All Night Hydro Party

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Early 1980s July 4th, Jensen Point top right, unidentified, middle left, Evan Pruett, Rick Nelson, right, Brett Bacchus’s van, bottom, Stew Nelson, right, front left, Rick Nelson? background Matt Frohning, Scott Coomes.

In 1972 a bunch of us Quartermaster Drive neighborhood teenagers camped out on Warren Bibbins beach on July third in preparation for the next mornings hydro run. The beach fire, party and fireworks lasted till dawn, just when the hydros took off and hydro stalwart, Paul Stoddard showed up with the classic stoggie behind the ear, while unknowingly standing in vomit left from the previous night, laughing as he realized how green in the gills we all looked. It was that morning that Stoddard passed on his version of the beginnings of the Fourth of July Round-the-Island Run. He said,

Warren and Roger liked to start off the New Years and July 4th mornings with a big bang setting off a stick of dynamite from a raft in Inner Quartermaster Harbor. Some new “immigrants” from Seattle complained and the guys relented to pressure and stopped their dynamite tradition. The next year, 1958, on New Years Day morning instead of dynamite they went on a run around the harbor in their hydros creating a racket as loud as the dynamite had been. The next year they decided to do it around the Island on the morning of July 4th to celebrate Independence Day and create some noise.

So begins a not so glorious part of the Fourth of July hydro run, word of the hydros and the all night party spread and an annual Third of July all night kegger ensued and crowds of young people began to come to the Jensen Point start /finish to watch the run, many after partying all night. After 1973 word of the hydros and the all night party spread. Beginning in 1974 large crowds, of mainly young people began to come to the Jensen Point start finish to watch after partying all night. .

By the 1990s the third of July all night party had ramped up to a large flotilla of boat loads of kids, in anything from from kayaks to speed boats, dingy’s, logs, yachts, anything that floated. The noise would go on all night long and complaints came from harbor residents about the party and hydro noise. The all night party tradition continued and by 2004 it was out of hand, as the Beachcomber reported,

It would seem that visitors who want to experience a Vashon Fourth of July would put up with a the noise as part of that experience. Worse was the all-night party this year, and the trash left at Jensen Point. While the party has been going on probably as long as the hydro run, this year it was out of hand. The siren on a boat may have been fun the first time it was used to greet a friend on another boat during day-light hours, but at 2:30 am a siren should be for an emergency, not a form of entertainment at the expense of sleep for everyone on, and around the harbor. Even emergency responders are judicious with legitimate sirens during the night when there is little traffic to warn out of the way. On the morning of the Fourth, before the daylight start of the run, it was impossible to walk in the parking lot at Jensen Point without stepping on beer cans and spent fireworks, both of which were illegal. Since it is almost impossible to police violations on the Island, the users could at least clean up after themselves. It is not the hydroplane owners and drivers who will end this tradition. And it shouldn’t be a few people, probably non-Islanders, who want to selectively choose which Island traditions to experience. What will kill the tradition is unacceptable behavior of the partiers who have no consideration for the rest of the population or the hydroplane run they are allegedly out there to enjoy.

After a nearly 40 year tradition the all night flotilla party disappeared soon after the Beachcomber report. The change reflects the demographic changes on the Island and region as a whole. Island kids from the 1950s to the late 1990s were more likely to have families that had been on the Island for multiple generations, they had ties to local traditions like the Seafair Unlimited Hydroplane races and the Fourth of July Run and most likely knew at least one person involved with the run. After the 1990s kids were less likely to have connections to regional and Island traditions.

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Blogging about Vashon Island past and present. I'm a 4th generation Vashon Islander, artist, dad and grandfather