Erik Avanier goes behind the wheel of Miss Geico race boat

News4Jax reporter speeds down the river the day before the Sea and Sky Air Show

News4Jax reporter speeds down the river the day before the Sea and Sky Air Show.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Ahead of the Sea and Sky Air Show this weekend in Jacksonville Beach, News4Jax reporter Erik Avanier made history Friday.

He became the first-ever television news reporter to be allowed to operate an official race boat during race season -- the day before a race at a major show. 

This was supposed to a rehearsal for the race between the Miss Geico race boat and the Geico Skytypers air team, but weather caused safety concerns, which limited the rehearsal to the St. Johns River instead of the Atlantic Ocean. 

Avanier flew with the Geico Skytypers years ago to see what it was like to perform in an airshow. This time around, he wanted to know what it was like to race the Skytypers in the Miss Geico race boat. Though he didn't get to race the Skytypers due to the weather, his wish still came true. He got to see what it's like to get behind the wheel of the Miss Geico race boat.

Safety comes first. That meant he had to put on a safety vest and a high-impact helmet. After being strapped into his seat belt next to his throttleman, world champion racer Steve Cousins, he was told about the escape hatch below his feet in event of an emergency. Then it was time to take off. 

At first, they cruised down the river at a high rate of speed, so Avanier could get the feel of navigating a craft with 1,100 horsepower. Then they turn around and opened the throttle down the St. Johns River near the opening to the ocean. 

"It will run about 160 mph," Cousins explained. "We ran about 128 today."

At 128 mph, Avanier said he could feel every bump, which is why he said he was glad he was wearing a helmet. Avanier said that every time they hit a rough patch of water, his head slammed against the canopy.

“It was getting pretty bumpy out there so, we had to reduce the speed, but we were getting some big airtime out there," Cousins said to Avanier. "I could see your head was hitting the side of the vessel, so I didn’t want to break your neck."

Avanier added: "After navigating a boat like this, I can honestly say it’s not like the stuff you see in Hollywood movies. A boat with this much power, takes at least two people to operate.”

Avanier said he now has lot of respect for professional racers, especially the Geico racers who race the Skytypers during major air and water shows.

“The plane will swoop down to get speed. We run underneath and we should start running together at a 100 mph," Cousins said.

Then the two will race each other along the beach for a mile. If water conditions are calm, the boat has the advantage.

“Whoever wins, wins," Cousins said.

Of course, there was one question Avanier had to ask: "How well did I do in there, navigating the boat?"

Cousins answered: "You did great. It’s a difficult thing to be dumped in a canopy, told to go straight. It’s completely alien. You have no brakes. You don’t have the throttle. You’re holding on the wheel. You did a fantastic job today.”

Avanier said he was just happy that he didn't crash the boat.

News4Jax reporter Erik Avanier and News4Jax photojournalist Chris O'Rourke

About the Authors:

Award-winning broadcast and multimedia journalist with 20 years experience.

Jacksonville native and proud University of Florida graduate who joined News4JAX in 2016.