Colorful cavalcade: Boat parade lights up the Marco River

Lance Shearer

Christmas Island Style took to the water on Saturday night. On a balmy evening, the vessels of the 33rd Christmas Island Style Boat Parade lit up the Marco River. More than a dozen colorfully illuminated craft spread holiday cheer and multicolored reflections as they cruised from their assembly point north of the Jolley Bridge, past the official CIS judges gathered on the second-floor balcony above the Snook Inn, and through Collier Creek to the Esplanade.

Police and fire/rescue boats led and trailed the parade, with the 90-ft. excursion boat “Marco Island Princess” captained by Rodger Parcelles, first among the fleet. Capt. Mike Rushalk turned “Euphoria,” his 35-foot catamaran, into a 48-foot tall Christmas tree, with thousands of lights and Santa’s sleigh, complete with reindeer, illuminated in the rigging. They were awarded Best in Parade, not for the first time, after performing a 360-degree pirouette in front of the reviewing stand at the Snook. “Euphoria” was also the only sailboat entered this year.

The powerboats were divided into two classes, under 28 feet, and 29 and over, for purposes of judging – although the parade participants and viewers who lined the docks along the route were more interested in the colorful spectacle than ranking the boats. A spectator fleet of over two dozen boats, more than twice the number of parade entries, anchored in the river to watch the fleet go by.

The boats of the Isles of Capri parade were visible across the river, giving spectators out on the river a “two-fer.” And some boats tagged along with the parade, decorated but not numbered as official entries.

In the under 28-foot category, best holiday spirit went to “Not So Fast” and Capt. Matt Goetz. Capt. Megan Milan’s “Sweets” was awarded most entertaining. And “Boot Sea,” captained by Dwight Stiehl, won for most creative.

Out of the larger vessels, Capt. Michael Passero’ “Paradise Cycle” won best holiday spirit, Capt. Bob Cholka’ “Papa’s Play Pen” took most entertaining, and “Wet Bar” under Capt. Dave Richards was named most creative. “Wet Bar’s” award might have had something to do with the massive inflatable Grinch on the stern of the pontoon boat, sporting a surgical mask.

Viewed from ashore, the boat parade seemed like a refreshing jolt of normality in a crazy year, perhaps because by its nature the format allows for some social distancing. The pandemic did probably affect the number of entrants, which saw one captain drop out of the race after being diagnosed positive with the corona virus, said boat parade chairman Gene Burson.

The judges and guests enjoyed a buffet and libations on the Snook’s deck. Unlike past years, the judges stayed out in the open air to deliberate, rather than retiring to an adjacent room. Local attorney Neil Snyder, John Apolzani, and Ted and Peggy Reiss did the judging, under the guidance of co-organizers Wanda Day and Barb Dasti.

“At one point, I didn’t think the parade was going to happen,” said Snook Inn co-owner Luigi Carvelli. “I’m glad you fought for it.”  

Christmas Island Style events will culminate on Saturday, Dec. 19, with a “reverse parade” at Veterans’ Community Park, where the floats will be stationary and the spectators will drive by them in their own cars.

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