Thanks to Boat & Breakfast, Bay Area Landlubbers Can Enjoy the High Life on the High Seas

updated 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Oh, sure, you've seen pictures of luxurious yachts tied up at Cannes or Marina Del Rey or any one of those posh boat basins in tropical climes. But you don't happen to be Donald Trump or Malcolm Forbes, so all that wishful dreaming is way out of your reach, right?

Well, maybe not—not if you're in the San Francisco Bay Area and come across Robert Harris's Bayside Boat & Breakfast which is based in Oakland's Jack London Square. For the price equivalent to a deluxe hotel suite, Harris can book passage for you and your sweetheart to the limits of your nautical fantasy. Without actually having to go to sea, you can drift off to sleep to the soothing sound of water lapping the hull of your yacht—even if it is yours for only one night.

"It's romantic, the ambience of being on the water, the gentle roll, seeing the sunset" says Harris, 43, who believes his is the first and only boat-and-breakfast operation anywhere. "You can have your own private episode of The Love Boat."

"I felt completely away from it all, and we were only 15 minutes from home," says Cheryl Silver, who recently marked her 35th birthday aboard her yacht-for-a-night with her husband, Alan. Russ Edelman, 24, a computer consultant from New Jersey, spent two nights aboard a Boat & Breakfast yacht with his girlfriend and was enthralled by the nautical camaraderie. "All of a sudden you're standing on a luxury yacht" he remembers. "People on passing boats wave to you."

Boat & Breakfast currently has a fleet of nine yachts, all but one of them leased from private owners. For $125 a night, you get a cozy 37-foot sailboat with teak interiors and a color TV. For $200, you can snuggle in a tub-shaped floating home with a spiral staircase, sun deck and wood-burning stove. Top-of-the-line accommodations—at $225—get you a 53-foot motor yacht with two staterooms and two baths in a $400,000 vessel styled with rich African black walnut trim. For an additional fee, the skipper will personally take the helm for a sightseeing tour of the bay.

Harris himself came relatively late to skippering. For most of his working life, he was in advertising on New York City's Madison Avenue. "I liked the business," he says, "but I just got burned out," mostly by the long commutes between his office and his home in suburban Connecticut. So he packed up his family in 1984 and moved to San Francisco. Eventually he bought a 68-foot Sport fisherman and learned to operate it. He then entered the boat-chartering business, from which he branched out into Bayside Boat & Breakfast three months ago.

Harris is putting in as many hours as he ever did in the ad biz, but at least he sees his family more often than he used to because each member is a part of his crew. Wife Mollie handles the chartering end of the business, while daughter Kim, 15, and son Robby, 13, help out around the harbor when they're not in school. Boat & Breakfast has proved to be such smooth sailing that Harris is considering expanding to Southern California and Hawaii.

Harris's clients can expect the skipper to come aboard each morning to deliver freshly squeezed orange juice, just-out-of-the-oven muffins and a newspaper. He's more than happy to help provide hors d'oeuvres, catered dinners, flowers or limo service. But his most specialized service comes in his capacity as an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church: He has performed a dozen floating marriage ceremonies.

"You want your wedding to be special," says Susan Marshall, a paralegal who recently exchanged vows on board with James Marshall, a graphic artist. After sailing to the far side of the bay for their "I do's," the happy couple cruised the afternoon away before retiring for the night aboard another yacht. "In the morning it was real quiet," says Susan. "We could hear the little seagulls. It was perfect, just perfect."

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