FLOATING ON THE CHARLES RIVER — Kathy Webber nursed a cold drink as she luxuriated under a shaded area of the Sea Kindly, her family’s boat, anchored Wednesday in the middle of the Charles.
Hundreds of feet from the Esplanade’s expansive pathways, and situated between the Longfellow and Massachusetts Avenue bridges, the Chelsea-based cruiser – decorated with a cartoon mermaid – bobbed ever so gently.
The scenic view, bordered by glittering dark blue water, is Webber’s unobstructed front-row seat for the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on Thursday night. While throngs jostle for limited viewing spots along the Esplanade, hundreds of boaters each year spend a serene day on the water.
“Love it – it’s not the Fourth of July unless you’re on the Charles,” Webber said, alluding to a family custom that began in the early 1990s. “We love our boat. You don’t want to see any other fireworks any other time.”
Many boaters arrive Wednesday night. But by midafternoon, Webber’s stationary craft was somewhat of an oddity on the river, as sailers from Harvard and MIT coasted about in the distance. Only a handful of other boats had dropped anchor, with no intent of negotiating a drawbridge or channel before at least July 5.
In past years, boaters navigated freely through the New Charles River Dam ahead of July 4 festivities, dotting the waterway with dinghies as they traveled among vessels, explored small islands lining the Storrow Lagoon, or headed to shore to transport additional guests aboard.
But restrictions following Sept. 11, 2001, and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing have steadily curbed the city’s waterway access leading up to the Independence Day celebration. According to marine guidelines from State Police, all boats must stay 100 feet from shore and 1,000 feet from the firework barges.
Adam Bonito, a family friend of Webber, recalled childhood adventures along the Charles, unhampered by security threats.
“Years ago, we used to go to the lagoon,” Bonito, 32, said, as he playfully wrangled with his dog on the cruiser Madam Nēna. “Everyone would bring their water squirt guns.”
To Bill Duncan, of Peabody, many traditions nevertheless remain unchanged.
“Friendship. Good company,” Duncan mused solemnly, wedged on the nearby Sea Kindly between Webber and her husband of 50 years, Ken.
“Beer – lots of beer,” Bonito chimed in jokingly, breaking the moment of reverie.
A short boat ride away on the Charles, Danielle Page also lamented the changing times. A veteran boater, Page said she longs for a simpler era when she could effortlessly tie up a dinghy on the cluster of islands – meeting out-of-state visitors during carefree sojourns.
Still, Page smiled as she stood at the stern of a Plymouth-based sportfish wryly named This is What’s Next. It’s a testament, Page said, to a smaller boat she and her significant other had previously owned, dubbed What’s Next.
“We love today,” Page, of Hudson, said, soaking in the unexpected solitude before at least six other boats join her. “It’s quiet and peaceful. This is boating season.”
But on Thursday night, the pristinely white boat — and others — will probably be covered in soot from the fireworks streaming overhead.
It will be the first time that Page’s sister, Jose Dudley , experiences the bursts of color – and the subsequent reverberating booms. And even before Thursday night’s big show, she can take in the Boston skyline as the boat sways in the river.
Typically, Dudley, of Nashua, spends July 4 camping. But this year, she and her husband decided to sprawl out on the Charles River, trying in earnest to learn about boating from their experienced hosts.
“We’re very grateful and excited to be here,” Dudley said, wearing a pink bikini covered by a black lace top. “This whole process is really intriguing. It’s really awesome to be here.”