By Valliant Corley

Pilot staff writer

GOLD BEACH - The first jet boat tour of the year left early Thursday as Jerry's Rogue Jets started its 50th anniversary providing trips up the Wild and Scenic Rogue River.

andquot;We're excited about the fact it's our 50th anniversary, and we're real optimistic about this season,andquot; said Jeff Ferguson, the manager of marketing and reservations.

andquot;It's a tough national economy, with high gas prices,andquot; Ferguson said.

andquot;But we've had this situation before at Jerry's and the south beach,andquot; he said. andquot;People won't deny themselves a vacation, they just stay closer to home. We feel many of those Rogue Valley families that might load up and go to Disneyland, might not do that this year. We're hoping to get a lot of them here on the South Coast to enjoy what we have.andquot;

He said Jerry's is the first jet tour boat company in America.

andquot;The company was started by Jerry and Evelyn Boice, founded in 1958. Bill McNair bought it from Jerry in 1972,andquot; Ferguson said.

andquot;It's always been family owned and operated, the Boice family for 14 years, and the McNairs since,andquot; Ferguson said.

andquot;Three of Jerry and Evelyn's grandsons still drive boats for us. On the McNair side, the whole family works here. Bill and Cherie, and sons Scott, Nic, and daughter Stephanie,andquot; he said. andquot;We're a big attraction but a small company.andquot;

The pilot on the first tour of the 50th anniversary season was Tom Biggs.

andquot;He's a 33-year veteran, all those years with Jerry's,andquot; Ferguson said. andquot;If there was a jet boat hall of fame, he would be in it. Nobody in the world has run more whitewater jet boat tours than Tom Biggs. We researched that last year. It doesn't seem like anybody was even close.andquot;

Ferguson said most pilots stay around for a long time.

andquot;But nobody we're aware of has been around as long as Tommy, certainly running the white water trips,andquot; he said.

andquot;In the lower Rogue River, there's riffles versus rapids. What creates the rapids, the bigger bumpier water, is the drop in the elevation in the river,andquot; Ferguson said.

He said the first 32 miles up the river, the gain in elevation to Agness is only 110 feet.

andquot;From Agness up to the top of our longest trip, there's a 246 foot drop in river elevation. The canyons crunch the river down. It's narrower, which causes the bigger rapids that folks in the business call white water,andquot; Ferguson said.

He said those rapids would be water with rolling waves that could be as big as 4, 5 or 6 feet.

He said most of Jerry's employees have been around a long time.

andquot;We have a guy in the boat shop here 21 years, gift shop manager 18, Tom (Biggs) 33, and we have another pilot who has 26, another who has 19, five other employees 10 years or more,andquot; Ferguson said.

He said that in May and June, Jerry's offers 64- and 104-mile trips.

andquot;In July and August, we add an 80-mile trip,andquot; Ferguson said. andquot;In May, June, September and October, it's just the 64- and 104-mile trips. Passenger volume in July and August is higher. We add afternoon departures then, going from two offerings once a day to three offerings twice a day.andquot;