Last Saturday served as the beginning of the month and the evening acted as the unofficial kickoff for generating holiday spirit on Fort Myers Beach.
Ho! Ho! Ho!
While inland tree-lighting ceremonies are customary around most of the country, this barrier island has a special tradition of its own - the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce Christmas Boat Parade. Many spectators gathered at local waterfront restaurants, public areas and private homes to watch and celebrate the holiday season.
The Chamber Boat Parade was deemed another successful ride on Back Bay waters with over 25 boats participating and parade burgees given out to several theme and spirit winners.
Between 25 to 30 well-decorated vessels gathered at Salty Sam's Marina for a Back Bay boat-nanza that featured dazzling lights, blaring holiday music and people getting into the Christmas spirit for month-long parties to come.
"This shows how well we can start out the holiday season. People decorated their boats beautifully, and the event was well put together," said Beach Mayor Bob Raymond. "This is great for the image of Fort Myers Beach."
Raymond was a judge and among the honored guests -along with Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus- aboard the Estero Bay Express II that led the festive-lighted nighttime parade. Sponsored by Fish-Tale Marina, the lead boat was guided by Capt. Bob Gonring and Capt. Randy McCain. The Fish-Tale Marina Pro Staff Boat followed and was skippered by Capt. Tyler Whidden.
The two-hour Back Bay Intracoastal journey began after the vessels assembled in front of the docks at Salty Sam's Marina at 5:45 p.m. Saturday evening. Twenty-five minutes later, the boats drifted away from the marina past Parrot Key Caribbean Grill and Big Game Waterfront Grill and headed northwest passing by Nauti Turtle and under the sky bridge. The route circled in and out of Siesta Isles and around Bowditch Point then turned in front of the Pink Shell Resort and continued past Nervous Nellies Crazy Waterfront Eatery.
Along the route, the parade was witnessed from folks who gathered at Baywalk Fountain Square, fishing piers under Matanzas Pass and those who walked down to the bay front from other Old San Carlos Boulevard businesses as well as Siesta Bay and other waterfront homes. It ended back at Salty Sam's Marina for the Winners Circle Party and awards presentation at a tent in between the two on-site restaurants.
"It was a great success," said Parade Chairman Dan Eaton.
At the tent, Beach Chairperson-elect Norma Jean Pevey shouted special thanks to Fish-Tale Marina, Mango Street Inn for catering services, Bennett Chiropractic for helping with the food and The Pink Shell Resort for supplying beverages.
Passengers of The Pieces of Eight Pirate Cruise, the Fort Myers Princess and the Indian Princess were offered special cruises, while the latter vessel served as one of the main People's Choice sites where individuals watched the parade and voted for their favorite decorated boat.
TowBoatU.S. was the safety boat at the rear of the parade. Capt. Jon Blake provided the escort, while Capt. Ted Schindler participated in the parade.
Celebrity judges Kelly Creswell, Robert Van Winkle and Lindsay Logue from NBC2, Mayor Raymond and wife, Donna, and a few other secret selectees were busy making decisions on which boat deserved the top three places based upon most creative theme and most spirited crew in several categories. The winners received parade burgees as awards.
"It was a great evening, and you're all winners," said NBC2 Chief Meteorologist Robert Van Winkle.
In the power-driven vessels up to 26 feet in length, "Double Vision" (Capt. Stuart Koplan) captured the most creative theme, while "Brent's Boat" (Capt. Brent Samuels) took top honors for most spirited crew.
In the power vessels 26 feet and over, "Island Time" (Capt. Kevin Walker) picked up most creative theme, while "Chillin The Most" (Capt. Brian Josephson) was voted most spirited crew. Under sailboats, "Dream Caught" (Capt. Don Calder) won both most creative theme and most spirited crew. Under non-motorized boat, "Hydro Bike" (Capt. Paul Corzatt) was awarded best creative theme.
In the business sponsored boat category, "Yahta, Yahta, Yahta" (Capt. Ted Schinder) seized most creative theme under Matanzas Inn & Restaurant and "Paradise" (Capt. Neil Newton) sported the most spirited crew under Paradise Parasail.
The Judge's Favorite Boat was "Short Cut" (Capt. Ken Foret), while "Hydro Bike" (Capt. Paul Corzatt) was picked as People's Choice. Most Festive House Party went to Deep Passage Line, hosted by Lenny Brown.
The parade could not have happened without three levels of sponsorship.
Light up the night sponsors made significant in-kind contributions to the parade. They included Pink Shell Beach Resort, Mango Street Inn, Bennett Chiropractic, Fish Tale Marina, Big Game Waterfront Grill and Freedom Boat Club.
Corporate sponsors made cash donations for costs associated with the event. They included Gavin's Ace Hardware, Fish Tale Marina, Freedom Boat Club, Big Game Waterfront Grill, Pink Shell Resort, Salty Sam's Marina, Mango Street Inn and Indian Princess.
People's Choice sponsors were the host sponsor sites in which patrons were able to watch the parade and vote for their favorite decorated boat. They included Parrot Key Caribbean Grill, Nervous Nellies Crazy Waterfront Eatery, Smokin' Oyster Brewery, Bonita Bill's Waterfront Caf, Fort Myers Princess, Shoals Restaurant & Wine Bar, Yucatan Beach Stand, Big Game Waterfront Grill, Matanzas Inn Restaurant, Nauti Turtle, Chuck's Last Stop, An American Grill. A live internet video stream was provided for the "off the water" locations such as Schoals, Chuck Last Stop, SOB and Nauti Turtle.
n Power-driven vessels up to 26 feet in length
"Island Time" (Capt. Kevin Walker) #1 most spirited theme
"Brent's Boat" (Brent Samuels) #19 - most spirited crew
n Power-driven vessels up to 26 feet in length
"Island Time" (Capt. Kevin Walker) #12 - most creative theme
"Chillin The Most" (Brian Josephson) #25 - most spirited crew
"Dream Caught" (Don Calder) #14 - most creative theme and most spirited crew
n Non-motorized boat
"Hydro Bike" (Capt. Paul Corzatt) #5 - best creative theme
n Business sponsored boat
"Yahta, Yahta, Yahta" (Capt. Ted Schinder) #4 - Matanzas Inn & Restaurant - most creative theme
"Paradise" (Capt. Neil Newton) #3 - Paradise Parasail - most spirited crew
n Judge's Favorite Boat
"Short Cut" (Capt. Ken Foret)
n People's Choice Boat
"Hydro Bike" (Capt. Paul Corzatt)
n Most Festive House Party
Deep Passage Line (#3), hosted by Lenny Brown.