Wooden airboats retire with Myakka Wildlife Tours owner

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Hop aboard the Gator Gal or the Myakka Maiden and Captain Jaime Canfield will take you back in time. 

The two wooden airboats are the largest in the world. For decades they've carried visitors eagerly searching for alligators and birds around Myakka State Park. 

"It's such a unique vessel that has such character and such heritage to it," Captain Canfield said. "It's a perfect boat for this area because it doesn't have any props under the water so it doesn't damage any of the bottom of the lake or any of the wildlife in the lake."

But now, their time on the lake is coming to an end. 

After 38 years running Myakka Wildlife Tours, Kevin Hember's father is retiring.

A new business and owner will step in with their own equipment. 

"He was hoping that whoever he could find to take the contract would be interested in keeping the boats as they were," said Hember. 

His dozen employees also face an unknown future. They've had to reapply for their jobs, but aren't certain they'll be rehired. 

"As long as the captains can keep taking customers out on the lake and as long as the customers can keep seeing the wildlife that's what we are really hoping for," he said. 

The boats will be in service until July 31. The new owner will take over with a different boat service on August 1. 

Meanwhile, these pieces of old Florida will be docked on dry land with a new sign that reads "for sale." 

"People come to the park specifically to ride the airboat because it is such a unique experience. And that experience is going to be gone," said Canfield.