NEWPORT BEACH — My husband, Paul, and I have never stayed at a bed-and-breakfast inn--fear of intrusive innkeepers and shared bathrooms--but the idea of boat and breakfast intrigued us. Which is why, on a recent Saturday morning, we headed south to Newport Beach, home of Worldwide Boat & Breakfast, a company that offers overnight stays on private yachts in Marina del Rey, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach for $150-$350.
As the system works, Worldwide contracts with boat owners to handle rentals of their moored yachts for a percentage of the reservation price. To take a yacht out of its slip requires a captain and runs another $125-and-up an hour. An excursion was beyond our budget, but a night aboard a yacht, even berthed, sounded like an exotic--and romantic--getaway.
From descriptions of the dozen yachts Worldwide faxed me, we had chosen the Scherry-Ann, a 48-foot powerboat, for $225. Unfortunately, when I phoned for reservations, I learned the Scherry-Ann was booked. Sensing my disappointment, Worldwide's owner, Vili Boyadjiev, offered to rent us the $300-a-night Bounty for $250 instead. A 71-foot schooner built in 1934 by famed sailboat designer L. Francis Herreshoff, the Bounty, according to Worldwide's fax, "spent the summers entertaining the likes of the young Kennedys, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts off the coast of Maine." Paul and I figured, why not the Boorstins?
The morning clouds were burning off by the time we hit Coast Highway in Newport Beach, and crossed the bridge over Newport Bay to the brick-paved streets and boutiques of Lido Marina Village. Since there are several yacht sales offices here, many of the boats in the marina are for sale, at prices ranging from $29,000 to $350,000. We stopped by a few with "Open House" signs, like looky-loos touring Sunday open houses in Bel-Air. On one sleek Chris-Craft, a tape recording of crashing ocean waves, crying gulls and creaking ropes lured buyers like a New Age siren.
Eager to see the Bounty, we had a quick lunch at Lido Greek, a mom-and-pop Greek cafe on the boardwalk, and then checked in at the Worldwide office. Vili, the owner, nimbly traversed the bobbing, floating docks in 3 1/2-inch heels. (I found it tricky wearing tennis shoes.) She led us past several modern powerboats, some rising three and four decks high, to a low-slung, white vintage schooner. In her Bulgarian-accented voice, she assured us that we would find our night aboard the Bounty unique, romantic, magical: "Twelve couples have become engaged during their stay on her!"
Indeed, when Vili slid back the main hatch of the Bounty and led us down the companion way (ladder), we were blown away. Wrapped in warm teak paneling that has an almost mirror-like shine, the narrow salon features rose-colored velvet-cushioned settees, and such antique touches as stained-glass overhead hatches, wall-mounted kerosene lamps and an old brass clock stuck forever at 1:52. A leaded-glass door led from the salon to the stateroom, where the double bed tucked against one wall was tapered at the foot end, to fit into the aft section of the hull. Covered in a chenille bedspread and piled with lace-trimmed pillows, it was beyond cozy.
Vili showed us how to use the head, a toilet and wash-basin squeezed into a cubicle the size of a stall-shower--which it doubles as, because the shower head sprouts from the ceiling. To flush the toilet, you must simultaneously pull a lever and step on a foot pedal. In Vili's office earlier, we had signed a contract in which we promised to flush nothing down the toilet that hadn't been "digested," and to pay $50 if we clogged it.
Vili pointed out the cooler full of complimentary beer, sodas and drinking water in the cockpit on deck, and said she'd drop off breakfast in the morning. Then she gave us the key to the Bounty. We were on our own. Like children moving into a new playhouse, we gleefully explored the boat's every nook and cranny.
Paul and I quickly discovered that much of the pleasure of pleasure-boating is watching the world go by--even if your boat is going nowhere. Since the Bounty is moored in an outside slip, we had an unobstructed view of the bay. Sometimes sharing binoculars, we observed several festive weddings at sea, scores of sleek yachts, along with kayaks, skulls, sailboats and gondolas (yes, gondolas--the theme at Lido Marina is vaguely Venetian). People cruising by often glanced back at us relaxing on the deck. One man waved and called, "Beautiful boat!" Paul and I shared a look--should we tell the truth, say it wasn't ours? Nah. We waved and called back, "Thanks!"
In the late afternoon we walked to the beach, an easy six blocks away. Bike riders and in-line skaters glided down the boardwalk. The sun sparkled on the ocean, where surfers and bathers splashed, but I passed up the opportunity for a swim. Both Paul and I were eager to retreat to what we were now referring to as our boat.