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I Was on the Ill-Fated Mad Decent Boat Party Cruise Where a Woman Fell Overboard

It was one of the worst weekends ever, but it also restored my faith in people.
November 17, 2015, 6:55pm
All below photos courtesy of the author

It's 10 PM on Thursday, November 12, approximately 20 miles off the coast of Cuba, and all 2400 people on the Mad Decent Boat Party are milling around the casino or sitting in their cabins because there's nothing else to do. After the first day of non-stop revelry, all of the performances planned for the weekend, which included headlining slots by Dillon Francis, Jack Ü, Flosstradamus, and Mija, have been put on hold. Around 6:30 PM earlier that evening, Kaylyn Rose Sommer Davis, 24, fell overboard, presumably to her death.

What little facts we know about Kaylyn made what happened seem even more tragic and bizarre: she was a young mother attending the boat party for the second time. The year before, she and her husband had gotten married on the ship; according to Entertainment Weekly, the officiant was a guy they'd met through the cruise's Facebook page.

Coast Guard Identifies Woman Who Went Overboard at Mad Decent Boat Party

Sitting at Keys 'N Krates Bingo, all dressed up for Animal Theme Night when the man-overboard announcement came over the loudspeaker, we really didn't understand the gravity of the situation. We all imagined the ship would turn around, pick up the unfortunate person who fell off, and head straight to Mexico for the scheduled main event: a day-long, open bar-fueled Mad Decent party at the Playa Mia Grand Beach & Water Park. We casually finished our game of Bingo and hit the buffet.

Updates came over the loudspeaker every 15 to 30 minutes, but there was no real news. Sixthman Jayne, the official spokesman of the Boat Party, made rounds in the dining room answering questions for much of that evening. She didn't have any new info—no one did—but she did have a very calming presence while encouraging everyone to send good vibes and pay attention to announcements.

At approximately 1:30 AM on Friday morning, Bobby the cruise director made the final announcement of the night. After hours of maintaining nearly perfect calm in his voice, he finally choked up. The guest had not been found. Hearing the crack in his voice was like seeing through the perfect charade of protocol into the unbearable reality of the situation—the people in charge could not fix this.

I went to bed and woke up to the news later on Friday that we would be turning back and returning to Miami. Immediately, I was gripped by the crippling anxiety at the thought of having to be on the most depressing rave cruise of all time for another 48 hours.

But this is not a story about how awful the disaster was—it's about how everyone coped with it. The heroes who saved this nightmare of a rave-cation were the Mad Fam themselves—including the staff from Norwegian Cruises, Sixthman Productions, and the label—who presented a united front amidst the chaos, and took morale boosting into their own hands.

On that morning, I went up to the pool deck to see how everyone else was faring, and what I found was utterly humbling.

First there was this guy, known only as Handlebar John:

He was in the pool essentially doing a combination of stand-up comedy, improv, and emotional therapy—offering his rubber pool phone to anyone who wanted to "call" a loved one to let them know they were ok. He kicked it off by showing everyone how it was done: "Yes, Grandma, I'm wearing my floaties at all times. Yes, I have my rape whistle on me too." Even given the gravity of the night before, it was impossible not to laugh, and I even took him up on the offer, making a pseudo-call to the international fire department to assure them that despite rumors of the Boat Party being presently un-"lit," it had actually been re-lit, so they needn't worry.

Moments later, the music resumed, and the first performer of the day, 19-year-old Philly Club DJ Swizzymack, became the first artist in history to appropriately open his set with Journey's "Don't Stop Believin.'" It dropped straight into RL Grime and What So Not's party anthem "Tell Me," and all of a sudden, every ass was twerking, the Mad Decent pool toys were bouncing all over the deck, and the Bud Light Lime was flowing like water. One kid on the dancefloor had acquired pizza dough from the kitchen and made twirling it out into an unbelievable interpretive dance.

Major Lazer

Out there in the middle of the ocean, amidst a diverse crowd of smiling faces and ridiculous costumes, a PLURtastic feeling had finally been restored on the ship. Even the cliché messages pummeled at our brains from Major Lazer's Universal Brotherhood-themed visual show, like "Get Free" and "Peace is the Mission," took on a meaningful significance in that perfect, protracted moment.

Then, I heard news of the Paris attacks.

We'd been completely isolated from the outside world in our floating rave bubble, and had I not turned on the TV for one fleeting second, I wouldn't have found out about what happened until we docked. No one else seemed to be talking about the attacks, so I assumed they either didn't know, or, like me, didn't want to bring anymore downer vibes to the party. It took me an hour nap and several slices of pizza to shake off the second devastating shockwave of the trip and head back to the pool deck.

Nadastrom's sunrise set

Skrillex was the first artist to address what happened on the ship publicly early on Saturday morning. Getting up during Nadastrom's epic sunrise set, he thanked the production crew, security, employees, and everyone else on board: "I want to thank you guys for your amazing energy. And I just want to acknowledge that we've been through some real shit out here. We have one more day on this boat, one more day to make this trip incredible. Get some sleep, and let's bring it tomorrow! Today!"

Our Mad Decent Boat Party Gallery Redefines NSFW

Saturday night was a cascading avalanche of hype leading up to a 1 AM Jack Ü set. Artists like Dillon Francis and Thomas Jack, who were supposed to get on the boat when we arrived at Cozumel, never made it on because we had to turn around before reaching our destination. Since the beach party wasn't happening, there was a lot of hope hinged on this final event being the best one yet.

Jack U performing via livestream from the Norwegian Pearl office

In a cruel twist of fate, just 15 minutes into Jack Ü's performance, the sky darkened, the clouds gathered, and a massive storm rolled in. The show had to be cut, but shoutout Diplo and Skrillex for being so insistent on finishing their set that they convinced the ship's crew to let them do a livestream from the Norwegian Pearl offices to all the TVs on the boat. They were literally performing on someone's desk, and it was so heartfelt I was able to forgive what absolute dog shit it sounded like coming through at full blast over our TV speakers.

Every detail on the ship was thought out, right down to the napkins.

You would think that the tragedy of Kaylyn's death and the resulting cancelled beach party would be the ultimate party downer, but the humanity on board was the thing that I'll always remember when I think back about our ill-fated cruise. A scroll through the Mad Decent Boat Partiers Facebook page reveals far more positive, compassionate posts than complaints. One patron suggested refunds be donated to Kaylyn's memorial fund, which immediately resulted in a GoFundMe campaign that's already two-thirds of the way to reaching it's goal—you can donate here. Shoutout to everyone who took it upon themselves to pick the vibes up, from Handlebar John, to Jack Ü, to the kids on the Mad Fam Facebook page preaching empathy instead of whining. Peace is the mission, don't forget.

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