk showing the location of the exits and life jackets.

“Not to worry though,” said Sen “The craft will always float, even if it stops”.

Once all are seated, the fans are started, the craft rises up above the sand on a bed of air. A flexible rubber apron unfolds downward from the deck and covers the space down to the sand or water. The rear props start, the craft turns toward the water, and off you go.

The hovercraft tour headed north through Blackwater Sound then slowly entered Lake Surprise. With no other traffic around, pilot Sen put the craft through some 180 turns, figure eights, a tight 360 spin, a sideways slide, then came to a complete halt.

Windshield wipers cleared the view, and we were off on another series of maneuvers, our bubbly wake visible in a serpentine track behind us.

Back out over Blackwater Sound, we headed toward the shallow waters off to the side of the channel heading toward Gilberts resort and the U,S, 1 bridge. Hovercraft need very little water underneath since they ride above the surface. When the dolphins came out, the pilot hovered in that spot for a while so everyone aboard Lady Hawke could enjoy the playful show the sea critters put on.

Lady Hawke then headed back to port where the craft rode right up onto the beach. Passengers stepped onto the staircase and down to the sand, for a smooth exit.

“It was exciting and fun. The spins, and going sideways were the best parts,” said the Sweeneys once they were back on the beach. The Olsons agreed, and added that the ride was so smooth they didn’t even spill their beer!

“We want people to experience this unique ride,” said Jim Sukow, lead mechanic for Hover-Tour. “Awesome is the word we hear most when people exit the craft” he said.

Operations manager and pilot Guven Sen adds that they hope to promote hovercraft and increase their use, manufacture, and sale in this area and elsewhere. “They are eco-friendly. They do not harm any marine animals and the noise the fans make isn’t heard underwater”.

Rides are $30 per person and last about a half hour. Go to Hover-Tour.com or call (305) 904 3833 for reservations.

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Article source: http://www.keysnet.com/2012/02/02/418866/hovercrafts-offer-unique-way-to.html
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