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A couple of thrill seekers

By Staff | Jan 15, 2009

As nearly everyone who has visited Sanibel can tell you, this is no place for speeders. With a top speed limit of 35 mph, there has never been an opportunity to race along at heart-pounding speeds, the wind blowing through your hair on a perfectly picturesque afternoon in Southwest Florida.

That is, until now.

Sanibel Thriller, a high-speed boat tour operated by J.R. and Elizabeth Ireland, is a diesel powered, 55-foot motor yacht with the ability to reach speeds of more than 45 mph. They offer several tours departing from Sanibel Marina including:

Circumnavigating Sanibel and Captiva Islands

Beach Break and Shelling at Cayo Costa State Park

Lunch and Shopping on Boca Grande

Lunch and Shopping at the Village on Venetian Bay in Naples

Sunset Thrill Cruise

J.R. Ireland, formerly of Ireland Yacht Sales, explained that he and his wife were looking for a new business opportunity after years of witnessing a declining luxury boat market.

“We were looking for something different,” Elizabeth Ireland said. “When we found this, we realized that nobody else was doing anything like this on Sanibel.”

Launching their new business on Dec. 26, Sanibel Thriller’s “signature” tour is a 75-minute ride around Sanibel and Captiva. From the time the boat chugs slowly out of the marina’s inlet and into San Carlos Bay, there is little indication that this tour will be anything unlike other water-based experiences.

Then, J.R. “puts the pedal to the medal.”

Zipping effortlessly through the choppy channel last Friday afternoon, Sanibel Thriller quickly affirms their promise of a “thrill of a lifetime.” With Elizabeth providing a handful of historical facts about the area and this islands, guests wearing wide grins begin to take pictures and scan the waterscape for local icons, including the Sanibel Lighthouse, Casa Ybel Resort, Bowman’s Beach, The Island Inn, Blind Pass and South Seas Island Resort.

“My wife spent a lot of time at the library, reading books about the area and doing research for her presentation,” he added.

Throughout the tour, Elizabeth noted several interesting facts:

Calusa Indians were first to inhabit the islands

Ponce de Leon visited the island in 1513, and named it “Santa Isabella” after the reigning Queen of Spain.

The Matthews family established the island’s first hotel – the Island Inn – in 1895.

The Sanibel Lighthouse can be seen as far away as 16 miles.

The Great Hurricane of 1926 had a 14-foot storm surge.

Jose Gaspar, a pirate, made Captiva his hideout and often kept his female prisoners there.

All buildings built after Sanibel was established as a city in 1974 are no more than three stories.

There are no traffic signals, billboards of neon signs on the islands.

About 10 minutes into the tour, J.R. slowed Sanibel Thriller down and veered off toward to left. Elizabeth asked the guests to make their way towards the back of the boat, because they were about to attempt to lure a pod of dolphins to follow the vessel. Sure enough, a trio of playful dolphins began to swim alongside the boat, jumping over the waves as the cheering snapped away with their cameras.

“Luckily, I’ve been around dolphins for a long time and know how they behave,” said J.R., who noted that he’s been “100 percent” in attracting dolphins to join the tour. “It’s a fun thing for them to do.”

After making its way around the tip of Captiva, Sanibel Thriller raced across Pine Island Sound and past the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, heading towards the Sanibel Causeway and its home port.

“This is just great!” exclaimed George Voll, visiting from Neptune City, N.J. “I’ve been on a lot of tours around here, but I’ve never been so close to dolphins. It’s a very nice way to see the islands.”

“The dolphins were great,” added Bryan Kralle, another member of the tour group. “It was pretty wild. I got a ton of pictures, too.”

For more information, departure dates and times or to make a reservation, call 472-2328.