GULFPORT — Tony Angel knows what it takes to steam ahead in lighted holiday boat parades.
The Town Shores resident, who has entered a boat in area Christmas parades for 21 years, has won first place in the Treasure Island parade — considered the biggest in the bay area with 50 to 70 boats — six of the past seven years. The remaining year, he took second place.
He said he frequently wins the Boca Ciega Yacht Club parade, too.
"You have to have a theme and music," he said. "And you have to suggest your guests on the boat fit in with the theme. That's what's necessary to win a boat parade."
But winning first place isn't as important to the 73-year-old former Chicago area man as having fun and spreading Christmas cheer.
The illuminated boats are like Christmas cards, he said — cards that cost about $400 for sailboats to thousands of dollars for powerboats with big decks and big generators.
"But it's a way of sharing Christmas with others if you have a boat," he said.
This year, when he joins about 24 boats in the Boca Ciega parade Saturday, his theme will be "Noel." He plans to have 48 strands of lights running at angles from a giant star atop the mast down to the boat, and "Noel" written in lights across the side of the 31-foot Hunter. His "crew" will be dressed in red with caps. And "bouncy" Christmas music will be coming from the loudspeakers.
Angel is also an adviser for the Sea Scouts, a group of 24 high school kids who love to sail. They will be decorating a boat that was donated to the group to renovate and keep or sell.
"It's like having 24 grandchildren," said the former executive, whose own children live in Tennessee, Illinois and Lutz.
His most memorable boat parade was in Treasure Island about eight years ago. The theme of his entry was the "Nutcracker" and he had dancing girls on the front of the boat.
"As the skipper, all you see are bright lights. You just hope someone will tell you if you are going to hit something."
At one point, the dancing girls were waving to those aboard a sea towboat, and they were waving back — but not in greeting; they were waving in warning to tell the captain to make a hard left turn.
Angel's vessel ran aground on a sandbar, as did the two boats behind him. It all turned out okay, though.
His favorite parade entry was a three-tiered celebration. He decorated his 27-foot Catalina with a "Christmas in Paradise" theme. That boat towed a smaller sailboat with a fishing Santa, and at the end of Santa's illuminated line was a floating shark.
That was definitely a first-place winner but, once again, it's all about the people who see the boats.
"All those captains and families are seriously trying to give back a little pleasure to everybody," he said.