Après Sailing in the OC

Published on October 19th, 2015

We got a giggle with this story in the October 2015 edition of American Way. Maybe you need to know the city or the boat, both marvels of the universe, to enjoy this. For everyone else, just close your eyes and read…

Lounging on what is essentially a floating sectional couch, I hold a cold beer in one hand and a cheese laden cracker in the other as we chug quietly around a busy harbor in Newport Beach, CA.

Passing a seal who has wedged himself onto the back of a buoyed boat to nap deeply – with no apparent regard for personal property of business hours – my boatmates’ conversation turns to a general admiration for the urban-seal lifestyle.

Why do they spend the majority of their lives leisurely swimming or sunning seaside when we – who are supposedly smarter – rarely ‘get’ to do the same activities, and when we do, the males of our species wear an uncomfortable netting in our shorts?

These sort of epiphanies hit you when you’re riding in a Duffy boat, the world’s most relaxing sea rig to never go 6 miles an hour because its engine is by design not powerful enough.

Newport Beach has a reputation for being quite fancy. This is partly because of its seaside location in Orange County, municipal home to an eponymously named reality show about wealthy housewives and an eponymously abbreviated teenage drama about teenage drama.

And it’s partly because, well, Newport Beach is quite fancy. I’ve spent part of this trip, arranged by the local tourism board, touring five-star villas, selecting ingredients from a fresh margarita bar and jutting out my lower lip knowledgeably when a server tells me where the oyster are from. It’s been glorious, and I regret nothing.

But Newport Beach’s true soul, I’ve come to believe, has little to do with glitterati or the sun-soaked angst depicted on cable programming. It’s this unassuming electric boat, created and named after a local inventor nicknamed Duffy and cheaply rentable for hours of shopping or barhopping on the harbor.

Its max miles per hour matches the harbor’s speed limit: 5. The golf cart of the seas, navigating it only requires a regular driver’s license, and it will fit all your friends – or none of them, if you’re a housewife upset about what Heather said about your Shih Tzu on the last episode.

Once home to John Wayne, Newport Beach features a recreational neighborhood on its Balboa Peninsula officially named the Fun Zone, which mean if there is a major crime in that area, local cops will radio: “All units to the Fun Zone.” It’s a town where local are divided on which shop has the best Balboa Bar – a rectangle of ice cream on a stick, freshly dipped in chocolate and rolled in toppings – and another local delicacy is the deeply impractical frozen chocolate banana.

In a sea-salt town as unpretentious and chill or as high-society as you want it to be, the Duffy – to paraphrase The Dark Knight – is not only the boat that Newport Beach needs, it’s the boat that Newport Beach deserves.

We tool past the palatial homes and the giant yachts of the rich and famous. But I don’t feel jealous until we pass a docked little rig with a proud paint job and a great name: The Duffinator.

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