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On the Scene: Rollin' on the river

JOSEPH J. DELCONZO photo

Rhythm on the river: Passengers form a conga line during a fun- and food-filled party aboard the Great Ga-Zee Boat.

By BOB CULLINANE
STAFF WRITER

There are party boats and then there are LET'S PARTY! boats.

The difference, of course, is that one carries bait, chum, fishing rods and retired guys in plaid shorts, while the other features margaritas, penne pasta, dance music and retired guys in nautically themed shorts.


JOSEPH J. DELCONZO photo

Capt. Ed Pomianoski (left) grabs a line from honorary Capt. Bob Cullinane, as the Great Ga-Zee Boat prepares to shove off.
And because I have already spent a day on the first kind of party boat, I thought it was only fair that I experience the second kind of PARTY! boat and report my findings to you, the party-loving consumer, who just might be confused about the similarly-named vessels.

So I recently jumped aboard the Great Ga-Zee Boat, a riverboat-style cruise ship that got it's name after it hosted one particularly long and wild party in which no one thought to bring a dictionary. It also has a gazebo-shaped deck, though I don't think that has a darn thing to do with the funny name.

The boat is docked on the banks of the treacherous Shrewsbury River, a savage and untamed waterway that has been known to produce monstrous waves similar to those in the popular film, "The Perfect Storm." Or is it "The Little Mermaid?"

Doesn't matter; suffice to say that the merciless Shrewsbury has gobbled up many a Ga-Zee boat in it's storied past. Just ask any old salt, which, coincidentally, I did.

ME: So, how many Ga-Zee boats do you think lie at the bottom of the Shrewsbury?

OLD SALT: How would I know? I'm an old salt, not a submarine. Now, get outta here before I pepper you with salty language, ya sissy landlubber. And another thing: Get yourself a dictionary!

Well, despite this warning, as well as the likelihood of repeated misspellings, I arrived one recent morning at Weston's Marina in Monmouth Beach, which is the home port (and the only port, too) of the Great Ga-Zee Boat, to conduct my investigation for you, the party-loving consumer.

I was greeted by Capt. Ed Pomianoski, whom I recognized immediately by the jaunty epaulets on his attractive captain's shirt.

"Welcome aboard, Bob," Capt. Ed said with a smile, to which I responded, "Hey, do I get to wear one of those cool shirts?"

"Absolutely," Capt. Ed replied. "Today, you're a captain, too," which meant that the odds the mighty Shrewsbury would consume yet another unlucky Ga-Zee Boat were rising significantly.

A three-hour feast

The party-loving crowd aboard the Great Ga-Zee Boat this bright, sunny afternoon are teachers and administrators and other assorted folk from the County College of Morris, out to celebrate the retirement of colleague Frank Gonzales, who has taught engineering at the school for 31 years.


JOSEPH J. DELCONZO photo

During a three-hour Shrewsbury River tour, Capt. Bob and bartender Katie Napoletano of Long Branch prepare drinks for thirsty passengers.
After making sure that all the party-lovers are aboard, I assume my captainly duties by assisting as the boat shoves off, which means I simply stay out of the way as another captain, Dominick Orefice, maneuvers the boat away from shore.

I perform this with great nautical skill and then yet another captain, Capt. Bob Bataille, rings the big bell, which is a signal that our harrowing journey has begun. It also indicates that the bar is open, so at least everyone will be less likely to ask for a refund when we hit the big iceberg and dive to the bottom, which I believe is located at a depth of about 3 feet.

(On that OTHER party boat, a ringing bell meant it was time to reel in your fishing line, which was followed by the sound of salty language from several of the plaided old salts aboard, whom, it seems, had again allowed the big one to get away.)

Our journey today is billed as a (gulp) three-hour tour, beginning in Monmouth Beach and traveling up the torturous Shrewsbury to Sandy Hook Bay, where the Ga-Zee Boat makes a U-turn for the trip back.

Along the way, the party-lovers indulge in beverages and a constant stream of scrumptious food. Today's buffet is Italian, with Caesar salad, cheese tortellini primavera, chicken parmesan, chicken marsala, cannolis and coffee. And there's even some old salt, if that's what you desire.


JOSEPH J. DELCONZO photo

Always vigilant,  Captain Dominick Orefice   makes sure the boat has plenty of clearance as it passes under the Sea Bright- Rumson bridge spanning the Shrewsbury River.
"We have about six different buffets to choose from," Capt. Ed said from behind his epaulets. "And we have one menu that is just hors d'oeuvres. We do that at sunset, and it's really pretty."

Of course, that's assuming that the mighty Shrewsbury cooperates and doesn't rise up and smite the Ga-Zee boat and its cargo of crudites.

I took this occasion to ask Capt. Ed if anyone has ever needed to be rescued during a Ga-Zee Boat trip.

"Not once," he said, implying, of course, that the mighty Shrewsbury is unlikely to release a single victim once it gobbles up a tasty, buffet-laden Ga-Zee Boat.

Dance party on deck

The merriment aboard ship is progressing at a rapid clip, in extreme contrast to the anemic speed of the Ga-Zee Boat.


JOSEPH J. DELCONZO photo

Captains Bob Bataille (left) and Bob Cullinane check for icebergs from their post at the helm of the Great Ga-Zee Boat.
"It's a nice, leisurely cruise," the other Capt. Bob tells me as we creep past some of the expensive real estate of Rumson. "People come out here to relax. All they want is a good time."

And, indeed, a few of the more adventurous passengers are performing the macarena, which is not only a jolly dance, but also one of the warning signs of scurvy, a dreaded maritime disease caused by the ingestion of too many pina coladas.

Thankfully, the other Capt. Bob places a new CD in the stereo and the delirium subsides.

My mission thus far has been to assist the other captains in the performance of their duties, which are basically to watch the guests and make sure none of them twist themselves over the rail and into the clutches of the mighty Shrewsbury. So far, so good, I think, though I haven't performed a head count lately.

"How we doin'?" I ask Capt. Dominick as we approach the Highlands Bridge.

"Beautiful!" he says bravely from the helm, not showing any hint of his struggle against the forces of the mighty Shrewsbury. "We're riding on a gentle zephyr today," which is an old salt expression that means, "Say your goodbyes, mates, because we're all headed to Davey Jones' locker!"

At the bar, the first -- and only -- mate, Katie Napoletano, is handing out strawberry daiquiris like they were Dramamine. And the results are sadly obvious: The teachers have formed a giant conga line which is now snaking through the Great Ga-Zee Boat to the strains of that traditional sea chantey, "Hot, Hot, Hot."

Others ring the boat while enjoying plates of chicken parmigiana, also oblivious to the threat.

How sad, I think; this is just how it happened to Gilligan.

A fun time for all

Thanks to the immense nautical skills of the three captains, not to mention the fact that they have not had a single adult beverage all afternoon, the Great Ga-Zee Boat appears to be winning its battle against the forces of the mighty Shrewsbury.


JOSEPH J. DELCONZO photo

Bob Cullinane comes aboard the vessel at Weston's Marina in Monmouth Beach.
Somehow, the cruise has been calm and quiet, other than the racket created by the party-animal teachers.

"We've had some terrific parties on this boat," Capt. Ed tells me. "Last week we had a bachelor party. That was wild. But we've also had birthday parties and graduation parties. And sometimes, we just get a small group who wants to have a private dinner. It's a great place to have a quiet, romantic evening."

Maybe so, but the Ga-Zee boat right now is rocking to the beat of "YMCA" as passengers dance with cannolis in their hands. Talk about wild, Capt. Ed!

The arrival of dessert, of course, also indicates that the journey of the Great Ga-Zee Boat is nearing the end. And good thing, too; the mighty Shrewsbury could erupt at any time, tossing up all into the drink, though I don't think the teachers would even notice.

"How'd you like it?" Capt. Ed asks as we glide into port.

And all I can think to say is, "Hey, do you think I can have one of those cannolis?"


JOSEPH J. DELCONZO photo

The boat as it prepares to depart the marina for a recent river tour.
And so, in conclusion, I'd like to report that my investigate efforts have led me to deduce that the party boat and the LET'S PARTY! boat are extremely different types of vessels.

First, there is no chum aboard the Great Ga-Zee Boat, just delicious food. Second, no one wears plaid shorts, although there were some old salts with plaid SOCKS!

But the biggest difference between the two boats? One word: Epaulets.

The Great Ga-Zee Boat departs from Oceanport Landing, River Street, Oceanport. Typical cruises along the Shrewsbury River last three hours, though custom cruises can be arranged. The boat has a maximum capacity of 48 guests. Prices depend on the length of tour and the types of food and beverages requested. For more information about the boat or to book cruises, call (732) 780-4217.

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