Christmas ships in the night

Don’t let the bright lights of this year’s parade pass you by

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



As the darkness and chill of December close in, there’s a bright, cheery parade you can attend.

You can even go night after night for nearly three weeks, if you wish, as the lit-up parade proudly passes by different local viewing sites — bobbing and splashing and twinkling as it goes.

It’s the annual flotilla of Christmas Ships on the Columbia and Willamette rivers. This waterborne celebration of the season, which began in 1954, brings out dozens of local boat owners who love decorating their vessels with bright lights and yuletide characters, and taking all that good cheer out on the water for you to admire.

Watch this space nearly every day, now through Dec. 21, for The Columbian’s maps of the changing Christmas ships’ routes (except Dec. 3, 4, 5, 11, 12 and 18, which are parade days off). And, check the lavish website at for the complete schedule and optimal viewing spots — including local restaurants where you can watch from the warm, dry comfort of your indoor table. The website also includes photos and videos, a history of the 64-year tradition, ways you can donate, and even tips and tricks for new skippers.

Where and when

This year’s festivities began Friday in North Portland Harbor and continue 6 p.m. today at the boat launch at the Port of Camas-Washougal, 24 S. A St. in Washougal. This will be one of the best viewing opportunities on the north side of the Columbia River this year, and one of the biggest, too, since the whole “combined fleet” from both rivers will be on display.

After that, the mass flotilla mostly splits into two fleets. The Columbia Fleet departs at 7 p.m. from the Gleason Boat Ramp in Portland, at Northeast 43rd Avenue and Northeast Marine Drive, and ventures over to our side to strike some seasonal poses. That should make for great viewing from numerous sites along our waterfront, including Vancouver Landing and the restaurants east of I-5, by about 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6, 13, 19 and 21.

On Dec. 7 and 14, the Columbia Fleet will take a little longer to reach the same west Vancouver area — by about 8 p.m. — after lingering on the Oregon side and then looping by Wintler and Marine parks.

At 6 p.m. Dec. 9, the combined fleet assembles at St. Helens, Ore., and visits the RV park at Woodland.

At 7 p.m. Dec. 15, the Columbia Fleet leaves the Gleason Boat Ramp and heads east under the I-205 bridge and past Steamboat Landing for a turnaround off 164th Avenue.

(Meanwhile, the Willamette Fleet usually starts at 7 p.m. at Riverplace Marina in Portland, and generally goes south on the Willamette River to visit spots like Milwaukie and Lake Oswego, Ore.)

Plus, public Christmas Ships meet-and-greets are scheduled for 8 p.m. Dec. 16 and 2 p.m. Dec. 17, on the public dock in front of RiverPlace Marina in downtown Portland. Those will be great opportunities to examine the ships up close and meet the captains.