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The Longest Party

We raft up and party down to set a new Guinness World Record.

December 24, 2004

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.”

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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.

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Party Favors: Learn Your LessonsAs embedded reporter, I tagged along with friendly locals to the raft-up. Even in my fuzzy condition, I learned that the best fiesta can be improved. – Kari Snyder

Problem: Balancing a beer on a floating Boogie board is harder than it looks. Lesson Learned: The Floating Cooler ($14; www.swimways.com) keeps up to 18 cans cold and has six drinkholders. If you’re not sharing, tether the Body Bar ($23; www.poolrafts.com) to your float. It has space for a small cooler or six-pack, two cupholders, and a small storage compartment. Or bring along the whole shebang. Coleman’s Cooler Float ($10; www.coleman.com) holds 36-to-50-quart coolers.

** Problem:** Despite what you think, you can’t drink just beer for six hours. Lesson Learned: Frozen cocktails, however, are another story. With a specially made blender attachment and drill bits, the Boat Blender ($29, two-pack; www.boatblender.com) gives your own portable drill the ability to mix frozen drinks in the included mugs. But leave breakable, space-consuming liquor bottles at home. Instead bring PocketShots ($2; www.shotpak.net), soft packages of vodka and rum.

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** Problem:** Treading water while holding a beverage in one hand is exhausting. Lesson Learned: Most people at our raft-up used “noodles,” long Styrofoam-like tubes, as makeshift seats. But somebody wised up and brought along the Original Noodle Chair ($11; www.pooltoy.com), a mesh seat that slips on to a noodle (not included). One-up your neighbors with Coleman’s Float n Sofa ($45), a dual lounger with attached ottomans. Its snaps link with other Coleman products, such as the Cooler Float.

** Problem:** Packaged food can’t be bartered for drinks. Lesson Learned: Sadly, chips and crackers got no love from the guys in the boat with Jell-O shots. Better to trade with meat. Attach Magma’s stainless-steel Catalina or Newport grill ($240 to $340; www.magmaproducts.com) to a rail or in a rodholder. Both grills use a one-pound propane canister or your onboard LPG or CNG system. Own a compact boat? Get the HotDog To Go ($31; www.maxburton.com). It features a steamer for six wieners and a bun warmer.

** Problem:** In a raft-up, you’re not leaving until everyone else does. Lesson Learned: Better bring something to do while waiting to get underway. Try the Kool Tray ($40; www.pooltoy.com), a floating refreshment table with a checkerboard (checkers included). After a friendly round of checkers-where, let’s face it, you’ll lose half the pieces in the water-turn the tray into a card table with Waterproof Playing Cards ($13; www.nu-temp.com). Deluxe Splash Volleyball ($30; www.pooltoy.com) keeps groups and kids entertained.

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Party Central, Six Scenes You Don’t Want To Miss!

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri**** The Scoop: Amateur partyers and teetotalers are out of their league at the aptly named Party Cove. The adult-only three-day revelries run on holiday weekends during the summer and are attended by thousands. Anderson’s Hollow Cove is the new home for this roving party. If your booze stash leaves no room for food, don’t fret. The floating pizzeria is open late. The Site: www.funlake.com

Lake Havasu, Arizona/California The Scoop: The lake’s 20,000 acres are filled with big-money boats from California, Nevada, and Arizona. Copper Canyon and the Sandbar are old news thanks to local constabulary. Look for raft-ups and beach parties along the manmade channel. The Memorial Day party spot is hard to miss-in past years it has drawn as many as 200,000 boats. The Site: www.golakehavasu.com

Mildred Island, California**** The Scoop: Locals claim that Labor Day weekend at the Meadows is a 50-year- old institution of extreme partying. But newbies in the know say the waters surrounding 1,000-acre Mildred Island is where it’s at. After-hours anchorages can be had near Mandeville Tip, Five Fingers, Steamboat Slough, and Lost Slough. Drop by Al’s Place in the tourist town of Locke for first-class eats. The site: www.californiadelta.org

Put-in-Bay, South Bass Island, Lake Erie The Scoop: April through August boaters raft up five-deep at the local marinas and fill the anchorages. This island is a little more family friendly than others, so plan to bring the kids. They’ll love the hands-on displays at the state’s Aquatic Resources Visitor Center. You can get hands-on yourself at the Boathouse Bar and Grill. The Site: www.put-in-bay.com

Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah The Scoop: Bullfrog Bay is the tried-and-true party spot at Powell. But Duane at the visitor center recommends any of the 96 canyons or 7 major bays. According to him, “If you raft-up, frat guys from Denver, church groups from Utah, and everyone in between will come.” If no one shows, no loss, you can bathe alone in the 81⁄2 trillion gallons of 80-degree water. The Site: www.powellguide.com

** Lake Mead, Nevada**** The Scoop:** The largest manmade lake in the country has countless coves. Tan lines are only for the prudish at Sandy Point in the Gregg Basin on the eastern shore as well as Sandy Cove in the Bolder Basin in the west. Insiders also give the thumbs-up to Black Canyon at neighboring Mohave Lake. It’s the desert, so sunscreen and drinking water are lifesavers. The Site: www.funonthelake.com

Raft-Up Know How

The Lake Norman “V”: You’ve heard the saying: It’s not a party until something gets broken. That something need not be your gel coat. After seven years, Lake Norman organizers have figured out the best way to tie-off. The first step is to submerge concrete mooring blocks and then connect them with a floating line. The shape of most coves will dictate that you drop the cement anchors in a V-formation. Every third boat ties a bow line onto the floating raft-up lines, and everyone else ties up to them. Two fenders per boat is mandatory, as are two dock lines. Now kick back and enjoy. – D.L.

Parallel Universe

A Good Party, But No Record: It was a no-brainer for the Lake St. Clair, Michigan, raft-up organizers. After all, they’d been doing it for years. This summer looked good, too, with enough volunteers to blow the previous 944-boat record out of the water. The only bit that needed to be figured out was how to tie the boats together. Therein lies the rub.

In contrast to the Lake Norman raft-up, which was set up in V-formation, Lake St. Clair boaters rafted up in two parallel lines and formed a 30′-wide alley between boats. This resulted in a giant playground, dubbed the Gauntlet, with a sandy bottom in four feet of water. Fun, but to ensure a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, all the boats needed to be tied in one continuous line-like dancers in a conga. With an estimated 2,000 boats present, adding a few at either end would have done the trick and snagged them the record. Too bad the St. Clair crowd was out of step. However, Lake Norman should be warned: It won’t happen again next year.

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