Youngstown jet boat firm hits some unusually stormy seas

Niagara Jet Adventures, the Youngstown firm that sought to challenge Lewiston’s Whirlpool Jetboat Tours, Hornblower Niagara Falls and even Jimmy Glynn’s incomprehensibly still-in-business Maid of the Mist franchise, has hit some extraordinarily rough water

For starters, Christopher Bohnenkamp, founder of Niagara Jet Adventures, was sentenced last month to five years and three months in federal prison on charges of defrauding 13 people in eight states and Canada who tried to buy jet boats from his Idaho-based boat-building firm.

According to court papers, Mr. Bohnenkamp spent the money on gambling, vehicles and vacations. One of the victims was Michael J. Fox of Lewiston, Bohnenkamp’s original partner in Niagara Jet. Mr. Fox ordered a $450,000 boat for the business from Mr. Bohnenkamp, but received nothing. In 2016, Mr. Fox sold Niagara Jet to its current owner, Brian L. Price.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Boise, Idaho, said restitution will be determined at a future hearing. Prosecutors originally sought forfeiture of $2.67 million.

This came on the heels of the Niagara Falls, Ont., City Council attempting to have all jet boats banned from Canadian waters. The Canadian government met them halfway, allowing jet boats to operate but requiring a permit to do so.

Christopher Bohnenkamp, right, is shown in this 2015 photo with former co-owner of Niagara Jet Adventures, Mike Fox, at their Youngstown dock. Mr. Fox is now one of those suing Mr. Bohnenkamp.

It turns out that, despite a lot of hype to the contrary, the plucky 32-foot craft designed by Mr. Bohnenkamp was quite capable of traversing the Category 5 Devil’s Hole rapids, but weren’t rated for the Category 6 “Himalayas” at the Whirlpool Rapids, which lay just a short distance upriver. Rocks and floating debris could easily cause disaster for such a small boat.

To get around this detail, the boat would gently ease to starboard and into Canadian waters, where the effects of the rapids were not quite so severe.

Mr. Bohnenkamp’s plans, as detailed in this paper a couple years back, were to provide Niagara River excursions that began at Youngstown and extended upriver as far as the mighty falls themselves. These plans never came to fruition due to various business, legal and other concerns.

But last weekend, all that changed.

Niagara Falls, Ont., environmental activist Elizabeth Strength provided video and photographic evidence documenting an upriver trip that ended up in the basin below the falls. She said it was one of several that occurred over the weekend.

“Do we really need yet another international incident to go viral?” Ms. Strength asked. “For the past two days the jet boat has traveled up the Lower Niagara River, through international waters to the Horseshoe Falls, without a permit to do so, disrupting the Maid of the Mist and Hornblower Cruises, and endangering the lives of their passengers.”

The length of the Niagara River, from its headwaters at Lake Erie to its terminus at Lake Ontario, is but 36 miles. Yet in terms of the number of shipwrecks, boating accidents and other unfortunate incidents, it ranks high in the number of lives lost, and remains a dangerous stretch of water.

It’s not a place to play around.

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