Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Boat Parade Lights Up Downtown's Riverfront; Not a Record-Breaker This Year, but Still a Popular Tradition as Boats Compete in Annual Parade

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Boat Parade Lights Up Downtown's Riverfront; Not a Record-Breaker This Year, but Still a Popular Tradition as Boats Compete in Annual Parade

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID HUNT

Along with the chilly air that swept in Saturday evening, the blinking, glittering boats meandering along the St. Johns River seemed to say it all.

The holidays are back.

Saturday marked Jacksonville's 26th annual Light Parade, a Christmastime favorite for the thousands of spectators who line up along the North and South riverbanks to see the decked out boats make a pass through downtown.

Jacksonville special events departmentspokeswoman Christina Langston said about 85 boaters registered for the procession this year. It wasn't a record-breaker, but it was still a big year compared to the average 60 to 70 boaters who usually partake.

"I think everyone is excited about the holiday," Langston said. "A lot of first-time boaters signed up."

Warren Burton, 36, of Arlington, was one of them.

As the sun set on the brisk, clear night, Burton put the finishing touches on a snowflake display hanging from the mast of his sailboat. He said he'd been watching the parade for the past six or seven years from River City Brewing Co. and decided this would be his year to jump in the competition.

There was a snag, though, that didn't allow taller ships to run the full parade route. Langston said organizers were not going to be lifting the Main Street Bridge because of some mechanical issues.

Several boats would have to cut their lap from Metropolitan Park at the bridge while others kept going as far as the Fuller Warren Bridge.

"I'm slow anyway," Burton said, describing the 30-horsepower engine in his heavy boat. "If I can make a shortcut, it's all good."

Burton wound up winning the top honors of the parade's grand overall prize after the judges had seen all the boats.

Steve DiPerna, 50, of Orange Park, said he was prepared to collapse a light post and a flag poll on his 19-footer if it meant getting under the bridge.

DiPerna won grand overall honors in 2009. On Saturday, he said he'd merely tweaked last year's winning concept, which converted his motorboat into an illuminated Santa sled scene - including about 14 feet worth of wire-frame reindeer suspended from the front of the boat.

DiPerna said he's been in the parade five times. …

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