If you’re a fan of Mark Twain, frequently get the song “Old Man River” stuck in your head and can easily envision sipping a whiskey with a twist of lemon on the deck of a paddle boat while wearing a crisp, white linen outfit, then the Newport Belle Riverboat Inn is for you.
And if a night or two in the well-appointed rooms is not enough, you can really dive into the experience by buying the boat. Current owners Mike Wilkinson and wife Nancy Sims, who purchased the vessel to run as a nautical Bed and Breakfast in 2006, are now ready to pass the LED torch.
“This life isn’t for everybody but we’ve really enjoyed it,” Wilkinson said. “The boat is in pretty good shape even though we’ve had about 10,000 people stay with us over the years.”
The boat actually appears to be in very good shape, due in large part to the talent and efforts of Wilkinson, who in addition to regular upkeep has restored some of the wood, added a new deck and enclosed an existing deck to add a solarium. The floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the solarium face west, affording a great view of the Yaquina Bay Bridge, occasionally enhanced by a glowing sunset.
Wilkinson, a pleasant man who liberally sprinkles jokes throughout his conversations, says that the nature of the experience, plus the no-children, no-exceptions policy (there is one dog-friendly room) means that their clientele are pre-selected.
“People that stay here are usually already looking forward to the experience so they enjoy us and we enjoy them,” he said. “All but five or six are welcome back.”
Part of the experience is created by the fact that Wilkinson loves to set up a good spread, which also means a bit of extra work for turning the rooms around each day.
“I serve a fairly elaborate breakfast,” he said. “And it leaves a fairly elaborate mess.”
Though Air B&B has its detractors, it has been a boon for the Belle.
“They’ve taken a lot of flak but those that do it right get a lot out of it,” Wilkinson said. “It’s been great for us; our bookings are up 40 percent.”
Wilkinson and Sims bought the boat from the man who built it by himself, spending two years on the endeavor, then operated it on the Coquille River in Bandon, Oregon.
“The vessel was formerly certified to carry passengers and presumably could be re-certified as such,” Wilkinson said. “In Newport, however, windy conditions at the Central Coast would make touring impractical so it is registered as Permanently Moored.”
Sims was actually the one who found the boat, when she was having a bad day at work and surfed the internet looking for other options.
“She googled ‘B&Bs on the Oregon Coast’ and saw the listing,” Wilkinson said. “We drove up and looked at it, made an offer, went back to California to pack and were back before the ink was dry. It’s a romantic idea for a lot of people, living on a boat like this, and it has been for us. And this is a definitely a unique type of boat-living experience.”
For reservations or to make inquiries about purchasing the Newport Belle, go to newportbelle.com or call 541-867-6290.