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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, May 20, 2024


St. Thomas has seen more than a gaggle of gooses, but now the island has its first pelican, motorized pelican that is, a bright blue-green object with great, big wheels.
The gooses were the once familiar amphibian aircraft flown by Antilles Airboats. The pelican is a British product similar to the U.S. amphibious duck landing craft used in World War 11.
Known as "Caribbean Pelican Rides," the craft provides a unique island tour from land and from sea. "It's the newest thing in the tourism business for towns on the water," said owner Sonia Nelthropp. A St. Thomas native, Nelthropp got the idea for the pelican last year in Boston where she had been living for the past 14 years.
"I was standing at a stoplight, when I saw this strange thing dripping water and seaweed lumbering down the street, filled with all these laughing people," she said. "And I decided right then that I had to find out about it."
She found the "thing's" office, "Ride the Duck," and had to stand in line for two hours to get a ride. While waiting she noticed the obvious popularity of the duck, and made a decision right then; St. Thomas has a spectacular harbor, no end of history, and, why not? Since she was planning to move back home anyway, the idea seemed almost preordained – an historical duck tour was just what the island needed, Nelthropp decided.
Armed with that ambition and some cash, she set out to buy her own duck and bring it home. What she wound up with is better than a duck. It's called a British Stalwart and is completely hydraulic. In fact, it was made especially for Nelthropp's pelican purposes, the only one of its kind. Though totally without grace, like its namesake, it can actually do 40 mph on land, and six knots in the water. However, as it waddles down Veterans Drive, it's closer to 10 mph.
The ride starts at the newly refurbished Kings Wharf, across from the Coast Guard station where Nelthropp has constructed an attractive kiosk which serves as the operations base. Nelthropp's sister, Claudia Keller, mans the operation from there as Nelthropp has a full time job as manager of solid waste at the Public Works department.
Keller, who recently retired from her computer consultant job in New York City, is obviously happy with her new surroundings, "What a change – I love it," she said. She is assisted by Glen Nelthropp, who is both operations manager and tour guide par excellence, and Tom McCoy, pelican captain. The pelican is named "Ruby D," after Nelthropp's mother.
Incidentally, in case you were wondering about those Senate parking spaces put in the municipal lot a couple months ago, the enterprising Nelthropp rented them for the Senate so she can utilize the parking spaces around her kiosk.
There's lots of excitement in the kiosk arranging for tours and answering the phone. There's a call from Myron Jackson of the St. Thomas Historical Society, who wants to take a tour and check out what historical buildings and architecture Nelthropp points out.
It looks like he's got everything covered as the awkward bird rumbles down Veterans Drive, "Water used to come right up here, and there were railroad tracks to take the cargo off the boats," he explains to the delight of the passengers the utter confusion of the other vehicular traffic. As the craft nears the Frenchtown Post Office, Nelthropp has to ask traffic to hold off so a sharp left turn can be executed into Frenchtown.
Traffic now becomes a greater concern as the pelican negotiates the narrow Frenchtown streets leading to Gregery Channel, and Nelthropp points out the local folklore, such as the late and venerated Bar Normandie, much to the amusement of some teenagers standing by.
Then comes the moment we've all been waiting for where the "Ruby D" splashes from the ramp into Crown Bay and becomes, voila, a water bird. It's not what one might call a graceful metamorphosis. But it works. Capt. McCoy dramatically takes his hands off the steering wheel which has instantly become useless. Now it's all gears, swim gears accompanied by window shield wipers.
With a mild chop in the water, the craft lumbers into East Gregery Channel and the tour picks up speed. Here, McCoy takes over the tour guide duties, "That's Signal Hill on Hassel Island where there used to be flags flown for whatever ship was entering the harbor . . . "
The ride then parallels the harbor where the buildings that were referred to earlier are now easier to see. McCoy points out Government House, the Crystal Palace, Villa Santana, the Danish Consulate, each with its own little description. The Native Sun looms ahead on its way to Tortola, and the pelican easily absorbs its wake. McCoy gives a wave to the Native Son captain and a confident look back and a grin to his passengers.
Finally, the "Ruby D" climbs up the ramp at the Kings Wharf, shakes off, and awaits her next passengers. Somehow, she doesn't get a fish though. Perhaps her beak can't hold more than her belly can, after all.
What to do if a storm threatens? The "Ruby D" and the kiosk, which is also on wheels, go to a safe home in a Sub Base warehouse.
Keller said until season starts, the ride will operate Mon. thru Thurs., and Sat. Though they schedule rides, two in the morning, and two in the afternoon, she said it's a good idea to call for reservations. Rates are $25 for adults and $20 for seniors, military personnel and students. There is a local discount. The phone is (340) 774-7808.

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