A record-setting 34 decorated water crafts participated in the 25th annual Fort Myers Beach Christmas Boat Parade last Saturday as many people lined up at establishments and homes to watch the spectacular idling lights go by.
The festive event, which was held on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, began with a proclamation ceremony to honor World War II veteran Russ Winset, a U.S. Navy veteran who was aboard the Beach Chamber lead boat. Beach Mayor Alan Mandel felt privileged to read the announcement before the parade was underway.
"Even today, he remembers the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when glaring alarms sent him scurrying up 50-foot masts to his machine gun station on the port side of the USS Pennsylvania," said Mandel. "Throughout his career, he has served his country, his community and has earned the respect of civic leaders and affection of residents and joined the ranks of distinguished citizens of our community."
A parade of boats filled the Back Bay waters Saturday during a festive celebration of the holidays.
Winset, age 93, was in nine of the major combat battles of WWII and, through binoculars, saw the famous flag raising on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
"We are absolutely thrilled, delighted and proud to have Mr. Winset as our parade marshal tonight," said Beach Chamber President Bud Nocera.
The boat convoy began at Salty Sam's Marina and traveled in and out of Siesta Isles and around Bowditch Point before turning in front of the Pink Shell Resort Marina and past Nervous Nellies and Matanzas Inn then returning back at Salty Sam's Marina for the Winners Circle Party and awards presentation.
2013 Christmas Boat Parade Winners
Category BOAT NAME CAPTAIN/OWNER SPONSOR
Small Power Boat (#10) Kaya Girl Jennifer Rusk
Large Power Boat (#24) Chillin the Most Brian Josephson
Large Sailboat (#14) Dream Caught Don Calder
Commercial Small Power (#5) IM Fine Gary Young Universal Vacations
Commercial Large Power (#7) Yachta Yachta Yachta Ted Schindler Matanzas Inn & Resort
Commercial Large Sail (#6) Old Glory Richard Fuchs Sail SW Florida
People's Choice (#11) Occasionally Bill McDole
Judges aboard the chamber boat selected six category winners, while parade watchers texted in their favorite overall boat for a People's Choice award. Awards emcee Jaime Huffman, Salty Sam's marketing director, pointed out parade favorite characters included jellyfish, the Nutcracker, polar bears, a bagpiper, a violinist and santa stuck in a chimney.
Christmas Parade burgees went to Capt. Jennifer Rusk and "Kaya Girl" in the Small Power Boat category, Capt. Brian Josephson and "Chillin the Most" in the Large Power Boat category, Capt. Don Calder and "Dream Caught" in the Large Sailboat category, Capt. Gary Young and "IM Fine" in the Commercial Small Power category, Capt. Ted Schindler and "Yachta Yachta Yachta" in the Commercial Large Power category and Capt. Richard Fuchs and "Old Glory" in the Commercial Large Sail category. People's Choice went to Capt. Bill McDole and "Occasionally" (santa stuck in chimney).
Thanks went out to Adventures in Paradise, which provided the lead boat for the Beach Chamber members, officials and judges as well as Gavin's Ace Hardware, which supplied the lights and decorations for the lead boat and festival tent, Mango Street Inn, which provided the food spread, and Pink Shell Beach Resort, which supplied the "spirits" for the lead boat.
Boat Corporate sponsors included Universal Vacations, Sail SW Florida, Matanzas Inn, Chubby's Tropical Adventures, Florida Weekly, Towboat US, Paradise Beach Taxi, Fort Myers Boat Tours, Hurricane Bay Excursions. Other sponsors included Smokin' Oyster Brewery, Skip One Seafood Restaurant, Yucatan Beach Stand, Bonita Bills Waterfront Cafe, Nervous Nellies, Nauti Turtle, Privateer Lynx, Fort Myers Princess, VIP Vacation Rentals, Edward Jones & Co., Big Game Waterfront Grill, Salty Sam's Marina, Gavin's Ace Hardware; Parrot Key Caribbean Grill; Pieces of Eight Pirate Cruise; Mango Street Inn; and Pink Shell Resort and Marina.
The parade committee was led by co-chairs Rob Capps and Ted Schindler.