The rain stopped and the lights came on, putting the Christmas spirit on bright display Saturday evening on the Annapolis waterfront.
Thousands of onlookers packed City Dock, Compromise Street, the Naval Academy sea wall and the bank of Spa Creek to catch a glimpse of the 28 boats bedecked with holiday lights in the floating parade.
The annual Christmas flotilla, sponsored by the Eastport Yacht Club, began in 1983 when seven boats sailed the waterfront. Now, the attraction has grown to one of the premier holiday festivities in Annapolis.
"This has been the Eastport Yacht Club's biggest gift to the city of Annapolis," said Fred Miller, a club member in charge of publicity for the event. "If people could name a single event associated with Christmas down here, most would say the Christmas Lights Parade."
While Santa Claus was a dominate decorative theme, more unusual entires included a boat lighted up like a Christmas package, one that resembled a jack-in-the-box and another designed as a snowman tipping a bottle to his mouth.
But the boat taking honors for Best of Parade offered a traditional holiday theme -- Christmas customs. The 40-foot sailboat called Spirits Two, owned by Roger Richardson of Baltimore, sported 6,700 lights creating many flags, a small house, two angels and a sled complete with reindeer.
The sled was a smaller boat in tow, which increased the size of the vessel to 70 feet. For Richardson, the victory this weekend was his second in a row; he took top honors at the Baltimore festival last week.
Richardson said he was glad he was forced to hang the lights for the earlier festival, when it was dry. "If we had this weather last week, I would have gotten the mast on and that's it," he said.
Not only did the rain hold off, the temperature stayed at a reasonable 35 to 40 degrees, nearly 20 degrees higher than last year, when many boats were forced to drop out because of problems with ice.
"It's not too awful bad, if the rains quit," said Bob Gorski, owner of the New Adventure. "This is beautiful compared to last year. We got iced in last year, we didn't make it."
Gorski won the competition two years ago; this time he won first place in the medium sail competition for his giant Christmas tree display.
There were 13 categories in all, including sailboats, powerboats, best illuminated and best spirit of Christmas. The people's favorite, however, seemed to be the swans -- which won honors as best club -- and Chessie, a rendition of the monster thought to live in the Chesapeake Bay, similar to Scotland's Loch Ness Monster, which took the prize in the best large sail division.
Patrick Reid, an Annapolis resident attending his first lights parade, said he and his three kids preferred the boat that had Santa Claus fishing.
He said it was well worth the trip. "Just look at the boats, they are beautiful," he said.
One of the more attention-grabbing boats to join the festivities was called the Flasher. Its lights were designed in the shape of what looked like a priest holding his cloak closed. The lights then flashed, showing the priest opening the robe in flasher style revealing a Christmas tree.
"I think its kind of unique," said Dawn Rittner, who watched the parade for the second year in a row.
The parade lasted two hours; boats circled in front of the City Dock and the Naval Academy and then moved to Spa Creek. Winners in each category received a silver cup. Even though most boats reflected a holiday theme, one boat club injected a little message in its design.
The National Ocean Access Project, which helps handicapped and physically disabled people take to the sea, built a giant illuminated wheelchair. The boat was runner-up in the Best Club category.