Gulfport’s 32nd annual Boca Ciega Yacht Club (BCYC) charity Lighted Christmas Boat Parade started as planned on Saturday, December 9, but the route was shortened to minimize exposure to cold and windy weather.
Starting Friday night, Facebook was buzzing with false rumors about the parade being canceled due to possible rainy or cold and windy weather. Barb Meyer, parade chairperson, fielded over 500 phone calls from people wondering if the event would be canceled. The City Hall switchboard also handled calls about the event.
At the 6 p.m. start time on Saturday, skies were mostly clear, the temperature was in the mid 50s and 10 mph winds were from the north.
“We had 20 boats registered but the weather did keep some people away,” said Meyer. “I was thrilled with having 13.”
The entry “fee” for the event was two or more new, unwrapped toys that are donated to the Gulfport Police Department’s annual Operation Santa charity, which benefits needy local children to make sure they have gifts to unwrap under their trees. BCYC collects both toys and monetary donations for the charity. In total, at least six, five-foot tall boxes that were “jam packed” filled with toys were collected, she said.
“Our club members are very generous,” said Meyer. “The fact that we were able to contribute to Operation Santa and to entertain and bring some joy to the community is why we do it.”
Thirteen official lighted boats participated in the parade and one more joined in along the way, which is not unusual, said Meyer.
“There was a huge power boat that joined us and they’ve done that in years past. They don’t register, they just join the parade and that’s great! People are more than welcome to do that as long as they are safe.”
Gulfport Police Sergeant Robert Burkhart was in charge of safety for the event in addition to being the lead boat in the parade along the water route.
“Since 2002, this is the windiest weather we’ve had for the parade,” he said. He captains the department’s marine unit boat, which is a Zodiac LE 2400 inflatable built to military specifications, powered by a Yamaha 250 4-stroke motor. This reporter was along for the ride with a specialized camera designed for low-light images. “This is one of the best parades I’ve ever led as far as spacing, maintenance and marine radio use goes,” he said. “It was a very smooth process. It’s an honor and privilege to be able to do this every year.”
The traditional parade route starts at the Gulfport Marina, extends to just beyond the western border of the city then crosses Boca Ciega Bay to include Isla del Sol. This year the route only included the north shoreline of the bay.