“It started as a silly dare,” explains long-timer Pete Chambliss of the phenomenon that’s become the Eastport Yacht Club Light Parade. What would Christmas in Annapolis be without it?
Thirty-four years ago, the parade was a handful of boaters singing Christmas carols whilst cruising down Ego Alley with a string of fairy lights attached to their boats.
To live up to the dare, Chambliss says, “through the years, we have decorated our boat in unique ways: an angel with a big trumpet, Snoopy and Charley Brown, rainbows, candy cane, Christmas trees.
Year by year, the dare has become more demanding.
“In the old days,” he says, it was all about lights, there were no generators, no animation, no computers.”
“Last year it took over 800 man-hours to make Dreamchaser a success,” says the elf — so titled for his work on the parade committee. “On the day, we had around 10 people from 9am to ensure that the boat was ready by 5pm. We had structural engineers, an electrical engineer — a lot of talent, creative minds getting together and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.”
Like Chambliss and his wife Jane, paraders thrive on competition — no matter what it takes.
That’s how Chris and Cyndy Rogers joined the parade.
“When we first watched all those boats competing, the attention they received from the crowds of spectators, I knew then, being an attention seeker myself, I had to be a part of this,” says Chris, a retired submariner.
But there was a problem. He didn’t have a boat.
In 2004 Rogers bought a Cat25 and joined the parade. In 10 years of competing, he’s cracked the secret of winning one of the sought-after prizes — including Best in Parade, Best Illuminated, Best Holiday Spirit and People’s choice.
“The formula for winning is density of light and the square of the water line,” he laughs. “It takes 30 lights to fill one square foot. So filling the entire space or just outlining? That’s an important decision.”
Lights are crucial, but they’re not all it takes.
“There are multiple factors,” Rogers says. “A theme is important, execution is critical, animation, sequence and, of course, music. I like to play the golden oldies, a little Jimmy Buffett, Chuck Berry.
“It’s all a part of the enjoyment, a little tongue in cheek, a little nudge ’n’ wink.”
“You can spend thousands of dollars,” Rogers acknowledges. “Or you can keep it modest and have some fun.”
Smaller boats are fun, too.
“One year someone paraded in an eight-foot dingy dressed up as a Christmas tree, while dressed himself up as an astronaut.”
Crowd reaction may be the best prize of all.
“One year we themed the boat as Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, we called it Jerry Christmas,” Rogers recalls. “It was a cold, rainy, foggy evening, but the few people that turned out to spectate loved it. We won two awards. That was a good year.”
Three-dozen illuminated power and sail boats cruise in two fleets. One circles in front of Eastport, City Dock and the Naval Academy seawall; the other cruises the length of Spa Creek. Sat. Dec. 10, 6-8pm. Arrive early for a spot along the Annapolis waterfront: www.eyclightsparade.org.