The blue sky above, ribboned with white clouds, seemed to change minute by minute as we cruised along Six Mile Creek, admiring its coves and forested banks, where eagles nested and turtles caught the sun’s last rays of the day. At first, the horizon turned tangerine, and then, as we turned into the St. Johns River, the entire watery vista before us grew brighter and more colorful — a sweeping canvas transformed as if by a master artist into a swirl of oranges, reds, purples and grays.

“This is my work now,” says Captain Mike Blount as we skim the top of the water and merge into the painting aboard his airboat, Sea Serpent. “I get to show people from all over the world sights like this.”  Blount, a former design engineer and project manager, launched Sea Serpent Tours early last year. Based at Trout Creek Fish Camp off State Road 13 in St. Augustine, his company offers area waterway adventures aboard a custom-designed airboat.

 

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Captain Mike Blount sitting in his airboat, docked at the Trout Creek Marina.

 

Airboats, originally known as fanboats, were invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1905. By the 1930s airboats were used to navigate the shallows of the Everglades, and their design hasn’t changed much over the past century. That is, until recently. The Sea Serpent has a conventional flat-bottomed airboat design and engine, allowing it to ride atop extremely shallow water. Then at the flip of a switch, it can be slowed in deeper water to a leisurely quiet cruise, thanks to an auxiliary propulsion system. This new configuration was designed by Blount. A U.S. Navy veteran and Coast Guard licensed captain, Blount says the first three airboat manufacturers he approached to build the new boat turned him down. They said the design was impossible because of balance issues. The fourth, however, GTO Performance Airboats in Ocala, jumped at the idea, and now many people are requesting the custom build.

 

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The sunset over the St. Johns River with Cypress trees in the foreground.

 

Blount offers daily guided narrated rides that come complete with special headphones to both protect your ears from the roar of the boat and provide access to a recorded audio tour. While floating past swatches of purple and yellow-flowered lily pads, and deep cypress and palmetto woods, passengers are treated to historic and geographic tidbits about the region. They are also regaled with stories about fictional pirates that once roamed it. These tall tales Blount says are always a hit with children.

We toured stretches of Trout Creek, Six Mile Creek and the St. Johns River to Bayard Point. Thanks to the airboat engine, once we reached the river’s western shore, we were able to fly between islands of of Spartina grass escorted by a spritely Kingfisher that flitted ahead of us before disappearing into the adjacent woods.

“When people come to St. Augustine, they normally never get to see all this,” says Blount’s wife, Kelly, who accompanied our tour that day. “We are only eight miles from World Golf Village and 19 miles from historic St. Augustine. A lot of locals didn’t even know this existed.” As a long time First Coast resident, I had to admit that I didn’t either. I have been on many boat tours in the region, but this airboat ride was one of a kind.

 

For more information visit seaserpenttours.com