‘Cycleboat’ May Soon Float into Newport Harbor

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Another human-powered cycleboat, which may soon be coming to Newport Harbor following a discussion this week.
— Photo courtesy city of Newport Beach / SoCal Cycleboats

Cycling isn’t just for land-based vehicles anymore, and a new business that might soon float into Newport Harbor proves it.

SoCal Cycleboats, Inc., recently applied for a Marine Activities Permit, which was up for discussion at a Newport Beach Harbor Commission meeting on Tuesday.

A cycleboat is a human-powered vessel that utilizes 10 bicycle-like “paddle stations” to propel the pontoon vessel about 3 to 5 miles per hour on the water.

Local resident Michael Kapusta applied for the MAP and spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, along with Chris Ferren Cirino who runs a similar business in Sacramento.

They are excited to bring it to Newport Beach, both agreed.

It’s about passengers having a fun, interactive experience, Ferren Cirino commented. It’s common for groups to stop at the waterfront businesses to shop and eat before paddling on.

Harbormaster Kurt Borsting asked for direction from the Commission on the matter.

There is not a similar business on Newport Harbor, Borsting confirmed.

“I thought, in this case, it would be prudent to (consult the Harbor Commission), so that commissioners could participate in evaluating whether or not this business was compatible with the other harbor uses,” Borsting explained. “I wanted to get the temperature of the Commission.”

Commissioners unanimously voted 6-0 to recommend approval of the permit, with a few conditions. Commissioner Steve Scully was absent.

Borsting confirmed after the meeting that he still has to officially approve the MAP. He hopes to meet with them before the end of the year.

Commissioners considered limiting the hours of operation to conclude an hour after sunset, but ultimately agreed that was not a practice they wanted to start enforcing. They also didn’t want to over-complicate the MAP, a few commissioners pointed out. They agreed to the applicant’s request of 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

They won’t be selling alcohol onboard at this time, but that may be an option they will want to explore in the future, Ferren Cirino noted. Although passengers are allowed to bring alcohol on board.

Commissioner Bill Kenney asked if they would agree to not sell any food or beverage, and restrict alcoholic beverages brought onboard to beer, wine, cider, and canned cocktails.

Both Kapusta and Ferren Cirino agreed, adding that they may explore the idea of selling alcohol in the future.

Passengers would load and unload at Mr. G’s at Peninsula Kitchen and Bar. The agreement to use Mr. G’s docks is for one year, which can be renewed. SoCal Cycleboats will offer drink vouchers to customers.

They would love to have two or three down the road, but that would require more designated parking, Ferren Cirino noted, so for now they are focusing no the one vessel.

They are anticipating customers to park at Balboa Fun Tours and walk to Mr. G’s.

Kenney also suggested using different routes and alternating the courses to mitigate any potential impact on the waterfront homeowners.

As a Harbor Commission and as a city, they need to make sure they don’t have too many of these types of operations, Kenney said.

Other conditions Commissioners suggested included requiring a certified master captain onboard at all times and no use of public docks except in an emergency.

The application is for one 31-foot (including the paddle wheel) pontoon “cycleboat” vessel with a max occupancy of 18 people, including one captain and one deckhand. The vessel would come from Cascade Cycleboats out of Bend, Ore.

There are no Cascade Cycleboats in Southern California, Kapusta noted, although they are scattered across the rest of the country.

Noise and music will be controlled by the onboard captain, they confirmed. Tours typically last about 90 minutes.

The boat also comes with a small 30-horsepower gas motor if people get tired or they need to maneuver easier, Kapusta confirmed. The captain can adjust the resistance by lowering or raising the paddle wheel.

Solar panels power the electronics.

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