The Sea Ray boat club of northern California celebrates labor day with a storied annual event
On a shimmering August day in 1994, Paul Sharps was reclining on a sun-dappled dock enjoying a few beverages with several of his fellow Sea Ray Boat Club of Northern California friends. They were brainstorming how to conclude the summer with a raft-up that didn’t resemble anything they had done in club history. And then the light bulb clicked on.
“I made a comment about rafting-up in a circle, and of course, everyone laughed—myself included,” Paul says. “But then we actually started to think, okay, how could we get it done?” Paul returned to his house, and—being the computer whiz that he is—diligently drummed up detailed logistics for the first ever Circle Cruise, which included 20 Sea Rays in a freshwater basin called Mildred Island, about an hour’s drive south of Sacramento.
And now, 20 years after that offhand suggestion, the Circle Cruise has become both a regionally famous three-day event and a fixture on the calendars of Sea Ray owners across Northern California. Paul’s pride is apparent. “We have T-shirts with logos on them, and we’ve started seeing them all over the California Delta!” he beams.
Roger Kelly, a tenured club member who is assuming leadership responsibilities as cruise commander this year when Paul happily passes the torch, adds that people from the area have grown captivated by the spectacle. “During the event, after we’ve completed the circle, we’ll see people riding around us on their boats, and the expressions on their faces are priceless,” Roger says. “They’re enthralled, like ‘how did they do that?’ It’s fantastic.”
Every year, the club gets 20 to 70 boats all tied together in a perfect loop with pinpoint precision.They hire a helicopter to capture the feat from above. The sight is as impressive and dizzying as Paul’s exhaustive technical notes—anchorage points, rope measurements, transom widths—which have ensured that every circle for the past two decades has been picture perfect.
This summer marks the first time that the Circle Cruise will operate under different stewardship, but both Paul and Roger are eager about the future of the event. Paul is especially excited,because for the first time in 20 years, he will be able kick back on the deck of Playtime, his 40-foot Sedan Bridge, and just relax. “When you change from the old guard to the new, that opens the door for more creativity and energy,” Paul says. “That’s what we’re looking forward to.” Roger humbly defers—“Paul’s got this thing figured out! I am honored that he trusts me.”
Last year’s event began on Saturday afternoon of Labor Day weekend after Paul and the circle crew, divided into four quadrant teams, ensured that all boats were tied and anchored properly. Everyone played an integral role, from Ken Humphrey, who oversaw the West Team, to Roger’s wife, Shelia, who communicated with all incoming boats from the couple’s 310 Sundancer, Coventina.
After the placement lines in the center of the circle are dropped, the club has an opening ceremony on the 25′-by-25′ floating center platform—decked out with a generator and PA system. They recognize all the hard work that led to this glorious moment, and the fun begins.
The afternoon kicks off with a party on the center platform. Around sunset, the gathering transitions into a crowd favorite: the Dancing Under the Stars competition. Bruce Curley, the entertainment director, mans a spotlight, directing the beam at families grooving on their swim platforms as everything from Lady Gaga to Toby Keith plays on the PA.
“The dance contest is a blast!” says Ernie Macintyre, a longtime club member who assists Bruce with activities. “The competition has gotten stiff the past couple of years with people dressing up, so it is a lot of fun to see the routines.”
The high point of Sunday is always the drive-in dinghy movie, which showcases moments from previous Circle Cruises. A large screen is hung on Spare Time, a 560 Sedan Bridge, and people bring popcorn aboard their inflatables to watch the footage.
Labor Day morning, the club has its monthly meeting right on the center platform before taking on the careful process of unwinding. “It truly is a unique event,” Roger says. “I love discussing it, but talking about it doesn’t do it justice—you’ve got to come see it!”
Rusty Higgins did just that last year. A captain on the Sea Ray team, Rusty has been in the business for several decades, but has never seen anything quite like the Circle Cruise. “It is unbelievable!” he says. “The boats there represent several decades of Sea Ray craftsmanship, and many boats that I have personally worked on. It’s like going back in time and seeing all of your old girlfriends at once. People will ask if I’ve ever seen their model before, and I’m like, ‘I helped apply your gelcoat!’”
Whether you’ve witnessed generations of Sea Rays and their owners partake in the event or you are a newcomer, the impressive degree of enthusiasm remains the same. “Sea Ray owners who are new to the experience are in awe,” Roger says. “If it’s a couple’s first time, we are confident that we’ll see them again.”
The event, however, is far more than a feat of engineering or a simple weekend of fun. The circle itself is expressly emblematic of the close-knit community that the Boat Club has become. “Our club members are a circle of friends that will gather to support you anytime you need anything,” says Dana Macintyre, Ernie’s wife.
Examples of this camaraderie and communal support abound. Once, a club member needed help getting to a string of appointments, and members volunteered to drive her to each one. Roger himself has experienced the thoughtfulness of his friends outside the parameters of the club. “I had surgery a couple of years ago and everyone kept calling to make sure I was okay,” he says. “Everyone in the group really cares. That’s part of the reason we make such a good team.”
In August, when an entire fleet of Sea Rays forms another flawless circle in the fresh water off Mildred Island, the baton will have passed, but it will be the same community collaborating to make sure every last detail is up to Paul’s standards, meaning absolutely perfect.
Roger, humbled to be taking the reins of the Circle Cruise, says the people of the Boat Club are the reason he eagerly looks forward to every single one of their events throughout the year. “I look so forward to using the boat in the circle or any other Boat Club event and seeing my friends, because they’re…” “…family,” Shelia finishes his thought. “They’re family,” Roger agrees.