2017 Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade Paddle

  • Updated: December 14, 2017
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

December 14th, 2017

Each year Newport Beach runs a Christmas Boat Parade for five nights in mid December.  Boats and yachts are decked in lights and decorations that vary from reasonable to full on pyrotechnic overkill and cruise around the harbor while the unwashed and slightly tipsy holiday masses watch from the shore or docked boats.

In 2014 Jen Blackie, Kristen Lindbergh, and I had bought our kayaks and started paddling around the harbor regularly after work.  When Christmas came around we decided to head out and join the parade with our kayaks and we ended up having an awesome time.

We were back out in 2015 despite it being a bit cold and *slightly* rainy.  In 2016 we had relatively good weather but returned to find Kristen's car had been broken into and her passport stolen.  Right before she was scheduled to fly out of the country.

This year marked our 4th time paddling out to join the parade.  For once the weather was damn near temperate and we'd done this enough to where we thought we had our plan down.  And then we checked and saw they changed the route.

Since it can be a little...interesting trying to cross the main channel in our small boats with all the motorized boats moving around we try and minimize that.  Traditionally we picked up the parade at point 39 and followed it to the west end of Lido and then pass under the bridge and pass the parade going the opposite direction along the southern shore.

This year since the parade started at the eastern tip of Lido that wouldn't work.

We decided we'd meet the parade at the bridge to Balboa and follow it around Balboa Island and tag along until it reached the PCH bridge.

We met at our usual launch spot at North Star Beach at 6:15 pm and got to decorating the boats.

And of course ourselves.

We had bought light up santa hats last year but could only find one.  Also my LED bars for the bottom of the boat were on the fritz so we were a little less lit up than last year.

We launched at 7 and paddled quickly as we could out to the Balboa bridge making it there just in time.

The lights on the front of the boat actually made it harder to navigate in the darker parts of back bay.  Once we made it under PCH there's more ambient light so it got easier to see but at the same time we had to start dodging other boats.

Everyone always thinks it must be dangerous paddling around during the parade but it's really not too bad.  We stick close to the docks and make sure to have plenty of lights to make us visible.

We crossed under the Balboa bridge and were waiting next to a small dock when the parade reached us at 7:40 pm.  We waited until the main boat was right behind us and took off paddling along the side.

In the sea kayaks we could just outpace the parade if we paddled strongly.  Lucas with his foldable kayak was struggling a little more so we kept dropping back to let him catch up and joining other boats for a while.

We were pretty close to the boats and with all the chop hitting us it was hard to get many pictures.  I had my iPhone stuck inside my christmas sweater and tried to snap a few shots whenever I could stop paddling and be reasonably sure I wasn't going to flip or get pulled in front of the parade.

The only time we almost had an incident was when we crossed the Balboa Ferry.  They have the engine on to keep the ferry up against the dock and when we did that it shot us out into the channel.  Jen and I were in front and got taken by surprise but Kristen and Lucas were able to prepare.

By 8:40 pm we reached the PCH bridge which was where we hopped off.  This part was a little interesting because there were a lot of small boats moored or moving around so we had to dodge around a bit.

We met two other people on sit on top kayaks here.  They'd launched from the same place and came out to the bridge to watch the parade go by.

We made it back to the vehicles before 10 pm which is downright reasonable for one of these.

If you're interested in doing this here are a few tips.

  • Light up your boat as much as you can.  There's a lot going on and you want to be visible.  In addition to the christmas lights we run a while light on top of a post on the back of our boats that really helps us be a little more visible.
  • If you plan to move along with the parade you're going to have to paddle fast.  In our sea kayaks we can move faster than the boats but we're paddling pretty hard.  In a sit on top you probably won't be able to keep up and in an inflatable forget it.  Just find a spot to pull in and enjoy the show passing by.
  • You're almost certainly going to get wet.  Our sea kayaks have a skirt that keeps the water from getting in but when I opened them briefly to retrieve a drink I ended up with a random wave sloshing over the side and Lucas in his open top boat was soaked.
  • Except chop.  Especially in the channel there's going to be a lot of little waves coming at you from every direction.  You have to paddle to keep from getting pushed against a dock or out in front of the parade.

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