Gleaming white specs appear on the horizon. As they near, I can pick out the shapes of hundreds of boats: go-fasts, cruisers, runabouts, houseboats, waterbikes. It's a stampede. The herd moves quickly, effortlessly. It passes the boat I'm on and converges at a point in the distance. Then it stops. A magical "V" of boats begins to form, slowing cars on a nearby interstate to take in the spectacle. Onboard our boat, an eager passenger dives a hand into an icy cooler and rescues a cold one. "Let's get this party started," he announces, and with that the 2004 Lake Norman Raft-up is officially underway.
I don't need much of an excuse to spend an end-of-July weekend partying on a lake in the North Carolina hills. But if I did, helping to set a Guinness World Record for "the most free-floating boats tied in a continuous line" sounds perfect. Apparently, this excuse also works for colleague Kari Snyder as she waves from the aft seat of a newfound friend's boat heading off into the thick of it.
But I'm staying on the VIP boat to make sure everything goes smoothly-and to guard the shrimp cocktail. I'm also here to be with the cause célèbre of the day, Sue Morrison, the record adjudicator from Guinness World Records. It's her call if the old record-944 boats-stands or falls. She doesn't need me to tell her that her decision could upset lots of people. "I know," she says. "If they don't make it, they're liable to heave me overboard."
As it turns out, she doesn't have anything to worry about. By 1 p.m., the count surpasses the old record. Because the day's success is guaranteed, I join some first-hand partying with my fellow revelers. So Sue and I hunt down Kari, her crew, and the libations we've been promised.
When we find Kari in the snaking row of boats, she's on a floating lounge with a container of Jell-O shots in her lap. I knew I could count on her for dedicated reporting.
By 5 p.m., the news is in: A new world record-1,453 boats-has been set. Mission accomplished, Sue goes overboard (however, it's of her own volition), I head back for more shrimp cocktail, and no one's seen Kari for the last three hours.