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Partiers all tied up on Okauchee

Aug. 1, 2011

A picture-perfect summer Saturday drew hoards of people, pontoons and floaties to a sheltered channel near Okauchee Lake's Party Island for the lake's annual tie-up event.

The tradition dates back several decades to when lake residents would anchor their boats together and throw a party where waves and wind would not disrupt the party. As the get-together gained in popularity, it became less and less local, and its participants grew younger each year.

The 2011 version of the Okauchee Lake tie-up was relatively tame in comparison to recent years, but nonetheless, law-enforcement officers patrolling the lake netted their fair share of intoxicated boaters.

Town of Oconomowoc police reported Monday morning that the event drew more than 300 boats, yielding 21 drunken boat driving arrests and one on-the-road driving arrest related to the event.

There was also one report of pubic urination on a deck attached to a bar on the lake.

On the lake

Those on the lake hoped to enjoy a respite from the summer heat as well as a beverage or two … or maybe a few more.

"I expect this to be a drunken swimming fest," said Stacey Kolvenbach, a 26-year-old Milwaukee resident. She and three friends launched their boat on Okauchee Lake the night before the tie-up in order to avoid the long lines at public launches the next morning.

Kolvenbach was a veteran of tie-ups of years past, but for her friends, 2011 was their first experience.

Her friend, Michelle Rosado, said she chose the Okauchee tie-up over a similar event in Chicago. The group of friends packed plenty of alcohol, including wapatui, beer, margaritas and vodka.

"These are poor people that just want to get drunk," added Kolvenbach.

Meanwhile, Oconomowoc resident Betty Smith said she and her husband have returned to the event in recent years after a long hiatus.

"The last couple years we've come out here, but before that it was like 20 years before we had been out here," she said. "We used to come when we were younger."

Saturday's event featured a DJ perched on a platform aboard a pontoon boat, complete with a waterslide, but in year's past, live bands performed for party-goers, including well-known names such as the Violent Femmes and the BoDeans.

Those who attend quickly learn tie-up etiquette.

"You just tie up to us, and we all start drinking and talking, and then your friend is like two boats over, so you start jumping from boat to boat to boat to get to your friend," Smith told a reporter on the lake. "People just climb on everyone's boat. Sometimes you stop and talk to them. People are super friendly."

Smith said her husband would remain sober enough to operate their boat, but for those who were over-served, services were available to shuttle them to safely to shore.

"Now there's a service that will pick us up," she explained. "If you drink too much they'll come and get your boat, and they'll captain it for you and take you back."

Mukwonago resident Rob Salmon returned for this year's event after attending for the first time last summer.

"We came out last year and had a great time, and we weren't going to miss it," he said.

He came out with his friends Tony and Andrea Foss, who own Foolery's - Liquid Therapy on Okauchee Lake.

"Basically, you swim around, meet some people, have some drinks, and basically that's all you do," Salmon explained.

"It's pretty organic. They start making one line in a row in chains, and then when it gets to the end of the chain, the next guys starts another chain. By the end of the day, they're all floating together in one giant cluster."

For Foss, and likely other bar owners on the lake, the tie-up is big business.

"It makes it slow during the day, and really, really, really busy at night," Foss said. "Last year the entire deck was full. There was not a single spot to stand. We have a live band afterward. People like that so they come in and listen to music after the tie-up."

His wife, Andrea, said, "We have really good food, so they can get their land legs back a little bit with some nachos and burgers."

Andrea grew up in Hartland, and she realized that the tie-up is not always the most popular event among locals living on the lake.

"I, as a native, always stayed away," she said. "No one wants it."

But after she and Tony opened Foolery's in January 2010, they gained a new perspective on the event. The bar supplied its DJ for the boat at the center of the flotilla, and even sold T-shirts that read, "I got tied up".

The tie-up will return to Okauchee Lake the same weekend next year, on the final Saturday of July.

Reporter Jim Stevens contributed to this story.

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