“What’s the 60 for?” we all yelled as the skippers passed so close to our deck we could see them sipping coffee inside their cabins. “It’s the sixtieth anniversary of the Christmas Ships!” they called back.
The annual parade has come a long way from that one ribbon-bedecked sailboat in 1954. The fleet now boasts a membership of 50-60 revelers who volunteer their time, energy and money (think big fuel bills) to entertain Portland-area residents in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
It’s a great show. Because Portland is graced with two rivers, the fleet divides into the Willamette group and the Columbia group. Lucky for us, they merge for the cruise up Multnomah Channel, so Sauvie Islanders get to see them all.
The ships leave the Scappoose area around 4:30pm, sail by our moorage around 7:00 and continue on to Portland until 9:00. Long hours to be battling currents, wind, and waves. The skippers (and we) lucked out this year with clear skies, gladly missing out on the ubiquitous Portland rain. The channel is fairly narrow in our area, putting the boats so close you feel as though you could reach out and hop on.
We offered them Christmas cookies and spiked eggnog, but no one took us up on it. We suspected they had plenty of their own supply on board. Best not to interrupt such intricate choreography, anyway. Getting boats to line dance in a moving river is no mean trick.
The skippers gave the houseboaters an extra treat and circled a couple of times before proceeding upriver. Before us was a blaze of creativity, with themes ranging from the elaborately traditional to the curiously novel. We debated whether the giant figure in a Santa hat was an odd-looking St. Nick, but soon agreed it was a holiday Sasquatch. A solid Northwest touch!
My favorite? The giant whale with her baby in tow. In one of those, “Did you see that?” moments, we realized the mama whale was winking at us and the baby raised her tail. That unexpected gift of ingenuity, whimsy, and flair really made me smile.
(For more info on the Christmas Ships organization, go to www.christmasships.org.)