Things start out quietly. Shortly after dawn on Saturday morning, Dustin Higdon, 13, and brother Dylan, 8, seem to be the only ones ready to party. Floating around in front of the massive AquaPalooza stage on inflatable tubes, the pair are the lone signs of life moving at this hour. For days, people have been trickling into the site to stake out prime viewing spots. Now, a mass of humanity is sleeping in, aboard the row upon row of boats that have already filed in.
Looking out at the prime real estate in front, most of it occupied by 40- to 50-foot Sea Rays, I ask Dustin and Dylan which boat they came on. They point to an unassuming 20-foot bowrider, wedged between several larger boats in the distance. “We got here a little after midnight,” Dustin says. “We slept in the bow, Mom took the bench, and Dad slept on the sun pad.” Later, I roust his dad from a little pre-lunch slumber to ask why. “Boating is what we do every weekend,” Mike Higdon explains. “We just love being on the water.”
Even if it means sleeping on vinyl coated with dew.
Livin’ the Lifestyle
While it’s fast becoming a favored activity of weekend boaters, the concept of rafting up has practical roots. Rafting up alongside another boat is a viable option for cruising boaters when dock space is at a minimum. Even owners of sport boats and bay boats and even PWCs define rafting as what they do on waterways across the United States and beyond each weekend. Friend hooks onto friend, a few more join the mix, and pretty soon you’ve got one long artificial island.
It’s simple, but it still needs to be done right. Typically, the first boat on the scene stakes out its territory, setting an anchor off the bow and another off the stern to keep the boat in position. It then puts out a minimum of two fenders on both the port and starboard sides. At AquaPalooza, some of the pricier rides wisely hang more. Between two Sundancers, for instance, we spot a veritable flock of fenders. Those that come alongside typically lower the bow anchor, and then back in and tie up side-to, cleat to cleat. Etiquette dictates that newcomers look around and make sure they’re not jumping in amongst a group of friends trying to stay together. Beyond that, it’s pretty much like a neighborhood block party. If you don’t know the new neighbors, chances are you will by the end of the afternoon. And if you don’t know the intricacies of rafting up, you’ll know those as well, thanks to the new neighbors.
Still, some neighborhoods are nicer than others. AquaPalooza’s front rows, closest to the stage, are mostly occupied by the gleaming new Sea Rays. Those aboard unquestionably have the best view in town. (Not so coincidentally, their show wasn’t free. The front row was offered as incentive to those who upgraded to a new boat before the show.) Other neighborhoods run the gamut, from the family-friendly suburbs to the seedier districts, where the occasional nude partygoer — not necessarily the prettiest — is on display.
Thus I learned an important lesson about big raft-up parties: Just as in any real estate scenario, it’s all about location, location, location.