A couple of evenings ago, the Saint Pete Beach Christmas Boat Parade made its way down the Intracoastal Waterway behind our house. Mom, Dad and I were sitting in front of the TV trying to find a good Christmas movie while we waited for the boats to arrive. There were mugs of hot chocolate and snuggly blankets (I know we live in Florida but some habits die hard.)
We knew the parade was coming but not time it woul actually arrive, so every time a boat went past the window we’d peer out and see if it was covered with lights. Eventually we saw the police boat heading up the procession slowly creep by. We ran outside bundled in blankets and scarves. My mom and I went out to the end of our pier and cheered as the first boats passed us. Dad ran back for the radio so he could blast Christmas tunes out over the water.
My favorite boat had a little Santa towed behind in a rowboat that was also strung with lights. Because there wasn’t quite enough weight in the small boat Santa kept wobbling along, looking like he was almost going to tip over but then righting himself.
Another memorable entry was a boat with large shining reindeer pulling a red sleigh. A tiny little lawn-ornament-sized Santa was stuck to the tippy-top of the boast canopy, looking somewhat out of proportion with the rest of the festive festoons. Later we noticed that the boat also came with a full-sized Santa: he was the captain!
One of the boats was shaped like a giant Christmas tree. Standing on the front deck was a large becostumed snowman who was jigging around. Mom and I cheered and danced along – though not side-to-side because that dock is narrow!
The boats were too tall to go under a low bridge in our neighborhood, so they turned there and we got to see them all twice. Then, after most of the boats had gone by and we were just considering heading back inside, something happened.
The fourth boat to last went up the wrong inlet, not following the rest of the boats back out on the correct route. Tragically, being a parade, all the boats behind followed the one who’d gone wrong despite spirited shouting from everyone watching on land. Just as we thought the evening was almost over, it really started to get exciting.
Eventually the people on board began to figure out that there was no way out down the little channel they’d chosen and all the boats began to turn around. Then they immediately made another wrong turning and snaked erroneously down the next inlet. By this time the police boat who’d been stationed by the bridge (an obstacle that you’d think would be obvious by itself) arrived to sort everyone out, blasting its siren in short bursts at the lost boats and at one point looking like it was planning to nudge them back on the right path by force if necessary.
Soon enough the boats were out of harm’s way and the ragtag end of the procession finally retreated back up the right bit of water. As the parade receded into the darkness the full moon rose over the Intracoastal, forming itself into a gleaming path where the wake from the boats subsided.