The 33rd Annual Cape Coral Christmas Boat-A-Long will be held Sunday, Dec. 20, featuring decorated boats, fireworks, a great deal of boat horns signaling the beginning of the parade and a free movie at Four Freedoms Park.
The Boat-A-Long began its long tradition in 1976, organized by Archie and Edwina Hahn, who since have passed away. Dave Drake took over the duties of parade organizer seven years ago.
Drake said the parade tradition continued with him because the Hahns loved his boat, Tinker Toy, which was his father's boat.
Drake said he decorated the Tinker Toy every year for the parade before its health and mechanical problems took prevented it from participating in the parade three years ago.
The Tinker Toy led the parade with festive decorations that illuminated the boat for miles. The decorations included gingerbread people, 6-foot-tall candy canes and a wreath, 2,000 lights and a live Santa with 280 flashing lights sewn into his suit.
"They asked me if I could take it over," Drake said about the annual parade. He explained that when he became the parade organizer, he brought in a new generation of boaters.
What: Annual Cape Coral Boat-A-Long
When: Sunday, Dec. 20, 5 p.m.
Where: Four Freedoms Park and neighboring canals
"Once you've been in the boat parade, you're hooked," Drake said in a prepared statement. "We decorate our boats for the people on the canals and they decorate their back yards for us. It's exciting as thousands of people cheer and clap as you go by."
Cape Coral Parks and Recreation Department Special Events Coordinator Todd King said the free annual Cape Boat-A-Long festivities will begin at 5 p.m. at Four Freedoms Park on Dec. 20.
The Oasis Elementary School Choir will perform favorite holiday tunes, King said, along with various city dignitaries addressing the crowd.
"At approximately 6:30, Santa Claus will arrive from the North Pole to greet the kids just before kick-off," King said, adding that the Jolly Old Elf's arrival is estimated on pending weather due to his long travel to Florida.
There will also be food vendors available at the park for those who wish to purchase something to eat.
At 7 p.m. the boat parade will begin.
Drake explained that the older style of boats had cannons, which were used to begin the parade.
"My generation doesn't have cannons, so I had to start blowing fireworks off the lead boat to start the parade," he said.
"We are escorted by the Cape Coral police boats," Drake said about the boats leaving the basin. "So every boat goes in front of the crowd at Four Freedoms Park as we go out on the parade route."
King said the boats will loop by the beach at Four Freedoms Park, which should take about an hour for the more than 100 boats to leave the bay.
"Once the last boat leaves the bay, we will start the movie, 'Elf in the Park,'" King said.
Drake said the parade usually lasts about an hour and a half on the water as they make their way to their final destination.
Drake said it is up to each individual on how they would like to decorate their boats, which really makes it a true labor of love for the parade.
He explained that first year boaters usually decorate their boats with minimal lights, adding more and more every year that they participate.
"Some really deck out their boats and some have some lights on," Drake said. "I don't care if they have a string of lights on the boat, they are in the parade."
Those who wish to participate in the event should have a boat that is at least 18 feet in length, with a 4 1/2-foot maximum draw, have the ability to make a 180 degree turn in a 200-foot canal and be able to clear a 55-foot electrical cable. There is no charge for the event and advertising is not permitted.
Many individuals have been participating in the event for many years due to the holiday spirit the event portrays.
Mike Prentice, a Cape Coral resident of more than 30 years, said he has participated in the Cape holiday boat parade for more than 20 years.
He said he owns a small 20-foot pontoon boat that he decorates with as many lights as his generator will allow him.
Prentice said he participates in the annual event because it is a fun event where everyone gets into the holiday spirit.
"This is one of the best gatherings of people in the Cape and the best family event," Prentice said. "We love to see all of the people and parties on shore and the kids at Four Freedoms Park."
Mel and Mary Wilsey, who have been residents of Cape Coral for more than 20 years, have also participated in the annual boat parade for 15 years - on and off.
"It's a great time for all, lining up in Bimini Basin, seeing all the boats and the people on the parade route that come out to observe all the boats through the night," Mel said.
Mel said he usually decorates his boat with hundreds upon hundreds of lights with the various boats he has owned and participated with in the parade.
"We usually decorate with hundreds and hundreds of white lights and are looking forward to it this year with several friends on board," he said.
Bill Pascucci, who purchased a boat five years ago, said he enjoys the annual event for the simple reason of seeing the groups of people gathered at houses for parties specifically to view the boats that participate in the parade.
"Just being part of an annual event is exciting," he said.
Pascucci said he has a 26-foot cruiser with a wrap-around rail that he decorates with icicle lights and rope lighting, along with a large lighted star that is attached to the Bimini rail and two large reindeer that are extended out the bow pulpit.
Al and Linda Schuetz, who are also Cape Coral residents, participated in the Christmas Boat-A-Long for the first time last year.
Al said he and his wife watched the boat parade from the shore for three years before deciding to join the other boaters.
The Schuetz's 21-foot center console boat was decorated with a 7-foot-tall penguin on the t-top with twinkling snowflakes, along with lights around the railings last year.
"This year we will be adding an iceberg around the center console," Al said.
He said the event, which is not over-organized or over-structured, would not be possible without Dave, the city of Cape Coral, Sea Tow and all the volunteers.
"It is a lot of like-minded people wanting to share the joy of the season," Al said.
Fort Myers resident Dick Dohack said this year will be the second year he has participated in the parade.
"I thought about this for years and finally did it last year," he said about the parade. "What a great way to really get into the Christmas spirit."
Dohack said although he would like to be original with the decorations, he shows up with boxes full of lights and cocktails and goes from there.
"The boat parade combines the three best things in the world: family, boating and Christmas," he said.
"Basically it is a lot of fun," Drake said about the annual event. "If they have never been in the boat parade, just experience it one time and get hooked."
He added that the Christmas boat parade is a perfect opportunity for those who never use their boats to join in on the holiday fun.
"We look forward to all of the families coming out and enjoying the boat light parade and the movie in the park," King said.
Drake said individuals can contact him until Saturday night, Dec. 19, to participate in the parade, so he can send them all the information they need.
Rules, directions and maps can be e-mailed to those who are interested. For information, call Drake at (239) 772-9578 or e-mail CCboat parade@ aol.com.