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Spectators drive miles for boat parade
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Photo courtesy of PHIL HANNA
Decorated boats make their way up the Intracoastal Waterway in the 26th annual Indian Rocks Beach boat parade.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Everybody, it seems, loves a boat parade. However, unless you own a house on the Intracoastal Waterway you might have trouble finding a place to watch it.

In Indian Rocks Beach the experienced boat parade watchers have figured out that wherever there is a parking lot near the water there will likely be room to sit and enjoy the parade. Many of those people found their way to the Calvary Episcopal Church on Dec. 15 for the 26th annual Indian Rocks Beach Boat parade.

Among the first to stake out a spot up front near the fence were Anne Blum of Largo and Shane Ornelas of Palm Harbor.

For Blum, who seldom misses a boat parade, this wasn’t even her first of the season.

“I went to the Madeira Beach parade this year and now this one,” she said. “I love them; I go to as many as I can.”

Ornelas says he is always fascinated with the way the boats are decorated especially if they have something different.

“I like the ones with music,” he said. “The Christmas songs add something to the experience, and I like the boats that have trees on them, decorated trees.”

Both Blum and Ornelas said they would be back again next year for the IRB parade and others.

Nearby was Wendy McLain of Holiday in Pasco County. She had come to Indian Rocks Bach with her family just to see the parade. She was sitting comfortably in a foldout chair while her five children and grandchildren, and her little dog Juju, were sitting on a large blanket on the ground. Everybody was munching popcorn and having a good time in anticipation of the parade’s arrival.

“I have seen boat parades before but the children haven’t,” said McLain. “I know they are going to enjoy it.”

McLain, who works in Belleair Bluffs, said she is taken every time she sees a boat parade by the decorations on the vessels.

“The decorations are so artistic and along with the music it makes for a very entertaining evening. I can’t wait for the kids to see it,” she said.

Will they be back?

“Definitely, and I know the kids will want to come back for sure.”

To make the long trek from Holiday worthwhile McLain was planning a trip to the Botanical Gardens after the parade to take in the annual light spectacular.

According to city officials this year’s boat parade was the biggest ever.

“We had 34 entries, the most yet,” said IRB Public Works Supervisor Randy Schwab. “Up till now the most we’ve had were 20 or 22.”

Schwab said the various sponsors who contribute money go a long way to making the parade a success.

“This year we spent around $10,000 for prizes for the boats. So it is important, especially for the residents who get to see a good, well-decorated parade,” he said.

As more and more people began to show up and occupy the limited space along the fence that spanned the church parking lot, three friends from Clearwater were glad they decided to come early with their chairs and refreshments. Kelly Rogers, Michelle Kutch and Tina Campo were waiting along with the others. Rogers and Kutch were parade veterans who always liked what they saw.

“I enjoy the creativity of the decorations on the boats,” said Rogers. “You just never know what you are going to see next.”

Their friend Tina Campo, although born and raised in Florida, had never seen a boat parade before. After some teasing from her friends she said she was excited to see what was to come.

“I love the water and everything about it,” she said. “I can’t wait to see the boats and I know already I’ll want to come back.”

All three women wondered, as they looked at all the houses on both sides of the inlet, why there weren’t more house parties to celebrate the boat parade. It was obvious they would have rather been on someone’s dock than on the side of a church parking lot.

Still that didn’t dampen the fun they were having right where they were. Kutch, with a comment worthy of a Florida tourism ad, reminded the others why they live in the state. “This is beautiful. Where else can you sit out at night, next to the water in just a sweatshirt and celebrate the season. This is fun,” she said.

Parade winners

Steve Chalke on Savannah Smiles was the overall winner of the boat parade with a prize of $500. The Elf Award was presented to Al Leon’s boat Little McKenna with a prize of $200.

Other winners of the parade are as follows: 23 feet and under, first Joe Johnson, Phat life; second, Tom Schaffer, Fiddler’s Green; third, Oliver Kugler, Proline21; 24-30 feet, first Matthew Miller, C-Dream; second, Scott Read, Reed Runner; third, R.J. Schwab, RJ’s Boat; 31 feet over, first, Geoffrey Lake, Driftwood; second, Randy Schwab, the Hustler; third, IRB Boat Club, James Ratz, Fatal Attraction.
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