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Fort Lauderdale – Winterfest Boat Parade

Winterfest Boat Parade

Holiday vessels set waterways alight

The trip to the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade is only a short stroll for Toby and Doug Johnston and after more than 20 years, the Fort Lauderdale couple doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. Both are captains but much like the other nearly million people watching Fort Lauderdale’s premier boat parade from the river shores, this night is all about relaxing. Throwing back a few beers on land are the only thing they have planned, after spending day after day on the water.

“It’s wonderful watching the boats go by. They do a great job and it’s a great evening for Fort Lauderdale,” Toby Johnston said. Hours upon hours of work goes into each boat, ranging from a few hundred lights to thousands with giant ducks to greek letters.

“It’s nice to be on the watch from land and not have to be doing anything,” said Doug Johnston. The couple’s tradition means witnessing former Grand Marshalls like Julio Iglesias, Jr. in 1999 and Jim Belushi in 2008. This year, IndyCar driver and Fort Lauderdale resident Ryan Hunter-Reay and comedian Tracy Morgan led the cavalcade of boats as co-grand marshals.

Taking a much longer trip than the Johnston’s was Madeleine Plant, a Deerfield Beach snowbird from Montreal, Canada. The boat parade is something she hasn’t seen anywhere else. “We’ve been coming for years now and just love it,” Plant said.

“It’s just the feeling that it’s festive, it’s fun and it’s pretty”

Twinkling lights reflecting in the water, the 100-some boats made their stately way along a 12-mile route that took them down the New River and up the Intracoastal Waterway to Lake Santa Barbara in Pompano Beach. From there, the vessels dispersed to their various home docks — and presumably further partying.

Boats ranged from grandiose million-dollar yachts decorated with near-professional panache, to humble sailboats bearing simple strings of lights. But no matter the degree of sophistication, the illuminated vessels generated ample ooohs and ahhhs among spectators.

It’s that variety that keeps Mary Botter of Cooper City, coming back for the past three years.
“It’s just the feeling that it’s festive, it’s fun and it’s pretty,” said Botter. “It gets you in the mood.”

Making its first appearance in the 42-year-old parade was the Fort Lauderdale Woman’s Club, itself a venerable 104 years old. Their vessel, the Flipaway, a 51-foot Morgan sailboat, bore the theme “Reading is the Passport to the World” to promote a planned children’s reading garden near the group’s clubhouse at Broward Boulevard and Andrews Avenue in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

The boat was adorned with decorations appropriate for gardens and kids: four 6-foot high hibiscus blossoms, two 7-foot tall children, a snowy egret and, in a nod to the season, a gingerbread man with gumdrop buttons. The decorations were handcrafted, the result of 60 hours of labor by more than 50 women, starting in mid-November.

“We got a lot of donations from a lot of people,” said club member Meg Taylor. “This is the season to give, and people were giving of their time.”

One longtime, and more extravagantly bedecked, participant was the Mr. Bobb, a 60-foot Hatteras sport fishing yacht now in its 28th year in the parade.

December 14, 2013|By Robert Nolin and Adam Sacasa, Sun Sentinel

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