Boaters get into Christmas ship spirit

From first-timers to old hands, decorating their boats is both a thrill and a passion

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 
photoChristmas Ships route for Dec. 12, 19: Fleet assembles at 7 p.m. in front of the James M. Gleason Boat Ramp, at 43rd Avenue and Northeast Marine Drive, and circles near Wintler Park for about an hour. The fleet then heads downriver to the Interstate 5 Bridge area before disbanding near Hayden Bay. The fleet will be out for up to two hours. All times are estimates and routes are subject to ­conditions related to safety, commercial river traffic, weather, debris and water conditions. For more information, go to christmasships.org.

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photoChristmas Ships route for Dec. 7, 14, 21: Fleet assembles at 7 p.m. in front of the James M. Gleason Boat Ramp, at 43rd Avenue and Northeast Marine Drive, and heads downriver to North Portland Harbor, which is on the Oregon side of Hayden Island.  The fleet will be out for about two hours. All times are estimates and routes are subject to conditions related to safety, ­commercial river traffic, weather, debris and water conditions. For more information, go to christmasships.org.

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photoChristmas Ships route for Dec. 18: Fleet assembles at 7 p.m. in front of the James M. Gleason Boat Ramp, at 43rd Avenue and Northeast Marine Drive, and continues upriver to the Interstate 205 Bridge area and Steamboat Landing. The fleet will continue upriver to the area of Southwest 164th Avenue.  The fleet will be out for about two hours. All times are estimates and routes are subject to ­conditions related to safety, commercial river traffic, weather, debris and water conditions. For more information, go to christmasships.org.

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photoChristmas Ships route for Dec. 11, 13, 17, 20: Fleet assembles at 7 p.m. in front of the James M. Gleason Boat Ramp, at 43rd Avenue and Northeast Marine Drive, and turns at the east end of the parking lot to head downriver along the Washington side to the Interstate 5 Bridge area. The fleet can be seen from both sides of the river and will be out for about two hours. All times are estimates and routes are subject to conditions related to safety, commercial river ­traffic, weather, debris and water conditions. For more information, go to christmasships.org.

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On the web:

The Christmas Ship Parade website has routes, schedules and more information on the 58th annual event. The parade runs through Dec. 21.

photoAccording to the website, the Christmas Ship Fleet averages about 55 to 60 boats between the two Columbia and Willamette River fleets.

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James Dean Lucas has been waiting a long time for this year's 58th annual Christmas Ship Parade.

It's the first year that the 44-year-old has a boat big enough to join in the fun.

"I was born and raised here in Clark County, and I've watched the Christmas ships since I was knee-high to a grasshopper," Lucas said. "I'm so excited for this. I hope it goes as well as I expect, so I can be part of it for many years to come."

Lucas has been sailing for many years, starting out as a kid with a dinghy and slowly graduating to bigger boats, he said.

Earlier this year, the realtor was able to buy "Aquahaulic," a 24-foot Bayliner Cuddy.

Since then, he's been contemplating how to decorate it for the parade.

"It's a challenge," Lucas said. "I'm trying to make it memorable for my friends and family that will be out there watching. I have Santa Clauses and a generator -- it's costing a lot of money, but it's well worth it."

Lucas is a big Harley-Davidson motorcycle fan, so the marquee piece of his display will be an inflatable Santa riding a Harley, he said.

He's also been playing around with strings of lights and other decorations to try to make it as visible as possible from a distance.

But that can sometimes be a problem for first time boat decorators, said Doug Romjue, leader of the Columbia River fleet of Christmas ships.

"The main goal with decorating is to keep things really simple," said Romjue, who's led the Columbia group for the past 11 years. "You see people with lots of strings of lights and inflatable things, but from far away on a boat that tends to just look like a blob. The real idea is to make an outline of something."

In the past, Romjue created light displays with a simple outline of the Man in the Moon wearing a Santa hat, he said.

Chuck and Debbie Whitt have been decorating their boat, "O'Baby," each season for the past 12 years. They also have a few tips for Lucas and others working on displays for their boats for the first time.

"The first consideration you have to take is what your boat can handle and how much power you have," Chuck Whitt said. "Some people buy an extra generator for that."

Last year, their boat, which was decorated with a fly-fishing Santa Claus, used about 20 amps of power, which is the equivalent of powering about 20 100-watt light bulbs.

"That would even be a lot on a house," he said with a laugh.

Each year, he builds the display at home in his garage, then brings it to the marina and installs it on his boat.

"There's nine pieces, and I'll take them out and hang them on the boat like a jigsaw puzzle," he said. "This year, we're building a helicopter that's going to run around the edge of the boat and occasionally pick things up."

He uses an animation cell, with a bunch of lights that go on in sequence to create the appearance of motion. They can be hard to set up, Whitt admitted, but the animations are always a big hit.

"With our fly-fishing Santa last year, we'd have him catch a package periodically, and you could hear people on the radio talking about it," Whitt said. "We get a lot of people cheering when they see us as well. They'll chant, or start dancing onshore -- it's pretty awesome."

The first year he decorated his boat, he went with a much more simple approach, which isn't a bad idea when you're starting out, he added.

"We started with an inflatable Santa the first year, and then we added reindeer in the second," Whitt said. "The next year, we had a wake-boarding Santa Claus. It's kind of grown from there."

Decorating can be an addictive hobby for the season, he said.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "We really enjoy it. It can be kind of expensive, but this is our hobby."

Lucas said he's really looking forward to experiencing the parade from the boater's perspective for the first time.

"I've been telling everybody I can to go down to one of the restaurants and watch the show -- or come in your car to the waterfront and support me," he said.

Other boats might be a little more skillfully decorated this year, but Romjue said he's still looking forward to Lucas' display, no matter how it comes out.

"His family is absolutely pumped," Romjue said of Lucas. "They may be decorating like crazy, but it's so nice when people get excited like that. I don't know what it's going to look like, but it doesn't matter. It will be fun."

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://www.twitte.com/col_suevo;sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.