Dragons on Parade

The Alameda DragonFlyers strut their stuff in the Lighted Yacht Parade

Oakland and Alameda hold a lighted yacht parade on the Oakland Estuary, where we practice, in early December. I’ve been a fan of the parade since long before I took to the water, so I was happy when ADF organized a dinner at a prime viewing spot for the 2015.

At that event I started to hear rumblings about entering our boat in the parade the following year. This struck me as a very marginal idea. It was cold out there. We don’t paddle in the dark, and those other boats were BIG. Furthermore, I suspected some of the skippers were imbibing a bit too much

But by the end of the 2016 season there was a genuine groundswell to enter the parade with our little boat.

A dragon boat in the yacht parade was not unprecedented. In 2015 the Oakland Renegades entered a beautiful boat. But they are, well, renegades. And there were a handful of even smaller crafts like kayaks and maybe even a SUP out there.

Brett took charge of the parade arrangements. This gave me some confidence because Brett is a veteran of the Coast Guard. As a rule, I don’t ask people in the armed forces what kind of work they do because it is either a secret, or gruesomely boring. But I figured Brett must have garnered some professional experience with boats of various sizes.

Those who didn’t want to paddle were going to reconvene at the restaurant with a view, and then the whole team would converge at team captain Carol’s. While my first inclination was to join the restaurant contingent, I eventually opted to join the parade. After all, as a fan of the event, what could be better than being out on the water?

Dick and Brett, and probably others, rigged up the boat with a lights along the gunwale and two spotlights to highlight the head and the tail. Brett obtained lighted arm- and head-bands meant for runners or cyclists to use at night. May brought sets of small lights we could affix to out paddles. Carol brought a collection of Santa hats.

We headed out just before sunset. Our dock is about two miles from the reviewing stand at the Oakland Yacht Club, so we had to paddle a fair bit before we got to the heart of the festivities. But when we did it was worth the effort. Even the boats that never leave their docks – which is the vast majority of boats – where celebrating, and we were met with cheers of “Merry Christmas, Dragon Boat!”

Some mariners suggested that we needed an outboard motor, many sang carols, one yachtsman was projecting the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” onto his sail, which I thought was an inspired idea.

We paddled past the reviewing stand and then made the loop down to Jack London Square, passing the Pasta Pelican restaurant where are teammates were gathered. We saw the Renegade’s boats, whaleboats and the stalwart kayakers.

After the Jack London Square loop, we headed back down the Oakland side of the Estuary, past the Renegades dock at the Jack London Aquatic Center and then headed home.

Once we hit Coast Guard Island, boat traffic diminished to a trickle. I was dressed in about 4 layers, but it was getting cold and wet. Then our lights went out and we were still about 2 miles from home.

No more merry cheers from the shore; no other boats with twinkling lights. Just a lonely dragon boat in the dark guided only by their head- and arm-bands heading for the Park Street Bridge and home.

At Carol’s, the verdict was that we would participate again next year, but maybe shorten our route and find a bigger generator.