Although a traditional first Sunday in August boat party was effectively shut out of Sag Harbor Village waters last month, the party took place on its usual day, 1,600 feet outside the village’s jurisdiction, with over 100 boats gathered in New York State waters designated as a mooring field off Havens Beach.
The party, which was held off Barcelona Point in Northwest Harbor for years, had moved in recent years to Sag Harbor Cove. But last month, following shellfish closures in the cove and growing concern about the cove’s fragile environment, not to mention safety of the partygoers, the village board decided to require mass gathering permits for parties on the water, just as it does for parties on land. Bruce Tait, chairman of the village’s harbor committee, supported the decision.
The fight for the boat party has gone on for almost 20 years, according to Joe Lauro, a musician, filmmaker, and organizer of the annual Shelter Island Beach Blast. Sean Scanlon, he said, was the original creator of the event around 1996, when the Lone Sharks and Nancy Atlas played on the bow of his boat, the Manana, near Barcelona Neck between Sag Harbor and East Hampton.
“He was the man,” Mr. Lauro said yesterday of Mr. Scanlon, who stopped fighting for the party three or four years ago when the battle with the various governmental bodies, including East Hampton Town, New York State, and the Coast Guard, was no longer worth the fun, Mr. Lauro said. Now with no official organizer, the boat party goes on, but with fewer people helping out and a lot more chaos, he said.
With no public promotion, news of the party has always spread by word of mouth. During the early afternoon at Havens Beach on Sunday, people departed from the shore in search of fun in the sun and offshore, the crowd gathered to listen to bands play on an enclosed stage on a barge. Among the performers were Stretch, a new “Grateful Dead-y jam band” created by Mr. Lauro, formerly of the Lone Sharks, and currently with the Who Dat Loungers. The Realm, the North Sea Band, and New Dawn also performed. “We live in an amazing place. It’s great that music and water create such a cool vibe,” John (Woody) Kneeland, lead singer, songwriter, guitar, and trumpeter of the Realm said yesterday.
In the water, boats that were tied together fared well in the day’s 20-mile-per-hour winds, but navigation was tricky in the windy, open waters for single kayakers and people on inflatable rafts or floats and especially for swimmers.
According to the Sag Harbor Village police log, one swimmer near the mooring field off Havens Beach suffered a “laceration from a Bay Constable boat.” The swimmer was aided and taken to Southampton Hospital by a Sag Harbor ambulance. Police did not return calls seeking additional information.
“Three to four boats hit the rocks,” said Robert Bori, the Sag Harbor harbormaster. One of the boats, he said, had substantial damage. Otherwise, the party was “not too eventful,” he said. Village police also assisted a few who decided to swim out to the party, and then had trouble returning to shore in the choppy water. Police also received an anonymous call around 2 p.m. from someone concerned about a “group of under-age teens drinking while in possession of an inflatable doll” near Havens Beach. When police responded to search the area, no teens or dolls were found.
At Havens Beach later in the afternoon, a tearful young woman roamed the sand and the shallow water calling the name “Joseph.” When people offered help, she described a boy in green shorts, but eventually it was determined that the missing “boy” was actually her 23-year old boyfriend.
Near the beach’s restrooms, a young man was passed out on a bench, slumped across another young woman in tears. That sort of byproduct of the party is another thing that has concerned local authorities.
Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said last Thursday that he knew the show would go on because his grandson had heard about it and told him, but the mayor thought it would be held farther east of the breakwater. He added that he was not popular among his grandson’s friends when the board of trustees sought to oust the party from village waters.