Nature · Travel

Bobby Doerr, Mail Boats and Jerry’s Jets on the Rugged Rogue River

One of Jerry's Jets speeding down the Rogue
One of Jerry’s Jets speeding down the Rogue

Jerry’s Rogue Jets, now Oregon’s only mail boat outfit, has come a long way since the days of pike poles and sails. The Gold Beach-based company still delivers the mail up stream on the Rogue River but now carried even more often, on the shallow-draft vessels, are vacationers seeking adventure. The fully-loaded 32 to 42-foot boats can carry 38 to 65 passengers and are able to navigate in depths of as little as eight inches of water.

Swallow nests on the underside of the Isaac Peterson Bridge (aka the Rogue River Bridge) at Gold Beach
Swallow nests on the underside of the Isaac Peterson Bridge (aka the Rogue River Bridge) at Gold Beach

The company dates one part of its history back to three brothers: one who had an ability to entertain, one who was a boat designer and one who was a boat pilot. Working off of a jet propulsion system originated in 1954 by Sir William Hamilton in New Zealand and the Berkeley Pump Company in California, Alden Boice created a performance hull capable of handling the rocky shallows of the Rogue. His brother Jerry launched a company – Jerry’s Rogue Jet Boats – in 1958 and their brother Court served as their first pilot. In March of 2010, Jerry’s purchased its one competitor, the Rogue River Mail Boat Company that had been in existence since 1895.rogue-river-jet-boats-decal1

Now, with a combined fleet of 15 vessels, Jerry’s nature-based jet boat trips on Oregon’s “Wild & Scenic” Rogue River are a must do for 800 or more passengers per day in high season and more than 30,000 coastal travelers each year. On offer on the river is a blend of interpretive narration, meal stops at riverside lodges, rugged scenery, abundant wildlife, Pacific coastal estuary, and adventurous whitewater jet boating.

While in Gold Beach, Gene and I boarded one of the jet boats and partook of the 104-mile round trip “Wilderness Whitewater Adventure” that brings folks up to Blossom Bar Rapid, which is as far as is navigable by jet boat. I also had the opportunity to chat with Nic McNair, who owns the company along with his brother Scott, mother Cherie, and father Bill (the only original interest holder still attached to Jerry’s).

Cougar Lane Lodge 1
One of the stops along the Rogue

In my upcoming book, Rubber Hobos, I share highlights from my conversation with Nic and recount some of the stories of the boatmen who have grown up alongside these waters. I report on the lives that were lost by kayakers at Blossom Bar Rapid near the time we were on the Rogue. And I recall my own and Gene’s experience on the river: the 64-mile “Historic Mail Route,” segment that meanders along the Pacific Coastal Estuary, with its magnificent snowy egrets, black bears and bald eagles, playful otters and black-tailed deer, and the 80-mile “Whitewater Excursion,” where folks race over 2-Mile Rapid, Shasta Coasta Rapid, Wildcat Rapid, Old Diggins Riffle, Foster’s Rapid and Watson Creek Rapid.

Red Sox great Bobby Doerr lives along the Rogue and is featured in a Today Show “Vanishing America” segment on the Mail Boats (http://youtu.be/br2rEm6gly4 via @youtube). Like many of his other teammates, this second baseman, a Red Sox lifer, lost time during his prime because of military service. He played for Boston from 1937 to 1944 and from 1944 to 1951. Widely recognized as an offensive force, this nine-time All-Star, was also a slick fielder. Doerr’s number, one, was retired by the Red Sox in 1988. Club ranks: 5th in games (1,865), 5th in RBI (1,247), 5th in runs (1,094), 5th in doubles (381), 5th in TB (3,270), 6th in hits (2,042), 6th in BB (809), 8th in HR (223), 8th in PA (8,028).

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame website: “Ted Williams called Bobby Doerr the silent captain of the Red Sox. He hit a lifetime .288 and .409 in the ’46 World Series, driving in 100 runs six times, with a high of 120 in 1950. Doerr once held the American League record by handling 414 chances without an error and frequently led American League second basemen in double plays, putouts and assists. The affable second baseman was signed by Eddie Collins on the same scouting trip that netted Ted Williams for Boston.” Tommy Henrich said that Doerr “was one of the few who played the game hard and retired with no enemies.” (Source: http://baseballhall.org/hof/doerr-bobby.) He participated in the celebration of Fenway’s 100th anniversary in 2012.

I came across a report about a Facebook page (“R.I.P. Bobby Doerr”) said to have been launched Friday, July 18, that was falsely reporting his death. I haven’t been able to locate the page (it may have been taken down) but the article said that hundreds of fans had been posting their messages of condolence, expressing their sadness that the talented 95-year-old athlete was dead. And as usual, the Twittersphere was said to be frenzied over the death hoax.

Featured image: a view from the Mail Boat. In the gallery: scenes along the Rogue. All photos by Donna Hailson.

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