san diego parade of lights: a captain's prospective
Sunday, December 25, 2011 at 1:00
Eric in professional maritime

View from the helm. Click to enlarge.Since 1951, San Diego has had the Parade of Lights. Starting in the northern end of the harbor near Ballast Point, the blob of ~50 vessels ranging from 100' to 8' in length jockey for position and eventually form a single file line passing Shelter Island.

Lit up with as many Christmas lights as the vessels can manage, it is quite the spectacle and attracts thousands to the harbor's shoreline. As a child, I remember many cold December nights watching the Parade of Lights so I was glad to be offered a job of skippering a boat. The owner of the Viking 42 Home Stead wanted to do the parade but rather than sweat bullets moving through the parade he wanted to enjoy the trip: smart guy.

I tapped my friend Dave for first mate duty and he performed admirably. It was nice to have someone else onboard who was keeping a lookout, could grab the helm for a bit, and that was feeling the same "jesus I hope we don't hit anything" vibe that I was on.

Parade of Lights boat. Click to enlarge.Three things stuck out to me the most during the trip.

First was the necessary proximity to other vessels. There is no assigned order and everyone wants to be in the front, so not only do you need to not hit anything but you have to "muscle" your way to the front as best you can. I typically avoid all confrontation on the water but the "nature of the vessel's work" in this case is to be in the parade so much like racing you need to push the issue a bit. We're talking 3'-5' of room on all sides here, in the dark, with lights and PA systems blaring everywhere.

Second was the chauffeur aspect. I often joke that being a 100 ton captain (as opposed to the "upper tonnage" world) is a bit like being a chauffeur because you're normally taking people out for a good time and they're right there with you. It really helps to be friendly, to like people, and to genuinely want people to have a good time. Often times people want to stay out longer than the schedule calls for and in the back of your head you're the only one working and you're probably working on a fixed price. So the quicker it's done the more you make and the less you have to work. However, your job extends beyond that of simply moving the boat. You're there for people to enjoy themselves and if they feel like the captain is running a schedule because he's lazy and wants to get back to the bar before last call then your odds of doing business with those people again is very small.

Saying goodbye to Charlotte and Cora. Click to enlarge.Third, and more along the lines of the first issue, was the tight maneuvering involved.  I had a sailboat doing 360's in front of me (because he wanted to), and we needed to go into every nook and cranny along the channel edge because that's where the people are. And along the lines of chauffeuring, when people want to get in closer you of course can fall back on your "sorry, that's too shallow" safety answer, but I'd argue that the nature of this vessel's "work" was to get in close to shore and show off for the crowds (obviously doing so safely). 

I can honestly say that for a good two hours my hands never left the throttle once except to take a couple swigs off my blue low-carb Monster.

I'd certainly jump at the chance to do this again, and if you get the chance to watch the parade from shore or sea I think you'll really enjoy it. Well worth your time.

Update on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 21:37 by Registered CommenterEric

As a follow up, it turns out that the boat I was on won 2011 Best Corporate. The judges got the name wrong, but here's what she looked like. The Santa on the bow is inflatable, the one further aft on the foredeck is a real guy ho-ho-hoing. 


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