Lights of all colors, Santas brightening boats from deck to rigging, holiday refreshments, families with children of all ages, dogs in festive holiday coats — all brought holiday cheer to the Lighted Boat Festival on a balmy Saturday night.

While it was impossible to tell the exact number of visitors, the Pillar Point Harbor parking lot was filled. The docks where commercial, recreational and residential boats were berthed swarmed with people looking at the bright, imaginative decorations that illuminated the decks and shone in the riggings.

“It's one of my favorite events,” said El Granada resident Colby Droubi, who had brought her children, ages 10 and 17, to peruse the harbor parking lot filled with booths and admire lights shining on the water. “It's a great family event to have the lights on the water.”

“I feel so fortunate to be living in such a small community,” said Kelly Koski, of Half Moon Bay, who along with husband Kevin had brought her two young children to the harbor. “This is definitely unique.”

At one end of the parking lot, familiar holiday carols boomed out courtesy of the San Mateo Elks Club Concert Band. Booths offered holiday treats, and children closely examined a box with stuffed animals being given away in memory of late harbor resident Rod Schoenlank, who had given away stuffed animals and toys from his boat at this event.

“He gave them away, so we're giving them away in his memory,” said Princeton Seafood Co. co-owner Mary Botham.

Santa and Mrs. Claus, who respectively resembled Matt Knoot, of Half Moon Bay, and Emily Cooper, of San Francisco, posed for photos with children near Ketch Joanne's restaurant. Hot spiced cider, hot chocolate, marshmallows for roasting, cookies and other treats were being given away in the harbor parking lot.

The owners of many of the commercial, residential and recreational boats vied in friendly competition in the contest sponsored for the 28th year by the Harbor District. Every participant got a prize, but one residential or pleasure boat and one commercial boat emerged as top winners, each receiving one month's free berthing.

John Whitley won the top award for recreational boats for the effects of the bubble machine, live and mechanized Santas, a flotilla of Mylar sharks and lights on his powerboat, the Jay Leonard. Ben Andrews took top honors among commercial boats for the icicles, Santa, and the magical effects of multicolored lights that brightened his boat


The decorations could take up to a week to put up, said Chad Skelton, who was giving away hundreds of cups of hot buttered rum from the deck of By George, the 40-foot Concord boat he has called home for three years. His tiny Maltese and Shih Tzu mix dog barked and wagged greetings to passersby.

Why did he decorate his boat? “Why do you decorate your house?” he said. “To get into the Christmas spirit and get more people down here.”

Darci Bogdan said her boat, Starship, which she co-owned with her partner Quaid Kocur, had been built by her father. It sported red and green lights twined up its mast and multicolored lights that twinkled down its rigging. She said she and Kocur had set up a chair for her to be raised and lowered in, to attach the lights in the halyard.

“It’s a great tradition for Half Moon Bay,” said John Larsen, of El Granada, owner of the sport fishing boat Dream Catcher. “It's the best night of the year for me.”

It was a good night also for Valene Whitley, who with husband John had snagged the first-place award in the recreational category for the decorations brightening their Mikelson boat, Jay Leonard.

Those decorations included a mechanized Frosty the Snowman, a blowup Santa in a boat catching a tuna, a blowup Grinch in a dinghy, and multiple other decorations. She said she’d been collecting them over the past four years, and that she put them up with help from her sister and brother-in-law from Southern California.

“That's our family event,” she said. “Every year it just gets bigger. It touches all the people who love seeing them, and also their kids.”

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