Royal Palm Beach can now boast a popular boat parade that attracted a record number of boats and thousands of cheering fans along several miles of the village’s waterfronts last Saturday evening.
The rain cleared just in the nick of time as scores of well-wishers watched from Todd Robiner Park in the village’s La Mancha neighborhood. The flotilla of 14 lavishly decorated boats assembled at the lake adjacent to the park and then set sail in formation for the hour-long voyage through village waterways to the finish line at Lake Challenger, followed by holiday cheer and fellowship at the Tiki Bar.
“Thanks in part to social media, our annual parade increased greatly in popularity this year,” said Dave McCallum, who has organized the informal annual boat parade for the last 10 years. “We had 14 decorated boats, a police boat escort, and there might have been as many as 5,000 people who watched and waved from parks, bridges, docks and backyards along the route.”
Spectators loved the hometown feel of the event.
“This free holiday event brings people together in a very beautiful way. We come out every year to see it,” said Shannon Holzemer of La Mancha, who was part of a four-family group of 10 who had great seats staked out at the Earth Day Park’s waterside pavilion.
Happy children lined the railings enthusiastically waving at the boats, as holiday wishes were exchanged by happy shouts between the crews of decorated boats and the landlubber spectators ashore.
The parade started at Todd Robiner Park, proceeded west past Earth Day Park, entered the M-1 canal near the H.L. Johnson Elementary School nature trail and then steamed south to Lake Challenger.
Cars packed the west end of the H.L. Johnson parking lot and throngs of well-wishers watched from above as the parade passed under the Crestwood Blvd. bridge. Because of low clearances, boat owners designed their decorations to be easily pulled down to safely navigate under bridges, then effortlessly raised back up with the bridge in its wake.
Tiersa Britt, a surgical tech, watched from shore. “Our whole family loves this parade,” she said. “We enjoy the lights, their beautiful reflections in the water, and it’s a very positive event for our children, where the kids are delighted, waving and offering holiday greetings to the boaters.”
According to McCallum, the most treacherous part of the parade route lay under the busy Royal Palm Beach Blvd. bridge. “The water is a little shallow right now, and there are rocks under that bridge can wreck a prop,” he said.
McCallum said he spent part of Saturday trying to clear rocks from the channel but wasn’t sure he got them all due to murky, rainy conditions.
The Jeethan family appreciated his efforts. Like many, they learned about the parade via social media, such as from one site where 5,000 people online clicked an interest in attending. Sheena Jeethan came to Earth Day Park to watch the parade along with her husband and two children. “It was our first time going, and everyone in the family had a great time,” she said. “I really appreciate the efforts of the boaters and how well-decorated all the boats were.”
The feeling is mutual. “To all the spectators lining the shores, thanks for cheering us on,” McCallum said. “We do it all for you. Merry Christmas!”
While the parade was a success, and all reported having a good and safe time, there was one minor mishap. After successfully leading his flotilla through the planned parade route, on the way back home, McCallum’s boat touched those shallow rocks he was worried about under the bridge. He lost an $800 propeller, but said that, no matter what, he will be back next year.