It's not even Thanksgiving yet, but it's time to start working on your entry for Eastport Yacht Club's annual Christmas Lights Parade of Yachts in Annapolis Harbor and Spa Creek, scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 14.
Even the meanest grinch can't steal the holiday spirit that the Lights Parade generates among its participants, or the delight itbrings to more than 50,000 people lining Spa Creek each year.
This year's theme is "Reflections on the Water," said EYC's parade manager Robin Allison, whose official title for the event is "ChiefElf."
"It's going to be an even bigger and better parade this year, we hope," she said, explaining that a weather forecast of sunny and 70 degrees for parade day is at the top of her personal wish list to Santa.
"I guess we'll all find out how good I was this year," she laughed.
Seriously, she added, several strong commercial entriesalready have come in along with some club and individual ones. Organizers are expecting the full contingent of 60 boats of varying sizes and types around the two parade areas on either side of the Spa CreekBridge.
If the thought of putting together your own entry is fascinating but also intimidating, consider that your design and execution don't have to be complicated, expensive or something that only a professional can handle.
After all, the point is to have fun, and that's virtually guaranteed.
"Let's make this a wonderful lights parade," Allison said. "Don't forget that creativity can go a long way in replacing dollars spent. It's not the most elaborate display that has the most fun, so come and play."
Again this year awesome displays are expected from some of the commercial, club and organizational entries, but even the smallest, most simply decorated individual or family participant is an important part of the event.
It is the marvel of all of the boats together that gives the parade its heart-warming punch, especially when the dark, expectant hush on the water suddenly gives way to cheering holiday spectacle as all the boats turn ontheir lights at once at the sound of the 6 p.m. cannon.
Host Eastport Yacht Club will conduct a boat-decorating seminar next Saturday,which is open to anyone seriously considering an entry.
But for those who want to start thinking about it before then, for basic boat-decorating tips we checked with EYC's resident boat-lighting expert, Bill Millan, who pointed out that really surprisingly few technical considerations are required.
The key to success -- just as it is inany other boating endeavor -- is a little thoughtful preparation.
"The one thing I would really caution people not to do is wait untilthe day of the parade to start a project," Millan said, "unless it'salready really well-planned out ahead of time."
Millan encouragesparticipation in the Lights Parade because, as he said, "It's a Christmas gift to the city. Every boat out there is equally important to adding to the enjoyment of the people on shore, even if the decorations are very simple."
Millan said a good first step is sketching your boat to scale on paper. It doesn't have to be detailed; reasonablyaccurate general dimensions will do. Then, make a simple design for your display, drawn to scale on the boat plan so you can estimate thematerials you'll need.
"Plan on using only the midget Christmas-tree lights," Millan said. "They draw very little power so you don't need big generators -- and you're out there to have fun, not listen toa lot of noise all night. Also, they're easy to work with because between each bulb there's a six-inch space, which works out pretty easily on your scale drawing to figure out the number of bulbs you'll need."
Millan explained that standard midget lights come in strings of 35, 50 or 100, but recommended the 50-bulb sets with connectors on each end as the easiest to work with.
The 100-bulb sets are strungin a closed loop with only one electrical connection on the string, so patterning with them can be more complicated.
If your design will take more than six 50-bulb strings, your designing will have to include figuring out how to make connections with extension cords to get back to the power source, because no more than 300 bulbs (150 feet of lights -- plenty long for many simple headstay/backstay schemes) should be connected to a single circuit.
"Read the back of the package," Millan said.
"That information should be there, along with the wattage." You'll need to know the wattage of your design to figureout your power supply requirements.
"A 50-light set is 18 watts,"Millan said. "Count the number of bulbs in your design, divide by 50(a string's worth), and multiply by 18 to get the total watts. Then you can find or rent a generator to supply that."
Millan recommended that the generator have about 25 percent more capability than the upper limits of the design's total wattage to avoid problems.