‘I Love That Everyone Who Comes Aboard is Celebrating’
The enemy pirate swam toward their boat, his sword cutting the waves rippling through the Potomac. For Nikki and Dave DuBois, this was a first.
‘On our treasure hunt cruise, we have a small speedboat that comes to attack us, with an enemy pirate aboard holding the keys to our treasure chest,’ Nikki explains. ‘One time we had a new guy who was very excited and he was driving way too fast while standing up, screaming and waving a fake pirate sword. I thought, ‘Wow, this is the best enemy pirate we ever had!’ And then he turned his boat around, hit his own wake and fell into the water.’
Nikki and her husband, Dave, live in Georgetown and own Boomerang Boat Tours—operating three vessels out of Georgetown’s Washington Harbour, including the family friendly pirate ship. They’d never had a man overboard, especially one clutching a costume prop.
‘All the kids thought it was real—that the enemy pirate was purposely in the water swimming to our boat to steal the treasure. They didn’t understand why we were rescuing him, and once he was safely aboard our ship, although visibly shaken, we had to pretend to arrest him and lock him in the galley!’
Life at sea—or river, in this case—is as unpredictable as Nikki had hoped.
She spent the first eight years of her career as a high school teacher specializing in human geography, sociology, global issues, and government, but wanted a change of pace.
‘Even on the weekends I was grading and planning, and always tired. I thought, I can’t live my whole life like this. My friends had these exciting jobs and I’d gone from high school to college, and back to high school.’
Interested in hospitality, Nikki had the ‘crazy idea’ to buy a school bus and turn it into a fun way to transport young professionals in and out of the city to Redskins games, vineyards, crab feasts, concerts, and Shenandoah tubing trips.
‘It was sort of when Match.com and MySpace were getting big, so I thought it would be a way to network and meet other people without worrying about drinking and driving. I kept talking about the idea and finally Dave said, ‘You should just do it. All you need to do is be successful enough to match your teacher salary, and if it doesn’t work, you can go back to teaching.’ It was as though I was at the end of the diving board and I needed him to push me into the water.’
Thanks to Montgomery County’s liberal leave policy, Nikki took a year off unpaid. If she crashed and burned, she’d still have her job.
After buying a used school bus, Nikki and Dave painted the outside, gutted the inside, and added surround sound, decorations, and stability poles.
‘It was a lot of trial and error; calling sound techs who said, ‘I’ve never done work on a bus but I could try.’ A handyman who’s like, ‘I’ve never configured seating on a bus’—but he did. It would be a lot easier if someone were to start that company today. Back then, I didn’t even have Facebook or a Blackberry, let alone an iPhone.’
Six months later, a second bus was added to meet demand. Dave was also spending so much time helping Nikki that his own work in financial services was taking a backseat. Two years in—despite protests from both sets of parents who thought they were crazy—he quit his job and joined Boomerang full-time.
By 2010, they were operating six buses and a limo—leading a majority of tours themselves.
‘I felt like I was utilizing the same skills I honed as a teacher. I would stand in front of about 40 guests on a bus, which was the same number of students in a classroom; I had a microphone; I’d take attendance and tell them exactly what they were doing that day; I’d collect their money. Every tour was different, which was very similar to teaching, except I didn’t have to grade any homework.’
Eventually they wanted more, and saw a niche in the market that had yet to be filled.
‘In other cities like New York, San Diego or Chicago, you can get off of work, hop on a boat, have a cocktail and meet people while watching the sunset. That didn’t exist in DC. It was either sightseeing boats or high-end dinner cruises, but nothing in the middle that you could afford to do every Friday. We realized we weren’t taking advantage of what appeared to be an easy entrance into the boating market, and we always loved the water.’
They flirted with the idea of expanding from buses to boats for two years, expecting a door to slam in their face at any moment. Nikki says it was an intimidating process—from working with the Coast Guard to getting a liquor license, finding and fixing up a boat that could fit their vision, locating a staging area, and hiring captains and DJs—yet Boomerang Boat Tours successfully set sail in 2012.
Now in their seventh season, the company offers pirate ship cruises for kids and adults, as well as an adult party yacht, and a smaller party boat for privately chartered cruises. The bus and boat businesses overlapped for two years before they decided to sell their bus fleet—Nikki too often bartending on a cruise while simultaneously calling a tow truck for a broken-down bus or helping a lost driver.
The water seems to suit her and Dave better, anyway. Both of them grew up spending time on their fathers’ small speedboats—Nikki at the Jersey shore, and Dave fishing in Lake Michigan. Living in Georgetown, they often spent date nights cruising on the Nightingale’s sightseeing boats, drinking cheap Coronas and chatting with the crew.
Now they share that same camaraderie with their own guests.
‘Everyone who comes aboard a Boomerang Boat is always celebrating something, and that’s the best part. We’ve had divorce parties, people returning from the military, graduations, companies celebrating a good quarter, bachelorette parties, 5-year-old birthday parties to 40-year-old birthday parties—and then people just excited they’re on a boat.’
The business is foolproof in that way. No matter what, it’s always someone’s birthday.
Soon, it will be their son’s. Nikki and Dave’s 10-month-old has forced the couple to divide and conquer their time on the boats. They used to work together frequently, and met many customers on the buses and boats who became their best friends. But with Calvin in tow, their future is looking less party and more pirate.
Nikki says they’re all aboard.