Lessons Learned – by Pat Carson

Lessons Learned

Boat Parades

Some two dozen years ago, I acquired my first “large” power boat in the Delta and started learning my way around the sloughs and rivers from our home port at Village West Marina in Stockton. Having operated dive boats in Monterey on and off for the previous 10 years, I thought it was time to have my own boat that I could just cruise around on with no time schedule. After searching for a short time, I found the perfect boat, a 1995 Carver 32 Aft Cabin. This boat was a good size for a small family and stretched the budget only a little.

I found the perfect boat, a 1995 Carver 32 Aft Cabin. This boat was a good size for a small family and stretched the budget only a little.

I began the steep learning curve of boat handling in wind and current and learning the local knowledge of the Delta. I quickly realized that my new yacht was missing some very important navigational devices. During the search and purchase process I had not considered that the boat of my desire did not have any electronic aids to navigation. No RADAR, no GPS, no chartplotter and no autopilot. It did have a functioning VHF radio and depth sounder. However, that depth sounder was a little two-inch round gauge with a burned-out backlight that could only be read in bright light.

With the Carver ownership under my belt for several months and feeling confident and perhaps a bit cocky, we decided to sign up for the Marina West Lighted Boat Christmas Parade which had up to 50 participants some years. These first few months of ownership had given us familiarity with Fourteen Mile Slough from Village West Marina to the Stockton Deep Water Channel, and we had made several voyages upriver to Stockton and downriver as far as Pittsburg. Therefore, we felt we were ready for our first big boating event.

The Lynn Hahn Memorial Delta Reflections Lighted Boat Parade is back on for 2021 after the 2020 event was cancelled.

We plotted and strategized ahead of the parade day, rounded up a group of friends, and planned and designed our display of lights. I purchased as many lights as I could afford and then located a power source. I forgot to mention that my new boat did not have a generator, so I needed to find a portable one that we ended up securing to the foredeck.

Like a lot of December days in the Delta it had been overcast and foggy most of the day, and the forecast called for light rain and fog. In late afternoon we put the final touches on our display, powered up the lights, boarded our friends and headed out undeterred by the rain and fog. Did I mention that my new yacht did not have an enclosed bridge? We were equipped with a basic bimini top to protect us from the elements with no external source of heat. We were much younger and heartier boaters back then.

The 2021 Grand Marshal Ty Mellott poses for a photo with his granddaughter Addi, wife Becky and grandson Zachary.

Heading out from the marina and down Fourteen Mile Slough was easy. There must have been a dozen or more fellow yachtsmen with decorated boats doing exactly the same as us. The start of the parade is at Windmill Cove where a huge number of boats were waiting and staging up. As we started losing light, the parade grand marshal’s voice crackled over the VHF radio and the parade upriver to Stockton was underway. The rules were simple, keep a several boat length space between you and the boat in front – not too close together and not too far apart. What I did not realize was how long it took to get 50 boats lined up and started, and we were near the end of the line. By the time we started making way it was dark and our decorative lights hindered our ability to see. The solution was to follow the boat in front and hope they knew where they were going. Fortunately, we knew the skipper in front and his boat was well-equipped with RADAR and a chartplotter. What we did not know was the skipper’s ability, or lack of, in using those electronic aids.

The 2021 Lynn Hahn Memorial Delta Reflections Lighted Boat Parade

Fast forward to 2021. This event is more popular than ever and has been officially renamed the Lynn Hahn Memorial Delta Reflections Lighted Boat Parade. It is an annual event that takes place on the first Saturday of December.

For the past 20 plus years we have enjoyed participating in many boat parades. The opening day parade in the Delta, the huge PICYA opening day parade in the Bay, and of course, the holiday lighted boat parades around the Delta are among our favorites. The Lynn Hahn Memorial Parade in all its years has only been canceled three times. This includes back in 2014/2015 due to water hyacinth blocking the channel, and in 2020 due to the concern that COVID-19 would be a problem for small groups of boaters separated by several hundred feet in open air. Although in 2020 a large number of boaters still turned up ad hoc and unofficially held the parade. Come December 4, 2021 after a one-year hiatus, the Lynn Hahn Memorial Parade was officially back on.

The Grand Marshal boat, the Beverly Ann, skippered and hosted by Bob and Beverly Cain heading towards Windmill Cove to get the parade started.

In 2021 the Co-publisher of the Bay & Delta Yachtsman magazine, Ty Mellott, was very appropriately named Grand Marshal. I caught Ty and his family entering the docks at the Stockton Yacht Club in route to board the Grand Marshal boat, the Beverly Ann, skippered and hosted by Bob and Beverly Cain.

The 2021 lighted boat parade had more than 50 boats registered for the event. It began as is customary at Windmill Cove and traveled up the Stockton Deep Water Channel, passing the Stockton Marina, where the boats turned around at Weber Point in Stockton. The judge’s boat, Auberge, owned by Mike Garner was secured at the docks on the north side of the river across from the Stockton Marina.

The judge’s boat, Auberge, owned by Mike Garner was secured at the docks on the north side of the river across from the Stockton Marina.

The official start time of the parade is 1700 and the first of the boats passed the Stockton Marina around 1830. This year the parade coincided with the tree lighting ceremony at the Weber Point Events Center which took place at 1730. Those viewing the tree lighting event simply waited a few short minutes to view the lighted boats as they entered Weber Point.

Travelling down the Calaveras River following the fleet from the Stockton Yacht Club.

Each of the participant vessels paid a mere $25 registration fee and was assigned a number that was affixed to their starboard side so the judges would know which boat they were judging for the awards ceremony later in the evening at the Stockton Yacht Club dinner. This year the proceeds from the registration fees went to the Ebony Boat Club Youth Foundation. This foundation runs youth programs and provides $1,000 scholarships to students of all backgrounds that are interested in pursuing secondary education.

Loitering in the vicinity of Windmill Cove waiting for the parade to start. The fog was rolling in just in time.

My parade strategy was simple; follow the Beverly Ann from the Stockton Yacht Club down the Calaveras River to the Stockton Deep Water Channel where we would keep close while heading to Windmill Cove. Learning from the past, I wanted to be near the front of the parade, not towards the rear. I would loiter in the area again keeping close to the Grand Marshal.

Several of the participants are getting in line for the start of the parade. I’m already worried that we have been outdone with decorations and it isn’t even dark yet.

When the parade started, we were able to slot in near the front and set our following distance to around five boat lengths. The 2021 boat parade was very reminiscent of my first parade outing with rain, fog and cold weather. This year, however, we were fully prepared to safely enjoy the evening.

Getting the decorations and boats ready for the opening day on the delta parade. This one is in daylight and usually in April.

As we approached downtown, we started seeing crowds along the shoreline before passing under the Interstate 5 bridge. They kept building all the way down to Weber Point where there had to be thousands of spectators. Having made the turn around Weber Point, we started heading back downriver passing by the Auberge for judging. We made as much noise as possible, did a Pirouette just off their beam and made as good a show as possible. The cruise downriver to the Calaveras River and up to the Stockton Yacht club had periods of fog and an abundance of darkness, but was uneventful. Unfortunately, we found out later that we did not win any awards despite our efforts. Watch out for next year, we will try harder.

2021 Delta Reflections Lighted Boat Parade Awards

  • Hal Schell Award: 
    Martini Shot, Jill & Dick Stevenson, Stockton Yacht Club/Delta Outlanders/SJDPS
  • 36-foot and Up:
    1st Place: R Final Final, Jeffrey & Denise Sonneberger, Stockton Yacht Club/Village West Yacht Club
    2nd Place: Island Girl, Carl & Terry Neely, Stockton Yacht Club
  • 23-foot to 35-foot:
    1st Place: San Joaquin Sheriff, Joe Silva, San Joaquin Sheriff
    2nd Place: Windseeker, Manny Moreno, Stockton Sailing Club
  • Under 23-foot:
    1st Place: Jeffrey Debock
    2nd Place: Days of Decadence, Daniel Bennett

The Rest Of The Story

Back to 1998 and my first parade. We had been parading for several hours up to Stockton and back to Windmill Cove. We had had several areas with patchy fog, rain on and off and it was now starting to get cold. During the voyage back downriver, the group of parade participants had now spread out with many of the boats in a hurry to get back to their respective marinas and quickly disappeared out of sight in the fog. The boat I was following was running at a leisurely pace and we kept behind and in sight as we entered Fourteen Mile Slough. It seemed that we were the last of the boats berthed at Village West Marina. Our two boats had been communicating via VHF radio and we planned to follow them back to the marina since they had the RADAR and chartplotter and we did not. After going past ski beach, we found ourselves in dense fog. Both boats slowed to five knots, dimmed their lights and kept our leader with RADAR in sight when the call came over the radio “do not follow me I just went aground.” Knowing that to our right was soft mud and to our left were hard rocks, we made the decision to move left and go around them in deeper water.

Putting several of our guests on the foredeck as lookouts, we would keep the rock levee in sight and follow it until we needed to follow the slough to the right through the shallows. As you can imagine, this was a parade and most of our guests, due to the cold and no heaters on board had consumed significant amounts of adult beverages, and really did not make reliant lookouts. No problem, we can use the spotlight to illuminate the rock levee, carefully follow the rocks and hope the fog breaks. Did I mention that my fine Motoryacht did not have a functioning spotlight? Oops, better put that on the repair list.

Fourteen Mile Slough felt more like Fifty Mile Slough as we continued on to the marina trying to see the depth on my tiny depth gauge, illuminated the rocks with anemic flashlights and listened to the warnings from the mostly unstable lookouts. The fog cleared after a short time. We made it back safely and decided that we had enjoyed our first parade so much that we vowed to do this every year, after a few boat upgrades. The next morning our leader’s boat pulled into the marina after the incoming tide helped them to get unstuck and back into deep water. When discussing why and where they had run aground, it was then that the skipper admitted that he could not remember how to get the RADAR to spin up!

Lesson Learned

The 2021 parade started out just like my first Delta Reflections parade, rain and fog with more fog forecasted until later in the evening. What did I learn from my first parade experience? First, make certain that your boat is well-equipped with electronic aids to navigation and that all the crew knows how to use them. The boat I was running during this year’s event thankfully had an operational RADAR, modern GPS chartplotter and a very good autopilot. There were also several people on board that knew how to use this equipment. Second, make sure that some of the crew is available to be lookouts on the voyage back to the marina. This year I had two other USCG licensed and experienced captains on board and an active duty USCG Chief Boatswains Mate and heavy weather boat trainer. My only concern was that the Chief would be evaluating my skills navigating in restricted visibility. Finally, do not be at the end of the parade if at all possible. Being at the front of the line is much better and you get back to the marina sooner as the parade mops up.

I’m looking forward to joining a boat parade in just a few months as the opening day parades will be in full swing. Check out your local yacht clubs for details on the various parades around the Delta. The big Pacific Inter-Club Yachting Association (PICYA) opening day 2022 parade is scheduled for April 24. It’s time to plan ahead.

Until next month, I am going to sit back enjoying a fine port and cigar as I make plans for the opening day parades. Until then, please keep those letters coming, even the ones where you slam me for my oversights. I love a good story. If you have a good story to tell or good photos of right and wrong, please send them and I will include them in next edition of “is it right or is it wrong.” You can reach me at patcarson@yachtsmanmagazine.com