Coast Guard to Add Hardcore Competition to Lighted Boat Parade

“We’re called water Nazis, but we’re here to help!”

Hailing from Southern California and having spent close to 20 years in Key West, CWO3 Todd Stoughton, Commanding Officer of the Sector Small Boat Station, is ready to set sail at the bight in an official U.S. Coast Guard boat for the Key West Lighted Boat Parade.

“We are fans of Evalena and Key West in general. This will be our second year entering. Last year I think we got third place or something. We haven’t won. We would like to win!”

Only this year, Stoughton and his eight reindeer will have to make do with a smaller sleigh. The 45’ response boat they entered last year is being docked for two weeks of maintenance. For 2010, they are going to enter a 33’ law enforcement boat and, so far, aren’t revealing the top-secret strategy they’re employing to deck the decks.

“We’re bringing in specialists. We are trying to be creative and expand the boat a little bit as best we can and still be safe as we navigate our way through the harbor. I will tell you this. We have big plans! I’ll drive, and BMC Rob Gruschow will play Santa.”

Out and about on the island, Key West leaders are still talking about 2009.

“The pulled up in a little skiff and plunked it in the water, and it was all lit up. I thought it was great! Really clever,” Habitat for Humanity’s Bob Calhoun told The Weekly and his buddy, Keys Energy’s Stan Rzad.

Besides the seasoned spectators, there is a newbie to the nautical extravaganza. Erika Bowman is an electrifying new production director burning cinnamon candles in her studio to set the holiday mood.

“My last radio job was in Anchorage, Alaska. I got here last year on New Year’s Eve. So, this is my first holidays in the Keys. I’m pretty excited. It’s going to be fun. I’ve never experienced a warm Christmas before. I feel like there should be snow everywhere. Sometimes it’d take me 20 minutes just to dig my car out of the snow to drive to work. Scraping your car windshield is the worse thing in the world!”

Erika is trading snow shovels, ice scrapers and pine trees for sand castles, sandals and palm trees this holiday and will rock the VIP with her notable colleagues emceeing the event; Bill Becker, Leigha Fox, Ezra Marcus and Bill Hoebee at Schooner Wharf. Heading up the parade party and judge’s stand for the 14 year is Evalena Worthington.

“We’re on an island, so it’s only appropriate we have a boat parade to celebrate our nautical heritage. Definitely get you in the holiday and Christmas spirit!”

As in year’s past, this Swedish sweetheart is expecting between 30 and 35 captains to register their vessels, which can be motorboats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, skiffs, 130’ schooners, or remote controlled crafts. Just don’t plan on igniting the night sky.

She issues one rule of caution: “One year we had a boat light off fireworks. That was an elaborate surprise, and was quite a show but they are not allowed to do that for safety reasons!”

The historic seaport will be packed from Turtle Crawls down to the Westin. Dan Dombrowksi with the Boys and Girls Club will have three to five youngsters with him on the Harbour Walk selling hot chocolate, hot cider and eggnog to raise money for the kids’ Christmas party! Plus, they’ll have plenty of handmade decorations and ornaments.

Ocean Key’s Rodger Levering says Sunset Pier seating that Saturday is on a first come, first serve basis. People historically pack the pier between sunset and the parade.

“A band will be playing at sunset, then we’ll have Christmas music through the loudspeakers. We’re right on the water and the boats parade past the pier.”

Plus, there’s the balcony at Hot Tin Roof, for which you have to make a reservation.

On Sunday, Dec. 12, Key Colony Beach lights up the boats and their entire island community. Tucker DeGraw has been organizing the ocean cruising Christmas event since 1994.

“This night is the biggest party night and celebration night we have in the city. The parties line the canals, people come and gather and there are hundreds of people on the causeway. We never know how many boats we’re going to have. The parade is voluntary. We’ll have about a dozen boats, depending on the weather. It’s a lot of fun for everyone and a signature event of the year. One year we had the high school band onboard.”

Boats will be judged in two classes – over 30’and under.

For the Boot Key Harbor Lighted Boat Parade participants won’t just be lighting the water but saving the turtles. Rick Sall is the president of Save-A-Turtle. All money benefits education and rescue for our favorite flippered friends.

“The baby turtles get disoriented when there is improper lighting and we rescue what we can and teach people proper discarding of plastics, among other things.”

He’s hoping to have at least 20 boats lined up, and there’s one entry hard to beat. Out of the Blue Marina enters a glass-bottom boat decked out as Santa’s sleigh. The lights underneath reflect on the ocean and a re-adjusted weed burner runs a simulated jet engine.

“It looked like a jet engine coming out of the back, so it was really cool!”

So far, Sall’s collected over $4,000 in cash and prizes and the Coast Guard is already registered for the line-up!

“Our boats do both,” reinforces Stoughton, “we participate to show the Coast Guard is part of the community, part of the water community, and we can also break away and assist any mariner in distress. We do lean on the judges and flex our muscles a little bit!”

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