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Holiday decorations take a bow

And a stern. And starboard and port. It's full speed ahead as boat parades usher in the season.

By RICK GERSHMAN
Published December 8, 2005


photo
[Times photo: Dirk Shadd 2003]
Sailboats light up the water near the Treasure Island Tennis and Yacht Club during the Treasure Island Annual Lighted Boat Parade.

  photo
[Times photo 2004]
Matthew Potter adjusts his lights before the 2004 River Lights Boat Parade in New Port Richey. That parade was last Saturday this year.
[Times photo: Ted McLaren 2003]
Don Magyar and Leesa Fugate steal a kiss moments after beginning the Homosassa Springs Boat Parade.
[Times photo: Brian Cassella]
George Wolf’s three-boat flotilla is complete with leaping dolphins.

TAMPA - Up on the rooftop?

Sorry, not in Florida. Not when it's 75 and sunny.

Ho, ho, ho, who wouldn't go?

Santa Claus, for one. Just ask roofers; it's brutal up there.

Even Old Saint Nick knows that in Florida, some things are best accessed by water. So Saturday night, he didn't fly over Old Tampa Bay.

He sailed.

By day, Santa is George Wolf, a construction project manager at Tampa International Airport. But his project for the last several weeks has been more nautical in theme: creating a three-boat flotilla for the lighted boat parade through Channelside.

Wolf won the event last year, earning dinner for himself and dozens of friends aboard the parade sponsor, Yacht StarShip.

He has replicated that winning entry with a few more bells and whistles this year, but the big draw remains the same: metal dolphins, lined with rope lights, appear to be leaping from boat to boat.

Saturday's run went well, Wolf said - "I think I got Channelside (crowds) to roar a couple of times" - but he's really gearing up for the Dec. 17 Channelside parade. Wolf's crew expands to 22 for the big night, even adding an eight-piece brass band to his lead boat, Pocket Rocket.

Boat parades have become a big seasonal draw throughout the Tampa Bay area. From St. Pete Beach to Lake Henderson in Inverness, boaters are mixing a little holiday spirit into life on the water.

A few parades already have been held, but this is the really big parade weekend, with events in St. Petersburg, St. Pete Beach, Tarpon Springs, Treasure Island and on the Hillsborough River (see list).

"Sure, it's hard as hell to get into the Christmas spirit in Florida," said Spring Hill's "Captain Al" Calibaro, who has participated in numerous parades on both of Florida's coasts.

"When it's 85 degrees and sunny in December, you ain't having any White Christmases."

Like Wolf, Calibaro tends to go with a fairly Christmas-specific theme on his boat.

Many of the boats are adorned with images of Santa and reindeer, while others include Bible-specific themes, such as nativity scenes.

While Baptist minister Jerry Falwell's new "Friend or Foe" campaign is taking on retailers, municipalities and other groups he claims are trying to remove Christmas from the holidays, Santa and other Christian imagery remains highly popular on the water.

"I think it's what you see most often," said Tampa's Lily Fitzgerald, who has joined the crew of numerous boat parades in the Tampa Bay area.

"But more than anything else, you just see a whole lot of lights. People want to show off their boats, and this kind of kicks off the countdown to Gasparilla."

You won't find the word Christmas in any of the official titles of Tampa Bay area boat parades (holiday remains the catch-all term).

But are there boats decked with menorahs and dreidels? And how about Kwanzaa? Any boaters out there working the kinara motif?

"I haven't seen that," Calibaro said, "but I have seen some Hanukkah stuff. Really, most guys - guys and gals, I mean - they just do it up with lights and all. It's not all about religious stuff. It's about doing something nice, making something pretty."

Around the bay area, the parades come in all sizes. St. Petersburg's Marine Max Lighted Boat Parade - on Friday this year, a change from the traditional Saturday - remains a huge draw in its 17th year. The parade route is altering a bit this year, too, to go past the Snell Isle neighborhood, as well as the traditional route along the downtown waterfront, enhancing viewing opportunities.

The Hillsborough River parade Saturday includes canoes, kayaks and smaller motorboats. And St. Pete Beach has geared up a revamped parade for Saturday that includes a prize for every entrant.

However, South Pasadena replaced its boat parade with a bus tour of home decorations. Turnout had slacked off in recent years there and enthusiasm was low, city officials said.

That doesn't seem to be an issue at Davis Island Yacht Club, where Wolf has worked on his entry for weeks.

A former competitive water skiier in Sarasota, Wolf also enjoys racing his sailboat.

"I'm a competitive guy. I like some good competition," he said. "When I heard about this, I thought, hell, let's jump in this. Let's go."

Fitzgerald's pick among all-time boat parade entrants was in Fort Lauderdale: a Santa sleigh hooked up to nine water scooters piloted by people wearing reindeer heads.

And yes, one had a flashing red nose.

"If it looks cool and it's all lit up, I don't think anyone cares what religion it is (or) what holiday" it is, she said.

"You could light it up like St. Patrick's Day and no one would mind. We're just out having fun."

Holiday boat parades FRIDAY (DEC. 9)

St. Petersburg Marine Max Lighted Boat Parade - Begins at 6:30 p.m., travels north from the Port of St. Petersburg/Harborage Marina, around the Pier, through the Vinoy yacht basin and along the Snell Isle waterfront. (727) 821-6443.

SATURDAY (DEC. 10)

Hillsborough River Holiday Boat Parade - 6-8 p.m., starting at Lowry Park and heading upriver past the illuminated Sulphur Springs Tower to Hannah's Whirl. Spectator caroling party during and after parade at riverfront Sulphur Springs Harbor Club, 915 E Grant St. (just east of Nebraska Avenue). (813) 237-8497.

St. Pete Beach Holiday Boat Parade - Begins 6 p.m. at Merry Pier, Eighth Avenue and Pass-a-Grille Way; travels north through Corey Causeway, ending at St. Pete Beach Yacht and Tennis Club, 94th Avenue and Blind Pass Road. (727) 363-9245.

Tarpon Springs Bayou Boat Parade - Begins 6 p.m. at Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks, moves around Whitcomb Bayou to Spring Bayou, where there will be caroling in Craig Park. (727) 942-5628. Free.

SUNDAY (DEC. 11)

Treasure Island Annual Lighted Boat Parade - Begins 6:20 p.m., passes through toll bridge at 7 p.m. and finishes at John's Pass by 8:30. Rain date is Mon.

DEC. 17

Tampa Holiday Fest Lighted Boat Parade - Begins 6:30 p.m. in the Channelside area of Tampa. 813 223-4250 or www.channelsidetampa.com

Inverness Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, 6-8 p.m. along Wallace Brooks Park on Lake Henderson. (352) 726-3913.

Homosassa Springs Boat Parade - Begins about 5:30 p.m. on the Homosassa River at Marker 75 to Blue Water and back to Magic Manatee Marina. (352) 628-2666.

[Last modified December 7, 2005, 11:01:06]


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