Summer Guide: Lake Tahoe—Speeding across emerald bay

Is there any better view in the world than the one from a boat on Lake Tahoe?

After you leave that 5 mph zone near the shore, speedboating on Lake Tahoe can be a hair-raising experience.

After you leave that 5 mph zone near the shore, speedboating on Lake Tahoe can be a hair-raising experience.

Photo by David Robert

My first official act of summer was going to be a hair-raising—and body-raising—experience: parasailing 1,200 feet above the cool, clear waters of Lake Tahoe. After endless contact with answering machines, I finally reached Bob Hassett of Action Watersports at Timber Cove Marina. I then learned, to my dismay, that this story was due before parasailing season.

Bob sympathized. Then he asked me if I wanted to do something out of the ordinary: a ride on the Tahoe Thunder. Feeling adventurous, I eagerly agreed.

The boat ride, for which Bob did not charge the RN&R, started out at a trolling pace in the 5 mph zone of the marina. With only a few clouds in the sky and a light breeze, the lake was calm; it was an excellent day for a boat ride. Our destination: Emerald Bay.

Captain Marc St. Hilaire briefed us on the boat’s abilities and told us that it is inspected and certified by the Coast Guard. (Captain Marc himself has been intensively trained and licensed to handle the boat’s power.) The Tahoe Thunder is an offshore-style race catamaran boat that boasts twin 502 engines, each holding 415 horsepower. Being 33 feet long and 9 feet wide, it’s designed to easily carry up to 12 passengers at lightning speed. With top speeds of 60 mph, the Tahoe Thunder is the fastest Coast Guard-approved passenger boat in the country.

As soon as we cleared the 600-foot zone of the marina, Captain Marc opened up the throttle, and the thrill ride began. The engine’s low purr became a mighty roar, and the boat glided effortlessly on the water. The force of the wind whipped through my hair, and every muscle in my face tightened; it felt as if my face would freeze into a permanent goofy grin.

We zipped past a slow-moving paddleboat, the Tahoe Queen, and the wake from the boat created a launching pad. The Tahoe Thunder popped out of the water, sending a wave of excitement through my body. It was an adrenaline rush, to say the least. A few moments later, we neared the mouth of Emerald Bay, where the boat ride slowed down to allow us to enjoy the sights.

Emerald Bay is a popular tourist area, and one of the biggest draws is Vikingsholm Castle. This Scandinavian architecture marvel was completed in 1929 as a summer retreat for socialite Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight. Nestled in the trees, the castle’s views of Emerald Bay and Lake Tahoe are breathtaking. Legend has it that Mrs. Knight’s butler rowed the lady and her friends out to the bay’s Fannette Island—the only island in the entire lake—to enjoy the views from a stone tearoom, built at the same time as Vikingsholm, which looks like a miniature castle on the island.

Camping at the bay can only be reached by hiking or by boat, making it a true camping experience. The Emerald Bay Boat Camp facilitates 20 campsites and mooring buoys. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are limited to a 15-day stay at $10 per day.

For the SCUBA diver, the Emerald Bay Underwater Park holds artifacts, boats and barges to be explored in their watery graves. There is a look-but-don’t-take policy to preserve the park for all who brave Tahoe’s chilly waters.

The ride through the glassy waters of the bay was very relaxing, and the intimate view of the island and the shoreline was an experience to remember. As we headed from the bay’s emerald-colored waters, we whisked off to Rubicon Point, where the depths illuminate to a sapphire blue. The rugged terrain of what looked like moss-covered rock and trees was pristine beauty, beckoning to be explored.

Just past the Point, we briefly visited the D.L. Bliss State Park shoreline, and then headed toward Camp Richardson. The trip back was fast and furious, and the boat hugged turns with ease as we once again passed the Tahoe Queen.

As we reached the dock at Timber Cove, I was a little wobbly getting off the boat. The wind blew all scattered thoughts out of my mind, and the adrenaline running through my body made for an exciting day on the lake. This is a ride I could easily do again.

The Tahoe Thunder departs from Timber Cove Marina for Emerald Bay hourly during the summer. The cost for adults is $30 and $15 for children. Private charters are also available from anywhere on the lake; call Action Watersports for details. Action Watersports also offers a wide variety of rental services that include charter boats, lake-legal jet skis and other “water toys.” These services can be found at several areas around the lake, including Timber Cove, where I still intend to parasail.

Visit to print out a discount coupon offer for boat rentals and parasailing. Or, for more information on the Tahoe Thunder and other charters available, contact Action Watersports of Tahoe at Timber Cove Marina, 3411 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, (530) 544-2942.