Not long after the sun went down Saturday night, a few hundred people gathered along the banks of the Ogeechee River at the Fort McAllister Marina for the 24th annual Lighted Boat Parade.
Lights reflected on the water as each boat glided through the night, just a few miles down from the Intracoastal Waterway and Ossabaw Sound. Some boats showed off their decorations, making large circles as they passed the viewers and headed toward the judges. The holiday celebration included fireworks and live music dockside at Fish Tails Restaurant.
This year, 15 boats participated in the procession and each entry featured unique decorations, lights and holiday music. The Grinch, made of bright green lights, dominated the top of one boat. On another vessel, a lighted Santa, his sleigh and reindeer prepared for flight.
Winners included Craig McMillian on boat No. 10, which won the Best Overall award; Stig Askeland on boat No. 7, which won Best Decorated; David Karoudjian on boat No. 3, which won Most Holiday Spirit; and John Seckinger on boat No. 1, which won the Charlie Brown Award.
“The community has really supported us, and this is our way of giving back — to make the fireworks show and boat parade bigger year,” said Butch Broome, owner of Fish Tales Restaurant and Fort McAllister Marina. He also expressed gratitude for Southern Eagle Distributing, the parade’s sponsor.
Broome said the Lighted Boat Parade began 24 years ago when Tommy Darieng and “Miss Irene,” original owners of the marina, began the tradition. After Darieng sold the marina, a fishing club called Offshore Outlaws facilitated the parade. After that, John and Julie Seckinger, members of the club, organized the parade.
Cpl. John Meacham from the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office has attended boat parade for several years. He said the number of participating boats varies each year.
“One year, it was up to 27 boats. I think it started with three boats,” he said.
Tony and Denise Sardinas have attended the boat parade for the past four years.
“It’s Americana — one of the last bastions of the U.S., just really good, clean family time,” Tony Sardinas said. “We usually ride our motorcycles down here, but this year we have family with us.”
The Sardinas family originally is from New York City and New Jersey.
“The people here are the best people. The Georgia coast is a very special little slice of heaven,” Sardinas said. “The people here are honest, hardworking people. They are principled.”
Hayes West and Kaylee Gilliland, both 13-year-old students at Richmond Hill Middle School, enjoyed the parade from the marina. Last year, West rode in the parade in Bobby Saul’s boat, “The Cuz.”
The teen said it was different watching the parade from the dock instead of from the water.
“I like being on the water. It’s not as crowded and loud,” he said.