Christmas may bring to mind tree lightings, Nutcracker performances and Santa at the mall, but one oh-so-Florida subset of holiday jubilation is the boat parade. The next few weeks will bring an armada of cleverly decorated dinghies, schooners, sailboats and even canoes.
Attaching decorations when you don't have walls is tricky. And bringing along a generator to power lights adds noise and a possible fire hazard if you don't know what you are doing. Boat owners will go to elaborate lengths to put a star high atop a sailboat mast or make use of chicken wire to form words or pictures.
The result is a sparkling boat display made even more glittery by the reflecting water.
Wire ties are your friend, said Madeira resident Shirley Neele, who won the "Most Animated" award last year at the Madeira Beach Holiday Boat Parade. You can string lights to the wire and secure them to the boat using halyards, lines, blocks and parts of the boat structure such as outriggers, masts, booms and spinnaker poles.
Neele, a yacht broker and dock master who also won the top prize two years ago at the Treasure Island Lighted Boat Parade, enlists lots of friends to help in her nautical but nice visions.
"I put LED lights all over my girlfriends and they had reindeer antlers on their heads and red noses that blinked and they were running around the boat," Neele said. She used a 38-foot motor yacht with a Santa sitting on top as if he were driving this sleigh of animated reindeer.
To win the Treasure Island contest, she outfitted a 54-foot Sea Ray as "Santa's Boat Parade" with a bevy of little kids dressed up as Santa's helpers singing loudly around a giant Christmas tree and friends dressed as Christmas packages with wrapped boxes strapped to their bodies. And lights. Lots and lots of lights.
"It is so much fun," said Neele, who normally cruises her creations through the boat parades of St. Pete Beach, Madeira and Treasure Island every year. "The thing about them, especially the one in Treasure Island, is everyone brings a toy to donate and our sponsorship money goes to All Children's Hospital. So we have a fun party and everyone wins."
But everyone doesn't win the big prize, as Jim Shatz of Gulfport well knows.
You'd think owning the boat from Caddyshack would be enough. A 1979 Striker, the 60-foot yacht is the one that Rodney Dangerfield drove in the movie and ran over everything in sight.
Shatz, the head of technology operations for St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards' companies, including the Rowdies and Sundial shopping plaza, bought the boat seven years ago from a Port Charlotte restaurant.
"It's got very long lines so it really looks beautiful with the different colors," Shatz said. His family spends at least two weeks getting it decorated for the "big daddy" boat parade on Treasure Island.
They put netting lights down below and reindeer up front with Santa. He took home second place last year.
This year, Shatz ponied up for synchronized lights and music to let the Trans-Siberian Orchestra set his course for a first-place prize.
During the parade, there will be 40 to 50 people on his boat and two generators on board to power all the lights, he said.
"But some of that is for the ice machine too," Shatz said. "It's a party boat."
The parades are free. Plan to be in place by 5:30 p.m. Here's the lineup of Tampa Bay holiday flotillas:
Madeira Beach Holiday Boat Parade: The parade can be viewed from John's Pass Village and Boardwalk, but the city's new ROC Park at 300 Municipal Drive will open its gates at 4 p.m. with family-friendly activities. Bring something to sit on and enjoy live music before decorated boats leave John's Pass at 6:30 p.m. and pass through the Intracoastal Waterway and canals before ending at the park. Fireworks light up the sky after the boat parade, around 10 p.m.
St. Petersburg Illuminated Boat Parade: The downtown waterfront area offers plenty of viewing spaces along the Vinoy Basin sea wall, at Demens Landing and on the Pier approach. Vinoy Park, 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg.
Island Estates Yacht Club Holiday Boat Parade: Now in its 41st year, decorated boats assemble in Mandalay Channel and head to Coachman Park, under the Memorial Causeway Bridge and to the Clearwater Yacht Club's judging stand. Coachman Park, 301 Drew St., Clearwater.
Gulfport Lighted Christmas Boat Parade: For this 30th annual holiday water parade, the best viewing spots include Osgood Point, Williams Pier, Gulfport Beach, Town Shores, Pelican Bay, Kipps Colony, Pasadena Yacht and Country Club, Isla Del Sol and Gulfport Municipal Marina, 4630 29th Ave. S.
Apollo Beach Lighted Boat Parade: There is good viewing from the clubhouse and docks of the Tampa Sailing Squadron, 1250 Apollo Beach Blvd., Ruskin. Concession sales benefit the youth sailing program.
Tarpon Springs Lighted Boat Parade: For the boaters, Tarpon Turtle Grill added a boat poker run around Lake Tarpon. Prizes for best boat and best hand. Boat entry fee of $30 benefits Wheelchairs 4 Kids. Free for spectators at 1513 Lake Tarpon Ave., Tarpon Springs.
Hillsborough River Holiday Boat Parade: The Friends of the River hold this annual parade in Seminole Heights with decorated kayaks, canoes and traditional watercraft. Departs from the Lowry Park boat ramp, upriver to Sulphur Springs Park. Assembles at 5:30 p.m.; parade starts at 6 at Lowry Park, 7525 North Boulevard, Tampa.
Treasure Island Lighted Boat Parade, Dec. 19: More than 40 decorated boats participate in this annual "Las Vegas on Water" themed parade. Starts at the Club at Treasure Island, goes through the Treasure Island Bridge into Boca Ciega Bay and follows the coastline to end at John's Pass. The public is invited to a pre-parade poolside party at the Club that includes visits with Santa, free hot dogs, cake, cider and cookies. Admission is one new unwrapped toy or a cash donation. You can drop them off ahead of time to receive a family pass at 400 Treasure Island Causeway. Entrance starts at 4:30 p.m. (727) 367-4511, ext. 236.
Indian Rocks Beach Lighted Boat Parade, Dec. 19:
See motorboats, sailboats, canoes and even row boats in this boat parade with awards by division. It begins and ends at the Holiday Inn Harbourside, 401 Second St., Indian Rocks Beach.
Redington Beach/Indian Shores Lighted Boat Parade, Dec. 20: This year's parade starts on the north side of the Tom Stuart Causeway and ends at the Pub restaurant for an awards ceremony and party, 20025 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores.
Times staff writer Kelly Stefani contributed to this report. Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] or (727) 893-8595. Follow @SharonKWn.