Duffy boats

Electric Duffy boats are the transportation norm for locals and tourists alike in Newport Beach

Origininally appeared in The Toronto Star

By Heather Greenwood Davis Homes and Travel Reporter

NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF. — The look on my husband’s face didn’t match the bright sunny day. It didn’t fit with the fact that we were heading off to sample Balboa’s finest ice cream cones or that we had just had the most magnificent day sail along the San Diego harbour.

No, the look on his face —sort of a greenish/blue – and the position of his hands (pushed deep into his pockets) suggested something not so fun was on his mind.

“Do you remember when I leaned out of the boat to help Carolyn with the docking?” he asked as if the moment hadn’t happened mere minutes earlier.

“Yes,” I said, bracing for the worst.

“When I sat back down I saw the sunscreen floating in the harbour…”

“Unfortunate, yes,” I thought but hardly worth the down-in-the-dumps demeanor.

He continued, “…the sunscreen was in my coat pocket and the rental car keys were in that pocket too…”

Less than 24 hours into our family trip to Newport Beach, we had managed to drown the access to our transportation.

I would say that we were not off to a good start, except we were.

When the unthinkable occurred we had already spent about an hour sailing around in what may be the cutest boat on earth.

The key drowning had occurred at a pit stop before we would head back to drive off into the sunset of our first full day in Newport Beach.

The same news delivered earlier might have had us scrapping our planned sail and that would’ve been tragic because the Duffy boats still make me smile.

“They’re so cute!” my youngest son proclaimed as soon as we spotted the electric boats. Canopied in tan or navy on the water the 22 foot long vessels are a cross between a mini-yacht and a motor scooter. Cute and compact but with a luxurious feeling that leaves you feeling pampered.

On board there’s room for 12, a dining table to keep snacking civilized and comfy rounded bench with tufted cushions that felt more like someone’s summer backyard than a boat you could rent without a licence for $85 per hour.

Carolyn Clark of local tour company “Newport at your Feet” was joining us and so our only job was to sit back, relax and take it all in.


Marshall Duffield is the brains behind the operation. He started the company at age 18—more than 35 years ago— and the environmentally friendly boats that cost from $18k to $35 K, require no gas and don’t make a lot of engine noise were an instant hit on the residential harbour.

Driving the Duffy Boat

E takes a turn at the wheel

The kids take turns driving. A 5 mph maximum means they can’t do too much damage although Clark occasionally places her hand on the wheel to make sure we don’t hit John’s Wayne’s boat – The Wild Goose– which is anchored here as well

He lived in it for years (He first came to play a role in “Sands of Iwijima” which was filmed here) and one can only imagine the parties that took place there in the 1930’s when the harbour was a popular Hollywood film location. (These waters also played the Nile river in the first film version of Cleopatra during the silent era.)

It’s still a prime spot for people viewing.

Want to take a peek at Nicholas Cage’s front yard (recently sold for $35 million!)? You can do it from the Duffy.

Want to sneak a photo or two of the gardens of the home owned by the owners of the Beverly Hills Four Seasons hotel (John Wayne once lived here too)? You can do that too.

In fact, fans of architecture will be particularly enamored. Sure there are the mega homes that belong to stars like Kobe Bryant, Vanna White, Jay Leno and others, but there are also a range of styles from California Mission to Modernist each just as enchanting as the one before.

More active?

“Any way you want to enjoy the water you can,” notes Clark. Surfers flock to “the wedge” where ocean swells to 18-20 feet and ambulances wait at the ready, Wind surfers, swimmers, boaters and sailors are all here watching 800 pound sea lions flip on their tails like ballerinas on their toes.

Hungry? Bring along a picnic lunch or simply pull up to one of the striped poles which designate restaurants participating in the “Dock n’ Dine” program and you’ll have the choice of tying up your boat (or yacht ) and heading in for a bite or having a platter brought out to you.

It was one of the reasons we had opted for ice cream on Balboa Island.

Now, cones finished, we slowly make our way back to the boat. Another scouring of the water enlightens us to the obvious – keys don’t float— and we settle in for the heart heavy ride back to shore.

Ish feels terrible about the keys and the boys, peppering us with questions about how we’re going to get home, aren’t helping. I quiet the boys and urge them to watch the water.

Then they spot it: A paddleboater with a golden retriever between his legs.

Ish and I burst into laughter; both of us wondering whether, if asked, the Labrador might be able to fetch.

Just the Facts

Duffy Boat Rentals —Rent or put in your order to buy one right off the Pacific Coastal Highway www.duffyboats.com

Newport on the Beach hotel —Literally on the beach and with rooms that have a cottage feel and a great continental breakfast offering it’s a popular spot. www.newportbeachwalkhotel.com

Newport at Your Feet Tours – Carolyn’s a fun, informative host who is great with kids and adults alike. www.newportatyourfeet.com

Heather Greenwood Davis is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Follow her family’s exploits here and on her blog www.globetrottingmama.com. Some travel and accommodation costs were provided courtesy of Visit Newport Beach ( www.visitnewportbeach.com) and the California Travel and Tourism Commission ( www.visitCalifornia.com). Heather had the benefit of full insurance so there was no charge for the lost car keys. Apparently it happens all the time.