Sailboats decked out as Christmas trees file into the Annapolis harbor for the start of the annual Annual Christmas Boat Lights Parade, also known as the Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade.
New Orleans has its Mardi Gras; Philadelphia, its Mummer’s Parade; New York, its Macy’s celebration of giant balloons. Here in this Chesapeake Bay city of famed as the country’s sailing capital, they have the Annapolis Christmas Boat Lights Parade. Actually, that’s not its real name: The
Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade. And this year’s parade was as popular as the last 36 have been. As darkness descended across the water, a cannon went off and captains in three dozen boats switched on the wildly festive lights that festooned their vessels. Among the first to show at the bridge that serves as the parade’s entrance point were five sailboats rigged with mast-high Christmas trees of lights. They resembled a small stand of holiday evergreens moving in line across the water.
The illuminated boat spectacle drew thousands of onlookers swarming all available areas of the waterfront sidewalks and piers. Moving slowly past a cheering section of crowd was the boat Catitude decked out with a huge toy soldier display. Skippered by Ray Rosenberg, the boat won a “Best Powerboat Eastport Yacht Club Award.”
Seasoned mariners navigated their vessels through the incredibly narrow confines of Spa Creek, which is downtown Annapolis’ main harbor area.
Many in the crowd initially debated if the creature on the rigging of the boat Rafinee was the Cookie Monster or a gorilla, but it turned out to be Bumble the Abominable Snowman, a character from the 1964 television movie, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Captains Jib Edwards and Kurt Karsten won a “Best Powerboat Eastport Yacht Club Award” for their display.
Captain Michele Ward turned her boat, Sweetwater, into a “Winter Wonderland” of giant snowflakes and deck displays that won the parade’s “Best Illumination” award.
Not all the boat entries are large. Designed to look like Santa’s sleigh, this 15-foot power boat, Clean Bottoms, carries Santa, Mrs. Claus, Frosty, Rudolph and the Grinch. Skippers were Mike and Kristen Summers.
Taking the parade’s “Best in Show” award was skipper Kathy Downs’ “Palm Tree” display on her boat, Early Bird. It included a massive palm tree of lights, a parrot, pirate, treasure chest, keg of rum and leaping fish.
Located at the south end of Annapolis, Eastport was traditionally a community of tradesmen — the sailmakers, carpenters, chandlers, boat builders and other workers supporting the harbor’s bustling maritime community and U.S. Naval Academy. In 1980, to rival the boating aristocracy of the Annapolis Yacht Club (from which they were barred), Eastporters started their own yacht club for local rank and file boating enthusiasts, including women and people of color.
One of the top favorites of the crowd was the Griswald Wagon display that turned the 32-foot powerboat Woo Hoo II into the battered station wagon from the 1983 movie, “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” The skipper was Scott Robinson.
The largest vessel in the parade — the 57-foot Water Path captained by Bob Santacroce — featured 30-foot blue sharks running along its port and starboard sides. Wearing a Santa hat, the monstrous fish had its jaws stretched wide. The display won the parade’s “Best Large Boat” award.
Blasting rock & roll to match its “Rock & Roll Christmas” theme, the boat, Barracuda, skippered by Charles Gasserts, moved in close to greet the cheering crowds. It was awarded the parade’s “Best New Entry” award.
The nighttime Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade, which adds a certain fairy tale quality to the harbor’s dense marinas, is a tourist visual delight but a photographer’s challenge. Capturing usable images requires extreme settings and high-end lenses.
Making its patriotic point was Eric Anderson’s powerboat, Bay Bound, festooned in red, white and blue and blaring Christmas carols as it headed out to the main harbor.
Hung high in the rigging, a pirate’s Jolly Roger sports a Santa hat and fires a canon on the 40-foot sailboat Five O’Clock, skippered by Michael Jewell.
Skipper Gary Patenaude turned his boat, Deployment, into “Octo Santa,” a glowing cephalopod wearing a Santa hat.
The Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade participants often spend as long as six months creating, installing and testing their luminous displays, some of which contain more than 10,000 individual lights. Deployment of the colorful Christmas armada has become one of the top holiday tourist attractions in Maryland.
Two hours after it began, the parade ended, all of its boats suddenly going dark. And then, the sailors along with the tourists packed the waterfront city’s seafood restaurants and bars where TVs were tuned to post-game recaps of the Army-Navy football classic played the same day. The evening was all the more boisterous because Navy broke a three-year losing streak and trounced Army 31 to 7.