Jeffrey O’Brien’s Main Street is made up of the waterways around Newport. His address is on a wharf. When he envisions the expansion of his increasingly busy tour-boat business, Gansett Cruise, he considers a second boat to respond to the demand he’s already serving in Westerly’s Watch Hill area. He thinks about adding a fishing boat to take out people who buy a ticket at a time, so they won’t have to charter a whole boat.
“Not everyone has $400 or $500 or $600 in their pocket to charter a fishing boat,” said O’Brien.
The central focus of his work is obvious: “Anything to keep me on the water,” he said.
Born in Providence and raised in Warwick, O’Brien moved to Newport in 1978. He’s taught sailing in East Greenwich and raced sailboats, piloted service boats for the America’s Cup and spent 20 years on the waters from Maine to Florida as a captain on private yachts.
Finally, all the traveling, even on the water, just got to be too much.
“One of the problems with being a captain on a yacht is you’re a gypsy,” said O’Brien. “You’re married to the boat and the owner. You go where they want to go and when they want to go.
Being away for months at a time just didn’t work after two decades.
“I developed a keen interest in staying in Newport and staying home,” he said. He started with schooner excursions, but when other touring sailboats came into the market, he set his sights on finding a wooden motorboat he could renovate.
“I wanted the right look, with a lot of dock appeal,” said O’Brien.
It took a lot of searching, but he finally found a 50-foot, Maine-built, former fishing boat with a hull that has an appealing shape that attracts complimentary comments even from people who know nothing about boats, he said.
O’Brien aimed to create a yacht look with “lots of varnish and lots of brass hardware” that would offer the feeling of a yacht experience on a motorboat. His boat, the M/V Gansett, holds 49 passengers, has cushioned seats and what he describes as “a softer ride” as a benefit of being a wooden boat.
“I’ve even had people comment on how lovely the engine sounds,” he said.
His tour guides don’t use scripts and they email daily updates to each other about the latest arrivals of yachts in Newport Harbor to include as interesting tidbits on the 90-minute cruises.