Above: David Salling won the People’s Choice award for his entry, “Rudolph the Redtail Stingray.” Top; Skip Wilson won the Best in Show award for his entry, “North Pole Fair.” Photos by Allison Potter.
As more than 300 anxious children and their parents awaited the lighting of the Wrightsville Beach Christmas tree and the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus in front of town hall on Friday, Nov. 23, the anticipation was building with each frosty breath. At 5:45 p.m. the switch flipped and the giant tree was alight with multicolored lights while police sirens wailed, children cheered, and Santa and Mrs. Claus were escorted to the abbreviated lifeguard tower next to the tree to receive the wish lists. The Christmas season officially began in Wrightsville Beach with the kick off of the 29th annual North Carolina Holiday Flotilla weekend.
Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive at Wrightsville Beach Park to hear Christmas wishes on Friday, Nov. 23, during the annual tree lighting ceremony and visit with Santa.
Later that Friday, while some families waited for Santa, others slipped into sharp suit jackets and slinky cocktail dresses to mingle at the Anchors Away Launch Party at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort.
At 8 p.m., “Raleigh’s premiere party band,” BrickHouse, played hits from across generations in the hotel ballroom bringing children and adults up out of their seats and onto the dance floor.
Day in the Park
The festivities continued on Saturday, Nov. 24, when 100 unique vendors gathered for the Festival in the Park.
For Kathryn Ryan and Joe Hogan of Sweet Goobers, the setting was perfect for sharing sugarcoated roasted North Carolina peanuts with both new customers and ones who remembered them from last year’s festival.
“It’s just really fun to come out here and network,” Hogan said. “It has been a really good crowd and the weather is awesome.”
Although some vendors experienced success at the festival, some like Chuck Carmack of Chuck Carmack Photography said he thought the crowds were larger last year and alluded to the closure of two lanes on the Heide Trask Drawbridge as the cause.
Despite varied opinions from vendors who echoed the claims of Hogan and Carmack, the festival served as a warm up for the weekend’s main attraction — the parade of lighted boats and fireworks show concluding flotilla weekend.
As predicted, traffic backed up on Eastwood Road and Wrightsville Avenue to Military Cutoff Road.
However, Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said the plan the town and the North Carolina Department of Transportation implemented of opening both lanes to traffic leaving the beach from 7-9:30 p.m. worked well.
“Once people started to leave, it flowed great,” House said. “I know I left before the fireworks ended and I was able to drive right off the beach.”
Boats on parade
With about nine to 11 new participants this year, 20 boats were underway at 6 p.m., passing people lined along the parade route, including the Banks Channel Bridge and the Blockade Runner Beach Resort, location of the official judges’ tent.
After about eight years competing with his own boat and taking home multiple awards, Eric Eberhardt, a second-year parade judge, said he took into account how creative participants were with the boat they had and theme they chose.
“It depends on the size of the boat. The big boats have room to put lots of lights on, where some of the small boats don’t have the room,” he said. “I also take into account the music, the theme and how well they go together, as well as the dress for best of costumes.”
Eberhardt also said he could appreciate the time and effort participants and their friends and family put into the floating spectacles.
“After one flotilla, I would already know what I was going to do the next year,” he said. “So, about February was when I would start working on my flotilla.”
People’s Choice and Best in Show
Boat No. 1, “Rudolph the Redtail Stingray” won the People’s Choice award and featured Santa gliding past atop a blue stingray. Each colorful boat proceeded with a unique color scheme and holiday theme, filled with passengers who danced or played a role on board.
Wrightsville Beach residents Lori and Craig Foosaner have been coming to the flotilla for three years and said they could tell Captain David Salling made improvements this year.
“We saw one similar to this two years ago,” Lori said. “I think he got it better coordinated with the lights this year.”
The couple also said they were looking for originality, and would text their votes for People’s Choice accordingly. Their pick for the evening was boat No. 7, which was covered from bow to stern with lights, including a fireworks display and giant Charlie the Tuna Fish mounted in back.
“Now that’s original,” Craig said.
Captain Skip Wilson, of Raleigh, was named Best in Show for his “North Pole Fair” boat after one-and-a-half months of hard work and about $3,000 in supplies put into the endeavor.
Wilson said he has been participating in the parade since 1990 and has won eight times. “They’re all fun,” Wilson said. “The biggest problem is just coming up with something new every year, bigger and better.”
This year’s theme came from the North Carolina State Fair, held in October. His wife, Melanie, helped with the labor.
“To get the lights on that Ferris wheel and the swing in front, it was an electrical challenge to say the least,” Wilson said.
Fireworks light up Banks Channel and bring the 2012 N.C. Holiday Flotilla to a close. photo by Allison Potter.