An inside look at Baltimore party boat culture

On the water, there's always a party. You just have to know where to look.

  • Baltimore party boaters cut loose on the water.
Baltimore party boaters cut loose on the water. (Handout photo, Sean Whitney )
July 10, 2012|By Meekah Hopkins, Special To The Baltimore Sun

You probably shouldn't be reading this right now.

According to my husband, I should be telling you that the idea of a Baltimore Boating Culture is a myth. A lie. Who would want to swim in that dirty, radioactive water? Middle River? How … mediocre. Dundalk — just leave it right there.

People don't want to know about the hours spent playing floating beer pong with friends on the water, or the countless dock bar parties, live music and sandy beaches. Or how to get an ocean -perfect tan 20 minutes from the city — instead of three hours. No, they couldn't possibly be interested in by that. Don't tell them, he begged. Discourage them. Like we belong to some sort of Boating Fight Club. If so, I've already broken the first rule.

Before I became an official boat owner back in 2007 — when my husband brought his 20' Four Winns up from North Carolina — my concept of a "boat culture" in Maryland was an Annapolis sailing couple with perfect windblown hair, pressed lobster pants and freshly tied Sperry Top-Siders. But Baltimore boat culture?

Sure, all of us have grown up learning about the Chesapeake and bay conservation in school; or have a friend or two whose parents took us inner tubing up the Choptank or Susquehanna or any other myriad of rivers. You might have learned to crab on your uncle's friend's neighbor's troller. And maybe you've been lucky enough to tag along for a fireworks cruise around the Harbor on Independence Day. But "culture" implies a lifestyle, and I hadn't seen one set vibe out there.

But that was, apparently, because I hadn't been initiated into the club. In the last five years of cruising the waters that surround the city and county, I have come to learn what puts the "culture" in Baltimore boating. What it meant to explore Sue and Botkin Creeks, to anchor out at Hart Miller Island, or give directions to Sunset Cove. All these foreign places, suddenly more like home.

On the water, you don't have to worry about crowded bars or douchey drunks. Water is the great equalizer – whether you're on a dingy or a yacht. We all wave to each other, stop to offer help, sometimes even to share a beverage, young and old. And you don't have to worry about getting bored: there's always fist-pumping jams' blaring from somewhere. Someone will inevitably wander up and ask to play a round of the aforementioned floating pong.

There's always an aggressive dance party to people watch over or debaucherous tie-up participate in. And, because this is Baltimore, there are always a few extreme characters out on the water to liven the mood. My favorites, so far? It's a tie between the older gentleman who told me his wife was "the best rump-shaker in Maryland" and the woman who decided to dance topless on a restaurant's pier. While people were yards away, eating.

Recently, a first-timer on the water (a friend who grew up in Boston) summed it up perfectly: Having a boat in Baltimore is like taking a boozy, floating vacation, every weekend. The tourism department might want to consider using that for a new campaign.

My husband would like us to forget we had this conversation all together. And me? I'll see you on the water. Bring us beers and you've got the next match on the pong table.

Crazy boating sights

If there's one thing to count on out on the water, it's a tie-up, whether planned or impromptu. None bigger-in fact, than Aquapalooza, an annual boater's booze fest held off the shores of Miller's Island every July. But because Baltimore loves a good party, we outdid ourselves with this nationally sponsored event and it's been cancelled for this year. Lame? Sure. But Baltimore knows how to rally with good, homegrown gatherings. So where's the party at? If you've got the time, Fairlee Creek, a ride away on the Eastern Shore, throws down every weekend, featuring a swim-up island bar, Jellyfish Joel's. Or, for something more planned, check out Sandy Beach Day July 28 in Jones Creek, Edgemere, MD. Local music, a floating pier, a food boat with crabs. Free…with a boat.

What else to expect? Behold, 5 of the Craziest Sights to See at a Baltimore Boat Tie-Up

1. Think: Preakness on the Water. Or, MTV Spring Break, circa 1995. Not as exotic, but with the same neon. Same music. Exactly the same people. In fact, they have time-warped. And, forgot most of their clothes.

2. You're sure to see a double-decker boat full of girls popping everything from bottles, Bohs, their boobs, or each other. Depending on your opinion of rap videos, this is a good or bad thing.

3. Karaoke (Boataroke?) unofficially offered right around 3pm: grown men singing Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Hall and Oates… Loudly. Proudly. Badly.

4. 100-200 boats tied together is a mini city of people crawling, jumping, sloshing, and hopping across and over. Random strangers will come aboard to visit you, all day.

5. When you become that random stranger crawling, jumping or hopping across? You're guaranteed to score free beer or if you're really lucky, you'll find your way to the top of that double-decker boat- they've got someone making fresh Orange Crushes for whoever's thirsty.

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