Meet Jordan Kit, at 26 the youngest captain of the Goodtime III in the company’s nearly 60-year history.
Kit pilots the 500-ton, 1,000-passenger ship through the Cleveland Harbor, under bridges and around freighters on the Cuyahoga River, for as often as four two-hour tours a day.
That wasn’t his original plan. As an international relations graduate of Baldwin Wallace University, he originally planned to help children in China. But Kit, who as a kid moved from Buffalo to Boston to West Geauga, got the boat bug working summers on the iconic Goodtime III, which has been sailing since 1993. She and her predecessors are named after a steamship — officially named the City of Detroit II, but colloquially called the Goodtime — that sailed from Cleveland to Cedar Point from 1924 to 1938.
Now, the Goodtime III entertains passengers during 300 cruises a year, for sightseeing, lunch, happy hour and more, from May to September.
Kit, who lives downtown, is at the helm for nearly every cruise.
(See a cleveland.com story about Kit here.)
He fell in love with the city and with the ship manager, Samantha Landgraf. And he plans to spend his career on the Goodtime, showing off Cleveland from its best angle.
“Honestly you can’t beat the office view,” he says.
This off-season, while the Goodtime has been hauled out of the water for an inspection, a new paint job and renovations, Kit took a break from the cold to talk about the ship, the city of Cleveland and the challenges of the river.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How did you get started working on the Goodtime?
I was living in a house in Berea with a couple guys. One guy, his dad was the caterer on the Goodtime III. It was coming time for summer and they were hiring deckhands. I went to interview for the job, and at the end of the interview, the general manager said, you can start in two weeks as a concession stand worker. That wasn’t what I expected, but that was a cool way to spend the summer. I spent a couple months prepping snacks, serving the buffet for lunch and dinners. After a while, the college kids went back to school and I got to work as a deckhand, while I was in college.
When I graduated, I had a job all lined up, but they lost their funding at the last minute. My bags were packed and I didn’t have a plan. I thought, I’ll make some money working on the Goodtime and go to China in the fall. I spent more time working with Capt. Bruce Hudec (who died in 2014) really did catch the bug that year.
What kind of training do you have?
The main requisite is to have enough time working on vessel of that size. I had to have 360 days on a vessel, and Capt. Bruce really encouraged me to go to take a big exam with the U.S. Coast Guard. If you pass that and all your paperwork is in order, you get the 100 gross ton license for the Great Lakes.
The license means you’re technically, legally able to be the captain. But it’s really like getting your learner’s permit. You really got to put in your time. For the 2014 season, I got to ride in the pilot house with Capt. Bruce. He was a tremendous person to learn from.
This last season was my first on my own. When you’re the captain you’re responsible for a lot of people’s safety. So it’s not something to take lightly.
What’s the toughest challenge of piloting the ship?
Real challenge of operating as a captain in these areas is the weather. Because Lake Erie is so shallow, weather can whip up very quickly, very dramatically.
The second, we have a very unique market in the Cuyahoga River. It’s a very narrow waterway that’s becoming increasingly popular for a lot of users, both commercial and recreational. It’s become more difficult to navigate. You’ve got to be a little more deliberate, a little more cautious.
Not that that’s bad. When there are more people using the river, that makes it better for our trips. And it’s not necessarily kayakers or paddlers who are a problem, but guys who spend the afternoon drinking at the bars and then decide to rent one. That’s usually where the challenge comes into play.
The Norfolk Southern railroad bridge can also be a problem. We’ve gotten stuck and had hours of delays.
What’s the difference between the Goodtime and the Nautica Queen (other than the fact that you’re docked at North Coast Harbor, while Nautica is in the Flats)?
Nautica is smaller, and they’re a little more dinner and lunch kind of boat.
We focus more on narration for sightseeing tours. Some I’ve recorded. Some I adlib. People are getting as up-to-date a picture of what’s going on on the Cuyahoga as possible.
I’m friendly with the captain of the Nautica Queen, even with freighter captains. The first goal is safety. We all pass along information, we all try to make it as convenient for others as possible. It’s a very enjoyable work environment. We kind of commiserate about the bridge.
Do you think Lake Erie is having a renaissance?
It’s essentially being rediscovered. The Flats were the hotspot in Cleveland for a long time. That kind of fell away. Now all the areas that sat there since the heyday of the Flats are experiencing a revival.
Plus there are new and exciting trails, opening the door for people to find we’ve had this really great asset all along. Rather than having a bunch of industrial uses or a bunch of bars we have a whole lot of opportunities to use the river.
What’s the best part of your job?
I like the opportunity of being an ambassador for Cleveland. I take it upon myself to learn as much as I can about what’s going on.
If I look down on very front of ship, and people who are just giddy with excitement and pointing out what’s changed, that’s who I gear the trip to. They’re getting to know their city from a whole new perspective. That’s very rewarding to me. When I dock, I hang around for people who want to say hi, want to ask more questions.
It’s always exciting to be able to show up all these new developments. On a perfect cruise you hardly notice the boat portion. The best cruises you just get to experience Cleveland from its best side.