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UP ALL NIGHT / SOCIAL CLIMES

The Boat With a Beat

July 10, 1994|HILLARY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

By night, the Long Beach Harbor is a watery enchanted forest. The oil rigs and refineries sparkle with lights. A delicate mist rises from the waves, glowing faintly with moonlight. Against this eerie background, freighters loom like ghostly drifting skyscrapers.

In startling contrast, Star Party Cruises' Reggae Boat teeters merrily along its meandering course, a thimble of a vessel rolling over the waves to the tune of "One Love."

The 100 or so boisterous reggae enthusiasts on-board hoot and holler when they catch sight of a sailor peering over the towering bow of a Polish freighter as the little boat passes below. The tiny figure keeps looking down but doesn't wave back, apparently puzzled by this strange nautical phenomenon.

The double-decker cruise ship embarks at 10 p.m. every Saturday for a three-hour harbor cruise that offers dancing to a top reggae band such as Urban Dread or Kindred, plus cocktails and scenery that includes unique views of the downtown skyline, the Queen Mary and the dome that formerly housed the Spruce Goose, in addition to the industrial fantasyscape. Other weekend cruises feature live blues music.

The boat is surprisingly roomy. On the first level, a semi-enclosed space shelters the stage and a small dance floor, the bar and some benches, while the big deck upstairs is open to the sky. Women in shorts and bustiers better suited to a steamy indoor venue like Glam Slam seem oblivious to the chilly breeze, while a couple in grunge-inspired lumberjack shirts seems to huddle together for warmth.

A man on a bench talks into his cellular phone while his date gazes out across the water. Later they leave, and another man sits down and whips out his phone while his date sighs and stares. But most people are dancing and cuddling by turns, sipping tropical cocktails and singing along to the sounds of Urban Dread.

It's an eclectic crowd--young, well-heeled and multiethnic.

"People come from all over, from as far away as Riverside and San Bernardino," manager Carin Lundahl says. "It's a special occasion for most people, a lot of birthdays. Sometimes the band plays a little calypso, and when that happens, someone always says, 'Let's limbo!' and they get out the broom we keep behind the bar. We also have some regulars. One couple came on their first date, then came back the next weekend. Later they got engaged on the boat."

Capt. Bob Kimall is qualified to perform marriages, and if you reserve in advance, he'll wear his dress uniform for the occasion. Conversely, if your date is not working out, he'll let you visit with him in the cockpit and even try your hand at steering the boat in open waters.

Holidays are big, and reservations are already being taken for this year's Halloween Party, which will be the first cruise to use a new 300-passenger boat. "The costumes always get really outrageous," Lundahl says. "It's the event of the year."

Let all be forewarned that the Reggae Boat is uncharacteristic of most reggae events in two vital respects: One, there is positively no hemp smoking aboard, and two, this boat leaves on time. "Anyone caught smoking anything but tobacco will be dropped off at the harbor patrol office," Capt. Bob announces as the boat pulls away from the dock at exactly 10:02.

"No one ever gets seasick," Lundahl says. "Well, except on Valentine's Day, when we give each couple a bottle of champagne."

*

Where: Star Party Cruises, Seaport Village, 140 Marina Drive, Long Beach; (310) 431-6833.

When: Reggae 6 p.m., 10 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Blues on Fridays 8 p.m., Sundays 6 p.m.

Cost: Saturday night reggae $27 (includes two drinks), Sundays $20. Blues cruises $15. Beer, wine and cocktails $3, well drinks $3.50.

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