Boat parade illuminates Petaluma’s Turning Basin

For an hour, it seemed the whole of Petaluma had crammed into the space of four square blocks to greet the fleet of dazzling boats assembled for the annual Holiday Lighted Boat Parade on Saturday night.

A multi-generational crowd, heavy on the small tykes, lined the Petaluma River Turning Basin jammed two and three people deep in places, some cheering and clapping as the colorful, flashing watercraft entered one by one through the raised D Street drawbridge to brighten the dark night.

From large, low vessels laden with multiple strings of flashing light strings, inflated figures and other holiday decor, to tall, stately sailboats with simple, graceful triangles drawn in lights, to a pair of festooned kayaks flitting among the much larger boats, they delivered cheer and a very special passenger clad in red to the gathered throng.

Santa Claus may have been yards away, but kids on the shoreline could hear his “Ho ho ho’s” as he waved from the bow of one of the larger boats to the delight of kids wrapped up in blankets or watching from a parent’s arms.

“It was awesome,” said 7-year-old Mason Barella of Rohnert Park, who attended the event for the first time with his brother, Trevor, 13, and other family members.

Lee and Chris van de Velde of Philadelphia were visiting their granddaughter, Magdalena Robb, 13, and her parents, Xander Robb and Christine Cuneo, for whom the parade is an annual rite.

“It’s great,” Lee van de Velde said, noting she’d once seen the parade written up in the New York Times.

“It’s my favorite Christmas tradition in Petaluma,” Cuneo said.

Against the continuous ding-ding-ding of the drawbridge bell, those aboard the boats called “Merry Christmas” to the crowd of spectators, many of whom waved back and passed along their own holiday greetings.

Passengers aboard some vessels sang Christmas carols or engaged in banter with the crowd.

One man on a pontoon boat waved his hand toward a line of spectators and suggested they were “very quiet,” then started a round of “Jingle Bells” to which most joined in.

Sponsored by the Petaluma Yacht Club, the holiday flotilla is one of about three dozen lighted boat parades held in California. Petaluma’s, first launched in 1982, featured close to 20 vessels this year, including one that appeared to have a last-minute power failure and had only its running lights on.

“Every year it happens,” someone in the crowd said.

Still, the spectacle of 19 mostly illuminated vessels lined up in the basin as snatches of Christmas carols rose from within the joyful crowd warmed the otherwise cold, crisp night.

“It’s a nice parade,” said Sandy Newman of Petaluma, who attended with her daughter, young grandchildren and others. “We usually go down to the Sausalito one, but we like this one better. We chose this one over Sausalito.”

You can reach Staff ?Writer Mary Callahan ?at 521-5249 or mary.? On Twitter ?@MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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