Matthew Rice can laugh about it now. Soon, owners of the business that hosted his ill-fated bachelor party cruise in October hope to join the revelry.

Rice booked his cruise on the Neptune, operated by San Francisco Bay Boat Cruises, which is owned by Kevin and Melissa McDowell, of Livermore. The McDowells tout their business, launched in March, as the bay's "first and only floating wine-tasting room." Because Rice doesn't drink wine, the McDowells offered him and his guests their company's first beer-tasting cruise.

About 20 minutes into the event, under clear, calm conditions, the Neptune struck a shoal off Alcatraz Island. Two holes were punched in the hull. The vessel began taking on water.

A Coast Guard spokeswoman said an investigation into the incident has not been completed.

"We really didn't have time to start on the party," Rice said.

While Kevin McDowell and stepdaughter Rachel Smith worked below deck trying to stanch the influx of seawater, the approximately 30 bachelor party attendees were transferred to Coast Guard vessels and returned to Pier 39. They found TV news crews waiting for them.

"I think two people kept their life jackets, and one of my friends wore it all night to the bars and the show that we eventually would go to," Rice said. "Everyone had heard about (the accident), so when we would show up somewhere with the vest, people were like, 'That was you guys? Here's a round on us.' So it worked out in the end."


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For the McDowells, however, that night was only the beginning of an ordeal they hope will end Jan. 5: their target date for relaunching the repaired and improved Neptune.

Things looked grim the night of the accident. The Neptune was towed to KKMI Boat Yard in Sausalito -- a break for the McDowells, because they had a relationship with the boatyard and the crew there was familiar with the vessel. When an emergency haul-out of the 45-foot cabin cruiser was performed that night, an estimated 10 tons of water gushed from its hold.

The next day, Melissa McDowell was stating her family's intent to repair the boat and continue the business they had started in March -- a second job for Melissa and Kevin, who work full time. But the decision wasn't entirely theirs. First, their insurance company had to decide whether the boat could be salvaged, or whether it should be totaled.

"I kept getting calls for bookings," Melissa McDowell said. "I had someone who wanted to get married on the boat. Christmas parties. I just kept calling them back saying, 'I'm so sorry.'"

When it was determined there was no damage to the engine room, the McDowells' Manhattan-based insurance company gave them the go-ahead to salvage the vessel. But before the check could be cut, Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Eastern Seaboard.

Suddenly, their contacts at the insurance company "had other things on their minds," Melissa McDowell said.

Eventually the money arrived. The insurance, minus deductible, is paying for replacing the shafts and rudder, and rebuilding and strengthening the hull -- Coast Guard-inspected repairs that have, in the words of KKMI Boat Yard general manager Erica Deuyour "made the Neptune safe for passengers on San Francisco Bay for many years to come."

Melissa McDowell is anxious to get back on the water.

"We love it," she said. "You have all kinds of happy people wanting to get on your boat. By the end of it, they're giving you their home addresses. I want to do this full time, and I think it will happen next year. I really do."

"It's seriously fun," Smith said. "You can make anybody best friends by the end of the two hours. It's the best job in the world."

The McDowells have decided to keep the beer tastings. The trip to Alcatraz, Melissa McDowell said, will continue to be one of their preferred routes, depending on the tide, weather and "the best view for our guests."

Speaking of guests, the McDowells have offered to take Rice and his friends back on the water to finish the party.

Rice, whose marriage went off without a hitch three days after the accident -- "Basically the complete opposite of the boat ride," he joked -- isn't sure he'll accept.

"All it did was reaffirm my fear of boats," he said. "I'm glad it (worked out) for the owners' sake, because they were all really nice people."

Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.