Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Leland Parsons is getting ready to decorate his boat in holiday decor for the Pillar Point Harbor Lighted Boat Festival.
Dozens of boat owners at Pillar Point Harbor will compete in the 26th Annual Lighted Boat Festival 6 p.m. Saturday by decorating their boats in creative holiday décor.
Visitors can step away from their typical neighborhood holiday displays and see the harbor just north of Half Moon Bay like few have seen before. Attendees at this free event can enjoy hot chocolate and apple cider, fill up on fresh fish and crab and watch colorful harbor characters sing and dance along the docks.
Even Santa Claus is ditching his sleigh and coming to celebrate the holidays on the water as he’s escorted in by a restored 1925 sailboat known as Irene.
Leland Parsons has the pleasure of giving the jolly old man a lift to the party. He and his wife Cecily sailed into Pillar Point Harbor eight years ago to spend the night; when they awoke it felt like home and they haven’t left since, Parsons said. The two live on their boat and relish putting smiles on the faces of the public and their grandchildren, Parsons said.
Last year, he welcomed the nautical Santa aboard the Irene and introduced him to his grandchildren who lit up in joy, Parsons said.
“When you accomplish that, you’ve got to do it again. I don’t think I was ever affected by Santa Claus that way,” Parsons said.
He will also be escorting a local band as they sing Christmas jingles aboard the Irene, Parsons said.
When you hang around the docks you’re bound to meet some lively characters, Deputy Harbor Master Cary Smith said. Last year, a local resident dressed up as Popeye and goofily sang while another showed up in a giant crab suit and paraded around the docks, Smith said.
Harbors all across the country participate in their own lighted boat festivals, Smith said. Impressive seafood-related light displays are a common theme and judges will determine who has the brightest, most colorful and unique lighted boat. Winners earn prizes like hotel stays and restaurant gift cards; and if they’re lucky, free boat slip rent for a month.
“Everybody who participates gets a prize, but there’s some pretty fierce competition so it makes it interesting,” Smith said.
The festival is a great opportunity for the public to visit the coast and see it in a whole new light, said Deputy Harbor Master Dave Arlington. It’s also meaningful for the fishing community to mingle with the public, Arlington said.
“The [harbor] tenants like to enjoy seeing the public come and walk by their boats. It’s a social thing, many of them live on their boats and are opening up their front yards,” Arlington said.
Although no one lives on the Irene, it’s a beloved historic vessel that volunteers helped restore, Parsons said.
He bought the boat from the San Mateo County Harbor District for a dollar in late 2007. The Irene spent decades sitting with the ocean banging at her and was in bad condition. There are several deserted ships at Pillar Point and it can costs thousands of dollars to dispose of an abandoned one. So Parsons rescued the Irene and spent five years fixing her up, he said.
With help from the nonprofit Pillar Point Educational Fund, she’s now in tip-top shape and gave harbor tours to teach the public and children about coastal preservation.
“There are a number of events that encourage people locally and from the Peninsula to come visit and see where you can buy fresh organic products ... and learn about sustainable fisheries,” Smith said.
The Lighted Boat Festival begins 6 p.m. at the Pillar Point Harbor. For more information about the festival and the San Mateo County Harbor District visit www.smharbor.com.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106