Duck Boat Captain Makes A Splash
A tour guide for an unusual company, Norman Schultz will make a stop in Cinnaminson Wednesday.
By William Kekevian
August 30, 2011
Ask duck boat Master Captain Norman Schultz how he’s doing and, without missing a beat, the six-year veteran of the Philadelphia amphibious tour vehicle company says, “I’m quack-tacular!”
If you’re already groaning, you may just be Schultz’s kind of audience.
“The groans are like music to me,” he says.
It’s a good thing, too because with an arsenal of fowl puns on his bill, he hears boos and the taunts of duck whistles all day long. Still, he boasts of his “cringe-worthy” performance.
“I was cursed with that (puns), it runs in the family. We’re Irish, we’re very punny,” he says.
The Ride The Ducks tours, which have been operating in Philadelphia since 2003, take a WWII-style duck boat for an hour-long drive around the historic district of Philadelphia concluding in a 10-minute dip into the Delaware River. Although the tour is educational, Schultz knows what makes a splash with younger riders.
“For me it’s an opportunity to tell a story about the people,” he says. “I want people to learn by accident.”
For Schultz, 46, learning “by accident” is a recurring theme. In 2005, he was diagnosed with cancer in his salivatory gland. Divorced and estranged from his hometown of Baltimore, and living in Cherry Hill, it’s an understatement to say he was down and out. But, ever optimistic, Schultz made some life decisions.
“When you go through something like that,” he says, “you say ‘I’m going to do fun things for the rest of my life.’
Having grown up near the Baltimore Harbor, he had earned his sea legs early in life. Cousins who had boats surrounded him, but it was his love of the stage, rather than the sea, that originally drew him to the Ride The Ducks Company.
In the spirit of ‘doing fun things,’ Schultz, now free of cancer, began acting with a Philadelphia comedy troupe called Comic Energy. That’s when he saw an ad in the Theater Alliance for duck boat tour guides. Flashing back a decade, Schultz had actually taken a duck boat tour while living briefly in Pittsburgh.
“I remember thinking it was pretty good. But it could be so much more entertaining. Little did I dream of operating one,” Schultz recalls.
He passed the audition and quickly worked his way up the ranks to captain. He’d even been tapped to train future captains and impart some of his showbiz savvy glitz. Schultz says of this time that he’d fallen in love with the history of Philadelphia, but that wasn’t his only new love. His personal life began to turn around, too. He remarried, became a stepfather to three and moved to his current home in Moorestown.
“I knew on the first date we were going to get married.” he says of meeting his wife. “Within 41 days of our first date, we were married.”
But last year, tragedy struck when a tugboat plowed into one of Philly’s Ride The Ducks tours killing two passengers. Schultz was watching the tragedy unfold from home.
“I wasn’t working that day,” he says. “It was frustrating for me. We run at 4 knots, that’s creeping. It’s very slow. There’s no way we dodged in front of a barge.”
Still, the duck boats were slaughtered in the press.
“I knew immediately no one was talking to an expert,” Schultz says of the disappointing coverage of the accident.
The way Schultz tells it, the duck boat had overheated, a common occurrence that doesn’t pose a threat to passengers. Marooned on the edge of the Delaware, the duck boat waited for a tow back to land and, following procedure, radioed surrounding water traffic. But, one tugboat operator was distracted and had turned off his radio, left his post and was using his cell phone and laptop, according to reports.
This month, that tugboat operator, Matthew Devlin, of New York, pleaded guilty to one count of misconduct of a ship operator causing death. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 11 and faces a possible 10-year term.
Following the accident the Philly’s Ride The Ducks tours closed for what turned out to be nine months. Schultz was unhappy with the media coverage of the accident and the time off. That’s when a friend stepped in and encouraged him to return to acting. A few headshots and tryouts later and Schultz was appearing on television shows like Celebrity Ghost Stories and Law & Order and feature films like Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Transformers.
While he was enjoying his new career, Ride The Ducks was preparing to reopen and it was Schultz they wanted to represent them for what they hoped would be a triumphant return.
“They knew I’d be the person who was a little more media savvy and wouldn’t buckle because I was a performer,” Schultz says.
Schultz charmed the media with his corny uncle routine and the tours have been running smoothly all summer.
This Wednesday, Schultz, along with Ride The Ducks mascot Splash, will be appearing at the Cinnaminson Friendly’s with his duck boat for a special guest appearance. The day promises lots of Captain Norm’s goofy jokes as well as discount coupons and other prizes.
He’ll be there from 5 to 7 p.m. at the 505 Route 130 South store in Cinnaminson.
While the Ducks are off-season, Schultz is still getting roles on screen. This fall he can be seen in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire as a cigar chomping bar patron.
While Schultz enjoys being on screen and impressing friends and family, especially his 14-year-old stepdaughter who keeps a scrapbook of his appearances, his home is with the ducks.
“I can’t wait to go to work everyday. I love to meet people and entertain them.”