Eastport Lights Parade: An Annapolis holiday tradition that can't be missed
What in the world would make a person want to stand by the water's edge on a chilly December evening for hours on end to watch some boats go by? Those pondering this question obviously haven't seen the Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade.
Don't let another year go by making the same mistake. For those who have seen it know the Lights Parade is a remarkable event that brings back the wholesomeness of the holidays in a way that celebrates what makes Annapolis truly unique. Not to mention, it is an amazing feast for the eyes.
The 22nd annual Lights Parade will be held on Saturday, Dec. 11. At the sound of the starting gun, all the lights on the boats will be turned on at once. The event will kick off at 6 p.m. and run until 8 p.m.
The boats will travel in two fleets, one at the mouth of Spa Creek and one on the other side of the Spa Creek bridge near Shearwater and Truxton Park. At 7 p.m., there will be a brief intermission when the Spa Creek Bridge opens and the fleets switch sides.
"Don't leave just because the boats seem to," says Gail Demscak, an EYC member who is in charge of fleet registration. "Stay and you'll see a whole new show when the fleets change position."
Nearly 60 boats of all shapes, sizes and design are expected to participate in the parade. They will be decorated in thousands of lights costing thousands of dollars - each!
"The skippers really get into it," Gail says. "What they do with their boats is amazing."
Jim Schofield, a naval commander stationed at the Naval Academy, will be participating in the parade for the first time this year. A few months ago, he purchased his sailboat Windfall Prophet from longtime parade participant and three-time category winner Jim Lavin. The boat's former owner liked the tradition of participating in the parade so much he offered the lights display and his expertise as part of the purchase.
"It's a lot of fun to take the boat down there and make the people happy," says Jim Lavin, appointed the new lighting director of the boat by Jim Schofield.
The new owner of Windfall Prophet, which features 5,000 lights in the shape of a main sail and jib along with lots of teddy bears, said he is looking forward to participating in the parade with his newfound friend for years to come.
"Jim has become a good friend," Jim Schofield says. "We'd like to continue doing this for years to come. Plus, I have three small children who I think will be enthralled by it as well."
Some boats have been participating in the parade since its beginning, becoming well-known favorites among the more than 30,000 people who line the shore to watch the event. Some favorite displays include Santa on his sleigh, Santa leaning against a palm tree, the Grinch, Toyland, an angel, and even a big, green but friendly-looking dragon, just for the heck of it. And just when you think it couldn't get any better, the displays change with blinking lights and feature festive holiday music.
"Residents, merchants and visitors just love it," Gail says. "It brings people to Annapolis and Annapolis is so beautiful during the holidays. We're just delighted to organize it each year."
EYC members must enjoy themselves because they work year-round to plan the event with no monetary return. Instead of charging the skippers, the club pays for the event through sponsors, advertisements in the event program as well as a poster depicting the event done by an artist in the area. This year's poster was done by Amy Torres of Baltimore. Whatever money is left over they give to the EYC Foundation to support area nonprofit organizations for children.
"It just makes us feel good to make others happy and that's enough," Gail says.
The event began on a December night in 1981 when people passing through downtown saw a solitary boat decorated with holiday lights parading about the harbor. Little did the owner of the vessel, a Spa Creek "live-aboard" by the name of Jim Langer, know that he had started what is now Annapolis' most widely attended winter event.
By 1986, the event had grown to more than 40 boats and become part of the social calendar for EYC and the city as a whole. Two years later, with help from the city's tourism office, it was named the official Maryland Winter Celebration.
Over the years, the fleet has grown and the designs have expanded, but one thing remains the same - the show has always gone on rain, sleet or snow.
"The only thing that would cause a problem would be wind," Gail says. "High winds will stop the parade. So far, we haven't had that happen."
For the people standing on the sidelines, this means bundle up.
"Comfort over style," Gail says. "It's amazing how cold one spot can get when you stand in it for a couple hours."
The best place to watch the parade is from the Spa Creek Bridge, City Dock, restaurants with a tableside view of the harbor or Ego Alley (make reservations early), and possibly the Naval Academy (bring I.D.).
Parking is extremely difficult during the parade so prepare to come early. One definite option is the Navy Marine Corps Stadium where there is free parking and a shuttle service provided by the city.
"It's a nice to time renew acquaintances with friends who own or rent space along the harbor or keep their boats in the marinas," Gail says. "But if that's not possible, there is always a place to stand. It's certainly worth it."
Parade posters and program can be found in area businesses or by calling the Eastport Yacht Club at 410-267-9549.