Every community has their holiday traditions, and the boat community is no exception. At ourmarina in Annapolis, the boaters get together every year for a holiday party. “White Elephant” gifts with a nautical theme are exchanged (over the years we’ve seen a stuffed lobster that sang Jingle Bells; nautical charts 20 years out of date and hence guaranteed to get you lost; a battered, dented air horn; even a kit to build a ship model in a bottle). There’s a table set aside with craft supplies and plain ornaments. During the party, each person hand-decorates an ornament with the name of their boat and the date, and hangs it on the tree in the lounge. At Gangplank Marina in Washington DC, some of the liveaboards go boat-to-boat by dinghy and kayak, singing carols and serenading the neighbors. And as the Jimmy Buffett song says, we hang our stockings from the mast. But my favorite tradition has always been the boat parades.
I should explain that I’ve always been a sucker for twinkling holiday lights. When I was a little kid, I’d beg my parents to take me to the top of the Empire State Building (at the time, the tallest building in New York City) to see “all the lights there ever were;” and to this day, no matter where we’ve lived, I’ve made a holiday tradition of walking or driving around town looking at lights. Since we’ve moved aboard, that tradition has extended to boats. Boats are naturals for strings of holiday lights; you can simply twine them around the lifelines or hoist them up the mast. We’ve seen lots of lighted boats, some very elaborate and some very simple. In some cases (best they remain nameless) people have gone over the top with their decorations solely for the bragging rights, but the vast majority of people I’ve met, when asked why they take their boat out to drive in circles in the cold and dark after spending hours (weeks?) decorating, have the same answer as my friend Christy Tinnes & Frank Florentine quoted here in the Capital last week: “To give something back to the community.” And the community has always been appreciative.On the same evening that lighted boats were circling the Annapolis harbor for the Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade, lighted boats were circling the harbor here in St Augustine too, and we wanted to join the festivities. Although about 20 degrees warmer than Annapolis, <*insert smug grin here!*> the harbor was unfamiliar to us, with lots of shoals and strong currents, and the night was windy, so we decided it would not be prudent to take our own boat. Instead, we signed up to join the jolly pirates on the day charter boat “Black Raven” just a few slips away from us here at the marina. We pulled out of the slip and through the bridge, and waited at the designated place for the signal that would start the parade. Not being content with a mere starting gun to begin the event, the City fired a cannon from the oldCastillo, the Spanish fort overlooking the harbor … and we, in the spirit of being a pirate ship and all that, turned to fire back at them before leading the city’s “Holiday Regatta of Lights” past the judges stand and past a seawall that seemed densely packed with the entire twelve thousand plus population of the town. The skipper, Rosaire Caron, a.k.a. “Captain Corona,” warned us at the outset that weather conditions were going to make the trip challenging for a boat of the Raven’s size, and if the weather deteriorated or if he felt it was too risky, we’d abandon the parade and come back in early. But we’d give it a try, because, well, “it’s theparade,” he said, as though that explained it all. Maybe it did; it’s that giving back to the community thing again, that made it worth just a bit of extra effort.
[photo: Boats circling in the harbor before the event]
[photo: Black Raven decked out in lights from the 2010 parade; property of Black Raven; used by permission]