Melissa and Kevin McDowell's waterborne wine tasting business has made quite a splash since it opened in March.
Friday night it almost went under.
The Neptune, a 45-foot craft billed as San Francisco Bay's only floating wine tasting room, took on water after hitting a shoal near Alcatraz. Eighteen bachelor party-goers and four crew members -- including the McDowells and their adult daughter Rachel Smith -- had to be rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.
All were returned safely to Pier 39, where the Neptune is based. There were no injuries, according to a Coast Guard release.
"I've worked for boat companies for 15 years," Melissa McDowell said Saturday. "I've never, ever had this kind of incident. The
Coast Guard says it happens all the time (near Alcatraz). I was not aware of that."
For the first 20 minutes of the cruise, a festive atmosphere prevailed. Bachelor party revelers were treated to a beer tasting, a first for the Neptune. "We tried something different," McDowell said.
The boat and crew were outfitted in Halloween garb and decorations, holdovers from when the McDowells, Livermore residents, used to transform their Hansen Drive house in Dublin into a Halloween haven.
"We were coming around Alcatraz, checking it out," guest of honor Matthew Rice told KGO-TV, "and all of a sudden it was like boom, just like a big jolt and the next thing we knew the Coast Guard boats came in and got us
Passengers donned life jackets and were removed from the boat without incident. Below decks, where two cannonball-sized holes were allowing water to gush into the hold, the situation was a little more chaotic.
"My husband was trying to repair the holes," McDowell said. "My daughter jumped in and tried to help him. It was just flooding too quickly and the Coast Guard had us get off."
The Neptune was towed to a boat yard in Sausalito. "It's all repairable," McDowell said. "It will be back in the water."
McDowell praised the passengers for following directions, and vouched for the captain, Dan Goodman, whom she described as experienced and familiar with bay waters.
"Our little business was doing so good," McDowell said. "But everything turned out well. We have high hopes to be up and running soon."
(c)2012 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
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