Issue: July 2004
Independence Day

Gentlemen, start your engines. It's the Fourth of July. I used to think it was all about fireworks, flags and burgers on the grill, but last year I discovered the true spectacle of the Fourth, and that's the madcap boat parade up the Severn River that follows the fireworks in Annapolis harbor. Actually, "madcap" is too endearing an adjective, denoting a kind of cheerful but harmless lunacy. Perhaps the more succinct "mad"-as in completely, dangerously nuts-would be better.

We motored our sailboat out of the harbor at about three in the afternoon on last year's Fourth, heading upriver to a party at a friend's home on one of the nearby coves. Even by then-six hours before the fireworks were slated to go up-you didn't have to be named Jesus to walk across the water. The boats were thicker than a Brood X cicada swarm. Even the channel at the corner of the Naval Academy seawall was blocked by an anchored boat-though I use the noun "boat" loosely in this context, as this sad, decrepit thing more closely resembled Tom Waits after a two-week bender than an actual sailing vessel. I guess the upside is that odds were against drowning. If you fell overboard you'd probably just land in someone else's beer.

Ah yes, beer. I cannot prove, though I suspect, that another aspect to all this boating folderol was a certain homage to the brewski, enough so that I, for one, was happy that our boat was heading into a protected cove and would remain there for the duration.

That was the plan, at least, until the kids-all 20-some of them-got tired of thwapping each other with water balloons and began clamoring about when were the fireworks going to happen?! If we were going to see the fireworks, we had to head back out (the cove was a little too protected in that regard), so just after dark, we piled into a small fleet of powerboats and ever so carefully poked our bows out into the river to have a look.

It was amazing. To the east downriver, where the fireworks barge lay at anchor, a sparkling city of anchor lights flickered across the ordinarily darkened horizon. It seemed that Baltimore had suddenly moved about 20 miles south. On the river itself, scores more boats powered downstream, racing for position.

But that was nothing compared to the drag race that ensued after the fireworks ended (and they were terrific, by the way). The river fairly boiled with the wakes of hundreds of boats, big, small, slow, fast, and from the sound of it plenty of them going full-tilt in the pitch dark. The river was a stream of green running lights, and woe to the boater who was showing a red one-it would have been like driving the wrong way on the beltway at five in the afternoon. Call me a cynic, but I found it hard to believe that designated drivers were behind all those helms. I was happy we hadn't strayed far from the cove and were quickly back in its safe, quiet confines. Rarely does terra firma feel better to me than water, but after watching all that mayhem, this year it's looking pretty good.