Excuse me, is that a tiki bar floating down the New River? With its thatched roof, the quirky craft resembles something straight out of TV’s “Gilligan’s Island” and has been turning heads among onlookers and other boaters since hitting the water in February. The octagon-shaped dinghy is the creation of Fort Lauderdale resident Greg Darby, 65, who built the vessel for jaunts along the New River and Intracoastal Waterway, with his wife, Karen, and friends. “Our neighbors say our tiki fell into the water,” said Greg Darby, jokingly. “It’s a complete tiki bar. It’s a heck of a lot of fun.”
The boat’s foundation consists of 55-gallon drums that “maintain the smoothness,” said Darby, who grew up boating in Fort Lauderdale. “It doesn’t rock and roll. Our litmus test is that we haven’t spilled a beer.” The vessel measures about 15 feet wide and long and can carry eight to 10 people, he said. A 30-horsepower Suzuki outboard engine can make it go as fast as 10 knots, creating a small wake. Inside, there’s a round wet bar made of bamboo, with columns made of cypress wood, pine decking, bar stools and a wooden captain’s wheel. Coasters read: “Welcome to our Tiki Bar.” Also onboard are Coast Guard essentials including life jackets, a VHF marine radio, fire extinguisher, a horn and flares, and LED lights for nighttime use. A lifesaver bears the name USS Swede, after a longtime friend, Glenn Malmstrom, who died in February. Friends called him “Swede.”
So, why build a tiki boat? The idea came about because he had always wanted a tiki hut. “My wife said, ‘Why don’t you build a tiki hut?’ … And I started thinking, what if I built this on the water?” Darby said he began researching the idea 1 1/2 years ago, after his previous 12-foot dinghy, which he and his wife used for lunch or after-work excursions, was stolen. “We like being on the water, that’s what South Florida is all about. We missed the dinghy,” he said. Darby, an electrical engineer and chief executive officer of Ark Data Center, sketched the boat’s design. He calculated buoyancy and researched what kind of motor to attach.
By November 2015, he began building it. “I wasn’t sure if it would be sturdy,” said Karen Darby. “I saw him make it in our backyard. It’s very sturdy. I feel very safe on it.” The boat quickly became a sensation online. Fellow boaters recorded and shared video of the contraption as it cruised under bridges, alongside yachts and past waterfront estates and buildings. “It draws a lot of attention,” said Karen Darby, as people peeked over the railing of the South Andrews bridge in downtown Fort Lauderdale for a look at the boat on a recent Thursday morning. Others did double-takes. “They wave. They holler. They clap. It makes people laugh,” she said.
Sherril Mulai stopped walking when she saw the vessel docked outside of The Historic Downtowner Saloon. “I’ve never seen one of those things,” said Mulai, after snapping a photo on her smartphone. “You have a mobile bar … in the water! I think it’s the coolest thing.” Because of the positive reception and requests from other boaters, Darby said he has turned his tiki boat into a business called Cruisin’ Tikis, which he trademarked. So far, he said he has four boats in development. Prices start at $16,500. “When people look at it, they say, ‘What?’ And that’s what makes it fun,” said Greg Darby, while docking his tiki boat. “I am getting emails from around the world. It’s nuts.”