Many people think the Jobbie Crew started the Raft-Off and that we are the current organizers of it. This is not true. The level of misinformation online is astounding. One of the best features of doing these Exclusive Interviews with wonderful people like Brian Elliott, is that we are able to get the Truth directly from primary sources like Brian and help squash any misconceptions or rumors.
Thankfully, Brian was kind enough to sit down and talk with us in his second floor office at MacRay Harbor. Brian has been Operations Manager here for the past 8-years. MacRay is a beautiful marina with 634 boat slips on Lake St. Clair.
“I grew up on Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe. My Grandpa lived in St. Clair Shores and kept his boat at Jefferson Beach since the early 60’s. My Dad and I raced offshore for a number of years. I love boating.”
How it all started
“The four founders of The Lake St. Clair Raft now referred to as The Raft-Off were myself, my wife Nikki, and our friends Kurt and his wife Amy Goosen.”
“Everything started in early January 2004. Kurt and Amy were over at our house. We were having some drinks and looking at stuff online. Kurt said you have to see this and showed me a picture of the raft up on Lake Norman, North Carolina. They had a world record of 944 boats at a raft up. We said “hell, we do more than that every weekend in The Moot.” We just need to organize and promote it. Kurt and I showed it to Amy and Nikki . They said “yeah, you guys are both crazy, but we can do this!” True to form, the next day, we decided to go through with it.”
“Our official stated goal was to have the most boats tied together in a continuous line on a fresh water lake. We registered with Guinness World Records, created a logo, made a website. We wanted to pick a great date that didn’t conflict with other parties and happenings in the area. So, ultimately, we chose the second Saturday of August.”
“We really started putting things in motion at the annual Detroit Boat Show in February 2004 at Cobo Hall. We printed 3,000 flyers and passed them out to everyone. We got kicked out of the Boat Show four or five times for soliciting. We would just go in another entrance, pay the fee and continue passing out the flyers. All of our friends would take handfuls of flyers and pass them out all over town.”
“Our original intention was to do something family-friendly on the lake. Gather the families and break a world record. We did radio interviews and a few newspapers. We contacted Anchor Bay Yachting Association and they invited us to their annual Commodores meeting and our idea was extremely well-received. Sand Point Yacht Club particularly got very involved.”
Saturday, August 7th, 2004: the Day of the Very First RAFT-OFF
“8 SPYC boats and Kurt and I, so 10 boats total, went out the night before and we were the first ones there. As the sun was coming up, 4-5 more SPYC boats pulled in. We were also fortunate to have an insane amount of volunteers and friends from Lake St. Clair network. They were all wearing orange LSC Raft shirts and had dinghies that said Raft Support.”
“For large events, you need some organization, people in charge, direction. The morning of the 7th, everything was great. About 9am, I’m standing on the bow of my boat, staring at a veritable armada of boats coming in, thinking ‘holy crap….this is a bit more than we expected’. We were doing American flag wristbands on the boats to know that they had filled out a registration form, so we were busy.”
“By 11am, it was just absolutely surreal how many boats were heading into The Moot. Boats covered the entire horizon, it was insane. I’ve never seen anything like it. Only problem with all this was, we just lost control completely over everything because there were far too many people. I remember throwing my hands up and saying I’m done. Nikki yelled at me, she said you and Kurt started this, now get out there and finish it. So I tried to. I hopped on a jet ski I borrowed from a friend and tried to bring some order to the situation but it was just way too big.”
“At 2pm, the boats had to be tied together for one minute for the official Guinness aerial photo. We ended up having over 2,000 boat registrations filled out. We were only trying to top 944. This was our first year! Lake Norman had been doing it for 8-years and they didn’t even have 1,000 boats the year before! However, the end of our line of boats didn’t get tied together, so Guinness officially would not count it. We tried every loophole imaginable but we didn’t get it.”
“In 2004, we lost simply because we didn’t tie the end of the lines together. It had to be one continuous floating line and it wasn’t. Lake Norman successfully linked 1,453 boats in July 2004 at the Lake Norman Raft-Up and they beat us.”
August 2005: Year Two of the Raft-Off
“2005 was even wilder. The raft up boaters on Lake Norman heard someone was gunning for their record. They had “LKN Fun” which was an online chat-board (you gotta remember this was just before the tidal wave of social media) and suddenly a rivalry sprung up between us and them, which was great. So, in 2005, we made an official bet with Lake Norman that we would beat them. We changed our slogan to “United We Float”, same logo, different slogan, to remind us to tie the line together.”
“Five people volunteered to hang out at the end of the line all day just to make sure the boats got tied together and made one line. We had 1,600 boats register officially. Unfortunately, some 400-500 registration slips ended up in the water and we couldn’t turn them in because they were illegible. So, we had the end tied but not enough slips officially filled out, even though we had well over 3,000 boats there, 1,600 of which registered officially.”
“We also learned in 2005 that this event is not going to be family-friendly. The non-friendly atmosphere, enormous crowds of people, everything was just getting crazy. What finally did it for us was in at the 2005 event, someone jumped in the water and cut themselves on their own props and rumor has it they got 100+ stitches.”
“After that, we said, this event is just too big and too crazy. We simply don’t have the ability to control it enough to get an official world record. Plus, we had trademarked the logo, purchased the website, we got an event permit from the US Coast Guard, so the four of us were the only ones liable to be sued if anything serious happened. I said to myself “I don’t have anything as it is, I can’t afford to lose any of it!” It was a very hard decision for the four of us to make, but 2005 was our last year organizing it.”
Brian and Nikki Honor the Bet
“We lost our bet to Lake Norman in ’05 and we were good sports about it. Nikki and I along with two friends, Al and Sunshine, drove to North Carolina to wash Mike’s boat. Yes, we honored the bet! The bet was the loser had to wash the other guys boat. Mike lives right on Lake Norman, which is a beautiful lake.”
“In September 2005, we went to Mike’s house. We had not met him yet, he was still a stranger to us. On the phone, he invited us to stay at his house because the closest hotel was like 60-miles away.”
“When we got there, this dude comes out in a mullet, shaved head, green sideways teeth, carrying a jug of moonshine, wearing cut-off overalls and no shirt underneath and said “Y’all them people from Michigan?” My wife and I looked at each other, my stomach sank. I thought “Oh, God, what have I gotten us into.” Then all of a sudden, Mike bursts out laughing, the teeth pop off, his hair is a wig that he pulls off and all three of us laughed like hell at his joke.”
“Then, about 8pm, we jump on his boat, he takes us to the bar and we’re shocked, absolutely in awe, to find 500+ cheering people in the bar who were waiting there to meet us, including the main organizer of their raft up. Very cool people! We had such a fun time. And yes, Mike and I are still in touch to this day, he’s a great guy. Much love from Lake St. Clair to Lake Norman!”
“Also, it should be noted that Lake Norman is 60-90ft deep. For their raft up, they sunk concrete blocks in the lake. Divers went down the night before and attached a line to the blocks, then attached it to a float on the water and everyone tied to that float. All registrations were done on land and mostly weeks in advance. They held fundraisers, secured sponsors, all at least 3-months beforehand. You gotta give them credit for how hard they worked for their achievement.”
The Raft-Off in Muscamoot Bay has Become a Spontaneous Phenomenon
“And that’s how it happened. Four friends sitting around having cocktails thinking about doing a Raft-Off. Two years later, The Raft Off in August 2006 happened completely on its own and it’s been happening every year since then spontaneously on its own.”
“Last year, 2015, there were well over 10,000 boats at The Raft Off and the Gauntlet stretched for 2-3 miles. Never in a million years did we think it would get this big! It keeps growing every year! On its own! The downside to this is last year I looked at all the crap floating in Little Muscamoot Bay and the amount of trash was just appalling.”
“2014, is the only Raft Off we’ve missed. We’ve been to every single one. We’re going this year, I’m not gonna miss it for anything.”
Brian Lives for Boating
“We love the water, marinas, Michigan lakes, Michigan boating culture, everything boating. For years, I worked for a large global IT company and I was absolutely miserable. I hated it. I didn’t realize just how miserable I was and how much I hated it until I left during the big IT bubble burst in 2003. I left to work at Sun Dog Marina where I was much happier.”
“My advice to anyone going to the Raft-Off or Jobbie Nooner is to just be safe, use your head and pick up your trash. The lake, any lake, is a delicate balance, so please keep it clean.”
Brian’s Special Thanks
“There are so many people that helped the four of us, that it would impossible to thank them individually but we really need to point out just a few.”
“The Lake St. Clair Network, Sand Point Yacht Club, The ABYA, Lake Norman, The Macomb, St. Clair and Clay County Marine divisions. Last and certainly not least, all of our friends! Without your help and support the Raft would not have ever happened.”
There is talk of attempting a Guinness World Record for the 15th anniversary of The Raft-Off on August 10th, 2019.
For it to work, we would need to get a record number of boats. A number so big and intimidating, that it would be deemed virtually unbeatable to all future challengers.
If it happens, the four original founders will be leading the charge and The Jobbie Crew will be right there to help them all the way. So stay tuned!
The original Raft- website
Register with Guinness World Records