For many with a nautical skew, there's no better way to spend a day than up close with others who don't mind getting wet. That's where rafting-up -- tying several anchored boats tightly together in sheltered waters -- comes into play. It's a way to gather in a beautiful place and experience all the magic that is Long Island's maritime playground.
"Rafting-up is like having a picnic on the water," says Chris Mohr, a landscaping business owner from Southold who runs his 28-foot Grady-White center console out of Port of Egypt Marina. His favorite place is in West Neck Harbor on the southwest corner of Shelter Island.
"It's big fun," says Mohr, 43. "And a great way to get the most out of owning a boat. I fish, cruise and enjoy waterfront dining -- but nothing beats kicking back with good people in a quiet, protected cove.
Not that kicking back has to be the end-all. Mohr brings a small Zodiac inflatable "just to putt around." Other skippers go clamming, hit the beach or spend time in float tubes, or take a dinghy dockside for a waterfront lunch and a seashore stroll before heading back out for snacks and a cold drink.
"It all depends on who comes along," Mohr explains. "Some people like to fish, swim or hit the beach, others prefer relaxing with wine, cheese and crackers. The beauty of raft-ups is there's something to do for everyone, with the boats serving as home base. You can make any outing as exciting or laid-back as you choose."
There are practical benefits, too. For one thing, adults can converse while the kids tucker themselves out in the water. And everyone chipping in for food and beverages reduces the cost of a full-day outing. Rafting-up also saves fuel over cruising.
As with any other boating endeavor, rafting-up calls for safety measures.
"If you're the captain," explains Ken Legge, 51, a sales manager from Lake Grove with a Grady-White 330, "it's all about everyone else." Legge, who loves to tie up with other boaters in Coecles Harbor on the east side of Shelter Island, points out that common sense is the general rule.
"Keep an eye on kids and less-experienced boaters to ensure they don't get sunburned, stay within range and use flotation devices when appropriate. If people are going to the beach, get close to the shore. Also, bring along extra clothes; someone always gets a chill when the wind picks up."
In terms of setting up, the biggest boat should anchor first before additional vessels tie up along either side. Be sure to position at least four fenders between each boat to prevent banging. Approach slowly without making a wake as you pull in to tie up, and have experienced boaters ready to help secure new members to the grouping.
If possible, align the stern of each boat so swim platforms can be used to move from boat to boat. That's safer than climbing over gunwales."Be sure to leave some elbow room between you and the next raft-up," advises Legge, "and make sure that first anchor is securely set. It's embarrassing when a raft-up pulls free and drifts into another group.
THE PERFECT SPOT
Finding the perfect place for a raft-up isn't difficult. In fact, popular sites are in every quadrant of Long Island. Pete DeVilbiss, owner of Freedom Boat Club, which provides season-long boat rentals from Freeport, Port Washington, Northport and Port Jefferson, notes that favored spots have the same primary traits no matter where they are found.
"First, you want to be buffered from the wind so you don't get banged around if a breeze kicks up," DeVilbiss says. "Next, it's nice to be near a beach where the kids can get out and play. Being removed from heavy boating traffic is also important, since serious wakes invariably bang boats together."
Other than that, it's your call. Raft-up near the clamming grounds, position yourself to watch a sunset or fireworks, or find a spot that's close to dining or a tourist attraction and head ashore for a spell.
It's all good when you are spending time with friends on the water.
POPULAR RAFT-UP SPOTS
There's nothing wrong with seeking out your own special raft-up paradise, but if you need a little help getting started, here are a few longtime favorite places:
Coecles Harbor, east side of Shelter Island
West Neck Harbor, southwest corner of Shelter Island
Robins Island, northeast corner, east of prominent sandbar
Shinnecock Bay, north of Shinnecock County Park
Moriches Bay, East Cut between Gull Island and Cupsogue County Park
Great South Bay, Hemlock Cove
Zachs Bay, in the shadow of the Jones Beach amphitheater
Short Beach, between Jones Inlet and Bascule Bridge on Sloop Channel
Northport Bay, Sand City
Port Jefferson Harbor, Pirates Cove