“The winner last year – you couldn’t see the boat for all of the lights,” Howells said.
Part of the power squadron’s responsibilities is coordinating the judges and providing a perch where they can watch the parade and decide on first, second and third places for powerboats and sailboats, plus the best overall boat. Howells is usually with the judges – made up of officers from local yacht clubs and local celebrities – watching the boats pass by.
He and Clark joke that technically you only need to decorate the starboard side of the boat, but – here’s another insider tip – the winning boats are serious enough to decorate both sides.
Aside from their light show, boats are judged on originality, color and the overall amount of decorations. Clark, who spent 30 years with the U.S. Navy as an engineer, goes for the simple look when he decorates his own 31-foot Bayliner – just white lights and a Christmas tree.
The parade of usually about 35 boats begins in the Cooper River, moving up the Charleston Harbor and to the Ashley River near the Charleston Maritime Center.
“It’s a heck of a lot of fun,” Clark said of the parade.
Howells added, “It gets you in the mood for the holiday season.”
In addition to coordinating the judges, the power squadron provides the lead boat for the parade, stations members at turning points along the parade route through the Charleston Harbor and promotes the event among its members and other boating clubs around Charleston. The squadron, the oldest chapter in South Carolina, was launched in 1945. The national organization was founded in 1919 by the New York City Yacht Club.
The Charleston Sail and Power Squadron is a nonprofit fraternal organization that offers vessel safety checks as well as several boating courses for the general public, including coastal navigation, engine maintenance and boating safety. The squadron places a heavy emphasis on safety and education.
“You don’t just buy a boat and go full throttle,” Howells said.
Both Clark and Howells are past commanders of the 140-member organization and continue to teach courses. They consider the squadron the best-kept secret of the boating community. Members get discounts on classes, discounted boat storage at Rivers Edge Marina in North Charleston and – what Clark and Howells said is the biggest benefit – the opportunity to associate with other boat owners.
Members range from doctors and lawyers to teachers and businesspeople. About 40 percent of them have sailboats. Since many members are retired, the squadron is eager to recruit younger people.
“And by younger, we mean we need someone under 60 years old,” Howells joked.
The Holiday Parade of Boats will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. The city of Charleston tree-lighting ceremony is slated for 4:30 p.m. the same day at Marion Square in downtown Charleston.