Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Boat Parade!

The holidays are here... in south Florida we attend Santa in a bathing suit and with boat parades.  An interesting piece of southe FL history here...



the first "boat parade" was assembled the second Saturday at dusk in December 1969 by the Coral Ridge Power Squadron (Ft. Lauderdale) with a flotilla of 13 vessels, most of them running noisy generators strapped to cabin tops and bows to light the boats up.  We left the dock in Lighthouse Point on the "Gwen's Gem" around 3pm to make the rendezvous' point in front of the Coral Ridge Yacht Club by 4:30pm.  I can remember the people coming out of their back doors / sliding doors to take a look at the boat cruising by alight in multicolor Christmas strings following the lines of the whole vessel and a huge lit up Santa Claus on the cabin top as the hailer blared out Christmas Carols and my mom would occasionally broadcast, "Merry Christmas!!! y'all" with the bat signal liberal little sister and I straddling a bow rail waving.  Everyone waved back.  Some clapped.  Most were awestruck by the before unknown and unexpected delight of a lit up little yacht demonstrating a nautical Happy Holiday.  The sorte at the 'club' was amazing... 13 boats, mostly screws (power boats), I think there were at least three sails and The Spirit of a Florida style Christmas tradition was born!  I do remember the 34' sail with the toy soldiers doing their thing was present... and they continued on through I don't know how many years.  But it all began with those folks from the Coral Ridge Power Squadron discussing about whether they could do and daring each other to do it__ docked at Stan's Lounge on one July afternoon in '69.  I heard the story told for years. It was Dr. Bob and Sue Roscoe ( the Lucukari - 42' Bertrum), Bill and Gwen Dawson (the Gwen's Gem [1st version] 31' - Chris Craft), Ed and Madeline Dennis (the Madeline V -52' Hattie) Buzz and Jean Currin (the Tiger lV - 45' Corinthian) ... all Coral Ridge Power Squadron __ all instructors ... all of

them plotting when, where, who they might convince to join them and they just did it.  13 boats.  The next year a few more boats joined in... I think I can safely say south Florida was eager to see it and it delighted all.  Lots of work, lots of bright work for Debbie and I...weeks incoming.  I think it's been written that the parade was "officially" begun in 1971.  It was already our tradition by then.  In 1972 my mom began to 'sponsor' the LHP Police Force 'officially' .... what a crew of drunks!  for the northern parade from Hillsboro Inlet to Pal's Captain's Table in Deerfield and back to Hillsboro Inlet and finally, down the canal home.  Then the next weekend was the 'old' group in Ft. Lauderdale from Santa Barbara Shores / lake down to Bahia Mar and back again.  Of course the routes became set sometime later... the parades divided and most of the vessels used to run in both the major parades... north end, south end.  In early '70's it just exploded onto the water front and now, of course, it's Winterfest.  Gotten huge.  Palm Beach county and Broward county.  Two huge events, covered by international media.  Celebrity 'marshals' in the lead boats... 

There are stories... some very boozey, funny, outrageous tales to tell.  The bridge tenders were 'difficult' the first few parades.   The second parade, (I think or 3rd), when the Sunrise bridge tender didn't open the bridge for some reason and people collected all over it to see the pretty lights ... well, the peanut galley spilled out when the 'captain' (though everyone referred to him as the "Vigilante") of the "Sick o' Working" hailed him in crisp and dangerous profanity amidst all the Christmas caroling background with threats to his continuing enjoyment of being able to relieve himself without medical attention ... this 'gentleman' [and I use this description knowing he would probably smack me for it!] was one of our 'well known's' ... he got himself 'talked into' coming down for a boat parade while he was entered in one of the Bahia Mar Fishing Rodeo's the year before.  He traveled down from his port in South Carolina to 'doll up the deck' and enjoy the experience...it was his last.  Unrepentant Republican of waterways; Mickey Spillane__ who I can only remember boozey comments concerning his loathe for Hemmingway coming off his aft deck, was with us once in those beginning years.   There was always some problem with the Sunrise bridge!  A few years later, when the route was set and the city in the fold, this fellow whom I never did find out who he was (but I know it was the same guy!) didn't bring the bridges up.  So this time Buzz Currin, hailing him for at least 40 mins., got just busllshit angry about it all.   On New Year's Eve Buzz invited everyone to Nick's bar by boat for a party he catered to 'come see the show'.   Buzz owned most of the cab companies in Ft. Lauderdale at the time.  He sat at the bar drinking (he could do that without nary sign of it for days ... it seemed to the young me) with a curious radio in his lap.  He fussed with it on and off for a few hours and then at about 10:30pm or so... might have been a bit later ... he began barking out orders and viola!  The horns honking on the duel Sunrise bridges began to draw even more attention then the party revel.  Buzz and my folks and most of the Coral Ridge Power Squadron moved out to the dock to watch the 'show' Buzz arranged in having his cabs filling the bridges and parked - keys all thrown in the drink!  The jam up was incredible and continued into the wee hours as Buzz and group observed from the dock, barmaids attending them...  cost him plenty.  He swore it was worth it.  None of the cabbies were charged and Buzz got a legal slap on the wrists from the judge who attended every parade after onboard the Tiger lV.   Hijinks.  The funny old memories that the general public doesn't know...  everybody knows the tale of trouble by the Swap Shop entries!  GAD! Preston Henn has  some audacity!  Don't he?  Elephants on a barge...brave and terrifying! 

Including the altruism and generosity of many of the Captains and Skippers who would take groups for charity, sponsor boys or girls clubs.  No one took on any Junior League projects.  Lets just get that one clear!   LOL  Monies raised for some many different good causes and city highlights.   I know it's still a very large portion of the tradition. 

The Captains and Skippers who founded the boat parades in southe Florida wanted to give people something 'of their own', unique and splendid to celebrate the goodness of the season.  That "Peace on Earth, Good Will To All Men" theme that has since evaporated somewhat from the event as it stands today.  It's exclusive to captains that are either hired out or businesses that can afford it.  The entry fees are outrageous.  Yet; as you can probably tell with the bridge stories, expense is needed to guarantee safety and crowd control.  Still!  I am with all the small and less well heeled vessels that ache to be a part of it, but now, may only moor somewhere in allowance and watch it pass them by.  It was conceived with THEM in mind.  Mom used to muse that it's likely that boat parades were being 'done' all over the world at the same time, that ours was not unique to the idea.  But I do know, ours formed the origin of all the others running world wide today.   My last parade was onboard the Swap Shop yacht with the Turbyfils, the other half of the Swap Shop family.   We grew all up together.   That was '93.   I'm still close enough to the water to hear the parade, and this year if I get to the little park nearby early enough with enough supplies, I might just see the northern one.  With the rest of the landlubbers.
Then again, hearing that term... 
I'm mortified.  

Merry Christmas! y'all! Sail on....

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Buzz & Jeanne were my cousins - great story!! - (one of the Symons)

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

It's a small world, huh? LOL Ta for stopping by. Appreciated! What ever happened to Tiger?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure - I'm a generation down so I didn't know them. I talked to Buzz's sister a few years back, and a few times to Vance (he was working as an officer for the Plantation police). I heard from someone else that one of his brothers was into racing and the other had a good business renting beach cabanas, but I never checked if that was true - started having kids and got distracted!