Flotilla lights up Banks Channel

by Kelly Corbett and Cole Dittmer
Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Staff photo by Allison Potter 

 Lindsay Hancock won the Best Powerboat 23 to 31 Feet award with her entry, “Hancoctopus,” at the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla on Saturday, Nov. 30. 

Christmas trees, Rudolph, Charlie Brown, ducks, dolphins, nurses and an octopus traveled through Banks Channel with thousands watching on Saturday, Nov. 30, two days after Thanksgiving Day.

The 28 boats featured during the 30th annual North Carolina Holiday Flotilla boat parade in Wrightsville Beach navigated the route in less than an hour.

A few of the decorations also featured scenes from popular holiday films, like “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Home Alone” and “A Christmas Story.”

Dr. Brady Semmel won Best in Show with a “Great White Christmas” theme featuring Mary Lee the shark with a mechanical mouth. Crewmembers held a sign reading, “SOS Save our sharks.”

Leading up to the night of the flotilla parade, all Semmel wanted was the hundreds of blue net lights he had ordered to cover the tail of his overall-winning Great White Christmas boat. 

During the flotilla awards brunch on Sunday, Dec. 1, Semmel said he had no luck in speeding up the shipment and was forced to make a backup plan. 

“It feels great now,” Semmel said while cradling the overall winner’s trophy. “We knew it was going to be tough to do a whole shark but for the 30th anniversary we wanted to go all out.”

Semmel took home the grand prize, a 17-foot Carolina Skiff, donated by Hutchens Law Firm.

Chairwoman Linda Brown said she was thrilled with the 30th flotilla.

“I think they’re some of the best quality boats we’ve ever had,” Brown said shortly after the parade.

At the Captain’s Party the night before, on Friday, Nov. 29, flotilla board member Jimmy Gilleece said he was glad to see so many new boats this year. 

“Half of the room in the captain’s meeting was new faces,” Gilleece said. “Skip [Wilson] and Paula [Sturdy] always step up but it really seems like everyone has this year for the 30th anniversary.” 

More than 12,000 people voted in the text-to-vote portion of the contest this year, with Capt. Skip Wilson taking the title for the People’s Choice award with a “Charlie Brown Christmas” theme. First-time boat parade participants Tim and Emily Moss won Crowd Favorite with their rendition of a scene from “Home Alone.”

The judges, including Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens, Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project Coordinator Nancy Fahey and outgoing Mayor David Cignotti, among others, stood on the Blockade Runner Beach Resort dock to see the boats up close while marking their scores based on characteristics like spirit and creativity.

Before the parade, spectators like Bob and Patty Wilson looked forward to seeing the boat decorations.

The couple staked out a spot on Waynick Boulevard two hours before the parade started.

“We’re from Erie, Pennsylvania, so we’ve seen snow,” Patty Wilson said about her first time seeing a flotilla parade.

Fahey, who was the last judge to hand in her votes, said her problem was she did not know how she was going to pick.

“I always think they’re all great,” Fahey said.

Earlier in the day, the Festival in the Park also welcomed thousands of guests and 110 vendors, including five bounce houses and a rock wall.

Carrie Clark, of Washington, D.C., came to visit her son Andrew for Thanksgiving and they went to the two flotilla events on Saturday. Clark said their favorite part of the Festival in the Park were the dogs collecting money for veterans. 

“Of course we had to have a funnel cake,” Clark said.

From noon to 2 p.m., Greg and Carolyn Phillips, of Hillsborough, N.C., and their children — Luke, 11, Whitt, 11, and Hannah, 15 — performed a mix of traditional and progressive bluegrass for the longest set they have played.

Near the event stage was the car show featuring more than 50 cars from the 1920s through 2013 models. Edie Cutler and Pat McMahon, who both run the car show, said they outgrew the old space.

New this year was a motorcycle section, but they still have the top 10 awards given out.

“Introduced this year is people’s choice,” McMahon said. “Just trying to get the spectators involved as well as the car owners.”

The tone for the entire flotilla weekend was set at the beginning of the weekend on Friday, Nov. 29, when a record crowd of families gathered on the lawn in front of Wrightsville Beach Town Hall for the lighting of the town Christmas tree and the arrival of Santa Claus. 

Mayor Cignotti led the crowd in a countdown and children sprinkled “magic elf dust” on the tree as it flashed to life. At the same time, Santa and Mrs. Claus rode into town with an escort from the Wrightsville Beach Police Department and assumed their position in the Christmas lifeguard stand beside the tree. 

Wrightsville Beach Parks and Recreation program supervisor Katie Ryan said families began lining up around 4:45 p.m. with chairs to wait for the arrival of Santa. 

Once comfortably seated alongside Santa and Mrs. Claus, each child divulged his or her Christmas wishes like black shoes, a rocket and a hamster. 

Though it was a chilly night, the families gathered on the lawn were warmed by hot chocolate and Christmas songs as performed by the Performance Club’s Elf Patrol singers. The loudest cheer of applause came after one of the smallest elf boys sang the “I just want to hold my baby” line from the song “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” 

email kelly@luminanews.com and cole@luminanews.com 

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