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JAUNTS : Take a Spin Around Harbor : Rent an electric- powered party boat for a cruise. It holds up to eight people, with food and other amenities available.

November 17, 1994|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The holiday season is almost here and, if you're strapped for something new and different to do with visiting relatives, here's an idea: Take them for a spin around the Channel Islands Harbor.

So you don't have a boat? No problem. You can rent an electric-powered party boat, take the wheel yourself and cruise the harbor.

"We call it the golf cart of boating," said Connie Hutson, owner of the 18-foot-long party boat that she rents under the business Easy Cruisin'.

The boat, with its blue awning, holds up to eight people who can schmooze and picnic while they see the harbor from the water, instead of from the shore.

Hutson launched the business in June from Harbor Landing, offering half-hour jaunts for $25 or hourlong trips for $45. For $70, she can gussy up the boat with a food tray, wine and roses for what she calls the romance package.

So far, the boat has spawned at least one romance, she said. A young man surprised his girlfriend with a wedding proposal while on a harbor cruise. He hired an airplane to fly overhead with a banner that read "Marry Me Patty."

"He came back with a thumbs-up sign and she was beaming," Hutson said.

The idea of piloting an 18-foot boat might sound a little intimidating to anyone who has never driven a boat, much less in a busy harbor of more than 2,000 craft. It is, at first. But the speed limit in the harbor is only 5 m.p.h. and the boat doesn't go any faster than that anyway.

"It's easy to get out of the way," Hutson said. "Even if you bump into something, it's not going fast enough (to cause much of an impact)." So far, that hasn't happened, although she worried about it when she first launched the $16,000 boat.

Don't expect the roar of an engine when you turn on the ignition. With the battery-operated motor, the boat hardly makes a sound. Except for a slight vibration, you won't know that it's really on. That makes it easier to hear the radio or tapes that Hutson supplies for the cruise.

Once on the water, you can ogle the fishing boats and yachts docked along the shore. You can also explore the many fingers in the harbor and peruse the pricey homes on the water's edge. The boat turns on a dime, so it isn't difficult to turn around at the end of an inlet.

Passengers sit on cushioned seats around the bow of the boat and in the stern. Some bring along a picnic lunch or dock in the harbor at several spots if they want to pick up something.

Taking the boat out for a spin carries with it some cautionary rules: You must stay in the harbor, going no farther than the Whales Tail restaurant toward the mouth of the harbor. Stay to the right of other boats, and keep in mind that sailboats have the right of way. If there is a problem, Hutson keeps a cellular phone on board.

Landing the boat at the end of the cruise is a little tricky. You turn off the engine and coast toward the dock at Harbor Landing. Hutson or one of her crew will be on hand to help ease the boat alongside the dock.

Since Hutson works full time as general manager of the Mandalay Beach Resort, her daughter, Jodi, helps her run the boat business on the side.

Last summer, the boat was in high demand, she said. "We had to turn people away."

During the slower season--now through February--the boat is available by reservation seven days a week during daylight hours. Later, in the spring and summer, reservations aren't necessary because a crew member is on hand during operating hours and the boat is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Why did Hutson get into the boat business?

"I live at Mandalay Bay and I love the water, so it's frustrating if you're not a boat owner," she said. "I looked into buying a boat, but I didn't want the heavy maintenance and I wasn't interested in going into the ocean."

She thought that surely there must be other people like her who want access to a boat without all the hassle.

"I was right," she said.

Details

* WHAT: Easy Cruisin' electric boat rental.

* WHERE: Channel Islands Harbor, Harbor Landing on the west side of the harbor.

* WHEN: Daily, during daylight hours, by reservation.

* COST: $25 for half an hour, $45 for an hour.

* FYI: For reservations, call 984-4379. Call one or two days ahead.

* ETC.: The boat is available for children's birthday parties. Children under 7 must wear life jackets provided by the boat owner.

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