If you’ve visited Gulfport Marina in recent months, you might’ve noticed a new attraction: Kraken Cycleboats.
Founded last year by Tony Mendina and Jeff Rhoades, the venture offers scenic cruises on Boca Ciega Bay aboard a vessel powered by its customers. That’s right: It’s a paddleboat. Customers pedal while they’re partying, and a Coast Guard-certified captain helms the vessel. The center of the boat features a giant cooler where guests can stow food and beverages they bring aboard.
Mendina, a Michigan transplant who also owns a personal training business, said he and Rhoades got the idea for the business while on vacation with their wives in Nashville.
“We did the peddle pubs that they have on the street there,” he said. “We had such a good time, and we started thinking if we could do that on the water instead of the street, it would be a heck of an idea since, here in the Tampa and St. Pete area, we’re surrounded by water. And as it turns out, there was already a company making these boats.”
Kraken Cycleboats launched in October 2016 in Tampa and January this year in Gulfport. Mendina said the Gulfport cycleboat differs somewhat from the others in the fleet due to the fact that it goes out into open bay waters where the wind can be a significant navigational factor.
“It has an electric motor and we have solar panels on top that continually charge the motor. We use the motor for docking the boat and if it’s really windy and we need some assistance.”
Mendina said the boats won’t go out unless at least eight people have booked a spot ahead of time. That’s so the pedaling isn’t too strenuous on passengers.
“If you had, say, just five people, it might be more of a workout,” he explained.
Under pedal power, Mendina said, the boat usually travels at speeds between 3 and 4 mph, and a typical cruise will range about five miles. In Tampa, the boats travel on the Hillsborough River along the city’s downtown Riverwalk area, so it’s a much different experience than in Gulfport, where the route emphasizes the natural beauty of Boca Ciega Bay.
“It’s been incredible,” said Mendina. “One of the things we were wondering when we started this – would people just do it one time as a novelty? But we’ve found that people are coming out multiple times with different groups of friends and co-workers.”