Tonight’s cruise was about as eventful as they come. It’s Christmas in Newport and that means Parade of Lights. This is a huge event, involving hundreds of vessels that range from little electric Duffys to gigantic motor yachts – all decorated within an inch of their lives.
Tonight I had one of my very favorite types of passengers: repeat clients who brought friends. In this case it was a couple I’d rowed in September, she had surprised him for his birthday and they were all dressed up. Tonight they brought their son and daughter and everyone was dressed for a sleigh-ride. The gondola was adorned with 50 feet of blue rope-light and I’d laid out cocoa, cider, hot water and mugs. The parade was already in full swing, flowing past our docks like a river of lights. After bundling my passengers in blankets, and untying the dock-lines, I rowed the wedding gondola out of the marina and into the harbor. To have repeat cruisers on board is always a bonus, but tonight I had passengers who hadn’t seen the boat parade before - It’s always fun to live vicariously through your passengers.
If you’ve never piloted a gondola through the Newport Parade of Lights, let me try to paint a picture: to begin with, there’s a fast-moving column of boats that moves swiftly through the harbor, each boat trying to keep up with the pace without running into the transom of the one ahead of it. Each parade boat is full of people waving from the rails and hanging out the windows yelling “Merry Christmas!” at the top of their lungs. Many of the boats have music playing or there’s someone hollering over the P.A. trying to greet everyone who comes into view. I think it’s safe to say that everyone IN the parade is having a ball. The homes and businesses that line the water are bristling with parties that can be seen and heard from porches and balconies. Most of the boats that are in their slips have revelers enjoying the view and toasting with cocktails. And between the parade and the docks, scooting along with the activity, are the spectator boats. Tonight we were among the spectator boats and I must say that there are very few ways to see the boat parade that can compare to seeing it from a gondola, especially one without a canopy. The most important thing to keep in mind while driving a gondola in the parade is that each and every boat has the potential to run into or over you. I’ve been doing this since ’93 and the only time I ever had a boat-to-boat altercation was during the Christmas Boat parade. Captaining a black boat, in the dark, when everyone else is driving their boat from behind hundreds of lights and many have enjoyed a plurality of cocktails, means that the burden is on you to “keep from getting hit”. Considering that you’re on a black boat in the dark, it can be extra challenging at time.
I found a great little nook to duck into, where the parade went by but there wasn’t so much traffic to contend with. My passengers were taking photos, waving to passing boats, and having an overall terrific experience, seeing the parade for the first time. After the last boat in the parade had passed, things quieted down quite a bit. We went into the canals and enjoyed the serenity there. I sang a few songs, we told some jokes, and then I rowed the gondola back into dock.
Everyone had a great time, and tonight, as is often the case for me, I wonder if they had as much fun as I had.