Under the golden sheen of a late summer day in 2021, boats rock in a crowded Lake Washington bay. Ten, 12, 20—who can count when they’re packed together this tight?—are tied up across a narrow inlet between Seward Park and the mainland. Someone’s cranking Drake, and though the water’s calm, dozens of swaying bodies wobble small speedboats in the cove.
Some partiers laze on highlighter-green floating mats that dip and rise like tipsy lily pads. Others cradle red Solo cups as they head-bob aboard vessels. A guy in a Sonics throwback and bucket hat grips a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. At least one person starts twerking. A camera pans this flotilla of fucked-up, following a pointed finger to one boat’s stern and one dazed young woman. “That’s my girlllll!” a voice slurs.
Welcome to Andrews Bay, where videos of debauchery—of White Claw swilling and body part jiggling—surface every summer weekend. Where hundreds of Seattleites shed their layers and reticence in favor of micro bikinis and shameless raging. “It’s just like, when you’re there, you’re on a whole nother planet,” says Ernest Populus, a veteran of the scene.
By day, the Renton resident is a CAT scan technologist at Seattle Radiology. But on Andrews Bay, he’s DJ EPop, spinning as many as 10 weekends a summer on yachts as large as 80 feet. These vessels control rafting parties; scores of boats enter Andrews Bay in a single afternoon, but only a select few (read: ones with more girls) can attach to the anchored mother ships in the middle that host the biggest bashes. “It’s kind of like the cool kids club,” says regular Donte Bell. “They don’t let just anybody tie up.”
Whether it’s on Andrews Bay or elsewhere, boat access is the gateway to a yacht girl summer in Seattle. Our city may not rival the pool party scenes in Vegas or Miami, but it boasts an abundance of natural water steady enough for University of Washington sailgates, Seafair, and other varieties of picture-perfect aquatic throwdowns. “Our rooftop, our day party, our midday fun…it’s really just boating,” says Bell.
Yachts descend on this small pocket of water next to Seward Park because it’s the most lax overnight anchorage spot on Lake Washington. When Kirkland cracked down on parties in Juanita Bay about a decade ago, its bacchanalia flowed west to Andrews Bay, where boaters can find shelter from wind and open water—and, for the most part, ticketing for noise.
“The police are pretty lenient,” says Populus. The deejay totes a QSC speaker to give his sets—deep house, ’90s hip-hop, maybe some old-school rock remixed to 120 beats per minute—a “little extra kick” on the lake. From his perch behind a laptop on board, he gazes out at a sea of gyrating bodies and flamingo floaties. He sees Seattle letting loose. “The vibe is just incredible.”
The view from shore is a bit different.
Joe Nascimento has tried everything. Shutting windows, inserting earplugs, writing public officials. Nothing can stifle the racket coming from the cove just down the street from his house. “It’s like international waters,” he says. “There are no rules that apply to it somehow.”
In 2013, after complaints from many Andrews Bay neighbors, Seattle City Council adopted an ordinance that barred amplified sound on boats loud enough to be heard from at least 300 feet away. The influx of Juanita Bay boaters brought more clamor to an area beloved for its tranquility, for spotting ospreys and eagles fishing beside one of the longest stretches of undeveloped shoreline on Lake Washington. After the legislation passed, the council’s self-congratulatory news release pledged that residents would “sleep better.”
But enforcement of the policy never actually materialized. Seattle Police Department spokesperson Randy Huserik doubts Harbor Patrol wrote any tickets for noise in the bay during 2020 or 2021, when the division shifted its focus to emergency response amid Covid and protests. Meanwhile, boat traffic swelled. Concerns about the hubbub, fireworks, and, er, sanitation exploded everywhere, from police incident reports to Nextdoor. Friends of Seward Park president Paul Talbert and longtime locals wonder why other areas of the lake—more affluent ones, some residents will point out—never experience the same problems. One nearby homeowner who’s lived in the neighborhood for decades says it’s a classic case of “underheard” Southeast Seattle.
Huserik notes that SPD typically doesn’t have a boat patrolling Lake Washington. It’s tough to sneak up on a party on the water. “Usually the moment our boats’ profiles are seen outside of Andrews Bay, everyone turns their music down.”
Nascimento and others in the vicinity of Seward Park formed a group, Save Andrews Bay, that initially proposed banning boats entirely from the cove. But some allies, it turns out, moor their watercraft in the bay and would like to keep doing so. So the group has also advocated for enforcement of the existing noise law and promoted a plan to fund a ranger for select summer weekends through donations. “We want quiet,” Nascimento says.
Which might sound like NIMBY speak. Even if this stretch of Lake Washington isn’t as wealthy as, say, Laurelhurst, nobody’s exactly racing to pity waterfront-adjacent homeowners forced to endure a little noise during a property value boom. “I feel like that’s kind of similar to the people who move to a downtown condo, and they complain about nightlife,” says Donte Bell.
But it’s not just a little noise, Nascimento stresses. “This is a dance club in the bay, and it affects thousands of homes.” While he acknowledges his group’s view isn’t shared by everyone—some like the sound of fun, he says—he poses a hypothetical to those dismissing them as Karens. “If I parked outside your house every sunny weekend in the summer, and blasted my stereo from noon till nine o’clock at night, that would be a problem for you, right?”
Probably, if I could afford a house in Seattle. But that argument isn’t what placed Andrews Bay back on the city’s radar, anyway.
The whir of a chopper overhead is the video’s only sound on August 9, 2020. For at least a moment, Andrews Bay has otherwise gone quiet. “Somebody drowned,” a voice narrates. “They didn’t find ’em. Peace to the family. That’s not a good day. Fuck. I feel so bad.”
Someone else would go under in the vicinity of Seward Park that night, adding to a spike in drowning deaths during 2020. It’s no secret what contributed to the rise; the majority involved alcohol or drugs, per Public Health—Seattle and King County. That holds true on the Bay. “It’s always the story,” says Donte Bell.
Save Andrews Bay formed right after the drownings, tragedies that prompted a response from city council member Tammy Morales. She met virtually with about 100 community members in October of 2020 to hear their concerns and, potentially, to inform legislation.
Still, nothing has been proposed as of this writing. Last year, the city did partner with Recreational Boating Association of Washington and Northwest Marine Trade Association to launch a campaign for “Respectful Play, So We Can Stay in Andrews Bay,” which encouraged the boaters who already use the water peacefully to champion similar aquatic behavior.
The most devoted of them anchor during early spring, says longtime regular Monica Archer. She calls the bay her “second home.” When she lived in Kirkland, she’d be on the lake by 6:05pm on weekdays. On weekends, by 10am. She’d steer her 2006 Centurion Avalanche C4, or Miss Champagne, from a dock in Bellevue to the cove, where she’d tip back a bottle of bubbly to toast the evening. Over time, she developed relationships with the close-knit community of boaters there known unofficially as the Andrews Bay Yacht Club. She even started an Etsy shop, Miss Champagne Co., that sells boat merch with the moniker.
Though Archer’s recently followed her boyfriend to Florida, her family still lives in the area. You can bet that, like Populus and Bell, she’ll be back at the Bay this summer. She may even tote a new party favor this year—Andrews Bay koozies.
Who could turn that down?