Forty years ago, we were living in Sollar’s Trailer Court. We could see a small slice of the channel from the front window of our mobile home because we were a little forward of the trailer next to us. One evening before Christmas Suzi looked out the window and saw a boat with Christmas Lights sail by, then another, and another. We went onto the front lawn (ok, it was a gravel pad) and watched more boats sail by. That was our first glimpse of Sitka’s Christmas boat parade. Two Christmases later we were in our new home above Jamestown Bay for a crow’s nest view as parade sailed right into the bay.
Of course, the kids wanted to be part of the parade and I promised that one day we would be in it. And the next year we were, on someone else’s boat. Sheldon Jackson College had a “mission boat” (known locally as the Presbyterian Navy) that brought religious instruction to the villages. At Christmastide the “Sheldon Jackson” was in the parade. The college liked the idea of Raven Radio doing a live broadcast of the parade from the boat. So, Suzi and I loaded up the kids and some radio gear, set up an antenna in the stern and broadcast parade commentary, with Christmas music, inviting listeners to flash their lights as we passed. Some did.
When we got our own boat, I built a wooden frame and filled it with chicken wire and wired a Mexican God’s eye into the chicken wire. It never went to sea. The first year we had the boat we couldn’t afford a generator to power the lights. The genny was the most expensive part of the decoration scheme and maintaining the boat was expensive enough. So we put our God’s eye on the deck of our house, lit it up and stepped back to admire it. From Sawmill Creek Road it looked tiny, like a mass of colored lights with no form, no design. If we’d watching it from shore while it floated by it would have made no impression at all so we gave up on the boat parade and kept the God’s eye on the deck until our mid-life crisis hit and we ran off to Albania. Just after we left for the Balkans the Pulp Mill closed and the boat parade petered out. Sitka replaced it with the “Landlubbers’ Parade.” Folks put the displays that had been on their boats — and the generators to power them – into the beds of their pickup trucks and drove around town. Not having a pickup truck or a generator, our Gods eye remained on our deck, lit up when we came were home on Christmas leave until the wood frame rotted.
About 8 years ago Fred Fayette in the FV Miracle decided to restart the boat parade. That first parade had three or four boats. But each year there were a few more, and a few more and a few more. The Longliner Restaurant started offering prizes. This year there are 19 boats. It was the best boat parade ever. With the pandemic people wanted something festive, something in community, while remaining socially distant. A bunch of us landlubbers watched the boats assemble in front of the Longliner from the Mt. Edgecumbe ramp. (Last year we were eating dinner at the Longliner but this year restaurants are out, at least for us, until we get the vaccine.)
The boats headed North spreading their floating joy. We got in our car and followed. The Sea Mart, Pioneer Park and Sandy Beach parking lots were full of spectators. All along Halibut Point Road cars were pulled off along the verge wherever there was a clear view of the channel. Folks remained mostly socially distanced, sitting in their cars, leaning against the hood or standing in their truck beds.
Last weekend the boats paraded North, next week on Sunday, weather permitting, they head South toward our bay. Thank you for brightening our Christmas.
A week later the boats headed south and we saw them from our perch above Jamestown Bay. I had a long lens on the camera that was mounted on a tripod. The boats did not come into the bay but sailed by toward Whale Park and Silver Bay. Thunder rumbled behind the boats.
To look at the post from last year’s boat parade click here