Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade

Where do the years go? It seems just like yesterday one hundred and six years ago that the first Newport Beach 'Christmas' Boat Parade took place. Of course, back then it was known as the Illuminated Water Parade.

In 1907 an entrepreneur by the name of John Scarpa started taking tourists from the local cities across Beacon and Balboa Bay in his Italian inspired gondolier all festive with lit Japanese lanterns.

Not John but just a cool photograph.
It caught on and just the next year Scarpa was leading eight kayaks, all burning the lanterns in the same manner as their leader to the delight of site-seers crowding the board walks. This event landed on July 4th of 1908 and the birth of the annual (almost, it was called off for a few years because of WWI) boat parade was begun.

John Scarpa was the man!

Things got better and spookier though in 1915 when a spectacular parade with forty vessels took place including two boats shooting fireworks at each other, two underwater mines being exploded to the thrill of the crowds and a derelict boat set afire in the middle of the bay. What fun but don't try that in the 21st Century. 

Do not try this at home!
After the 'Great War' Joseph Beeker a true pioneer in the very early days of Newport Beach brought the boat parade back into existence. The man who developed Beacon Bay, started the Balboa Ferry Line and was one of the major player in creating that haven for million dollar plus homes on Balboa Island was in his element. His clout and prestige brought the boat parade back to full glory in 1919.

However in 1949 the City Fathers decided that this show of lights upon the waters of Balboa Bay were bringing in too many tourists from outside (those whom don't belong) crowding the streets and viewing areas and stopped the parade.  Play back to 1946 when Newport Beach City employees had started pulling a barge about the bay during the Christmas Season sporting a large decorated tree and lots of people on the barge singing carols. Those folks continued on disregarding the poo-poo politicians and soon other yachties joined the barge lighting up their own boats and powering around the bay in good spirits.

Boats of all sizes show their pride
The parade was back on and the Beeker family joined in with the use of their ferries in the bay allowing visitors to be in the parade itself to the delight of friends and family on shore waving and singing songs.

The parade has morphed into one of the top ten Holiday Events in the country according to Davey's Locker out of Newport Beach (actually on Balboa Peninsula) and by the more than a million people each year who view the show live.  The parade is conducted for five nights (Dec. 17 thru the 21st) prior to Christmas and seems to be getting better each and every year.

Some pretty big yachts.

J and L have made the parade a family tradition since our girls were little and this year we were treated (by those same girls) to be in the boat parade itself and not just shore observers. An exciting time with family and new found friends aboard our own bit of history.

Houses lit up and maybe the owners too?
Our gander around the bay to view the wonderful lights of both the houses (and in some cases mansions which looked more like hotels) was from the very large and comfortable 'Western Pride' out of Davey's Locker and choreographed by Captain Mike Harkins and his great crew. There's a reason Mike is called a Skipper - the way he was able to 'skip' this large ship around the bay in and between the countless yachts and dinghies proved he was simply a magician or a guy with nerves of steel. We'll go with both descriptions at this time after witnessing first hand his control of the wheel and confident voice over the speakers describing every aspect of the tour of lights. In truth, a very nice man who took his job very seriously - navigating safely and ensuring his passengers enjoyed the spectacular array of lights.

The dozens of guests on the Western Pride certainly enjoyed themselves by the sound of the oohs, ahhs and laughter all around us. A picture perfect evening during the season when perfection started a little over two thousand years ago.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas and don't forget, there's always 2015.

For more information:
Davey's Locker
(949) 673-1434

Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce

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