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Owner Vows Ship Will Be Dressed to Keel

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Five years ago, Geoff Landon stopped decorating his Christmas tree and started decorating his boat instead.

Since then, Landon has given up on the tree altogether. Now he spends thousands of dollars and thousands of hours stringing lights, building sets, and painting scenery for his 42-foot powerboat, Unpretentious Too.

Last year, Landon and his friends built a 30-foot-high mountain out of cheesecloth, paste and flour. Then, using a computer to control thousands of lights, they created a simulated waterfall flowing down the face of the mountain. They added a 25-foot-tall inflatable Grinch and assorted other balloon figures, and towed a huge platform that extended the boat’s length to a whopping 92 feet.

All that was enough to beat out nearly 200 competitors and earn Landon the sweepstakes award in the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. And this year, Landon is back. Although he will not reveal exactly what he and his friends are creating for the 83rd annual parade, which runs Dec. 17 through 23, Landon promises that spectators won’t be disappointed.

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“We actually came up with the idea for this year’s theme last December,” he says. “And in July and August, we started getting things down on paper, figuring our lengths and widths.”

Landon, who lives in Newport Beach and owns a company called Motivational Fulfillment and Packaging Services in the city of Commerce, is proud of the fact that he hires no professional decorators to help him. Help comes from such friends as Todd Cowley, who runs a boat service business in Newport Beach.

“Geoff dragged me into it,” says Cowley, who describes his involvement as a labor of love. “My family has always loved Christmas. And I love seeing the expression on people’s faces when they see us go by.”

Landon, Cowley and other volunteers work on the project in the 54,000-square-foot building that houses Landon’s business.

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“Last year’s (creation) was very difficult,” Landon says. “This year’s is going to be interesting, but so far last year’s was the most difficult we’ve done. We had to build a whole platform over the top of the boat. This year we are able to use most of that. The display this year is in excess of 40 feet long. I am not going to tell you exactly what it is, but it is about 18 feet tall, and it will have special effects, both sound as well as lighting.”

When last year’s display was finished, Landon says, it took five trucks to cart everything down to Newport Beach. “Then we had to go over to one of the shipyards and use a crane to load it,” he says.

Although Landon prefers not to reveal how much his extravagant parade decorations cost, he did say that just one balloon figure can run $2,000. “I don’t think the money that goes into it is the point,” he says. “Material-wise it is not that much, but how much do you value your time?”

To create the desired effect in this year’s parade, Landon says, he plans to use about 4,500 lights and has already arranged to rent an extra generator to power them. He uses on-board computers to create the dazzling effects such as last year’s waterfall.

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The result, according to Landon, will be worthy of a boat parade that has become what he calls “one of the greatest spectacles that Southern California has.” Landon believes the parade is a special treat for kids and is doing his best to make sure that more children get to see it. That’s why he started “Kids’ Night” two years ago and invited 500 children from Orangewood Children’s Home, Children’s Hospital of Orange County and various other organizations down to watch.

“Everybody gets to see this parade who lives in Newport,” he says, “but there was a whole group of people we thought were left out--the kids.”

So, Landon began soliciting donations from boat owners to help buy out the 500 seats in the Jaycees’ grandstand viewing area for one night. Then he got a friend to donate money for buses to transport the children to Newport Beach.

“The whole thing was all Geoff’s idea,” says Carol Spaeth, Landon’s girlfriend and the person in charge of putting “Kids’ Night” together. “That first year we raised about $800 or $900. Geoff paid for all the rest and even bought T-shirts for the kids.”

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This year, Spaeth says, Newport Beach restaurants are being asked to provide T-shirts for “Kids’ Night,” which is being held on Dec. 18, and a caterer is donating snacks and soft drinks. “We still need to raise $2,500 (to pay for the 500 seats). We hope that will come from the boat owners, and Geoff will pick up the rest,” she says.

In addition to organizing “Kids’ Night,” Spaeth, who works for a motorcycle apparel firm in Newport Beach, also helps decorate the Unpretentious Too. “It is tons and tons of work,” she says. “And every year I swear I hate December, but when you’re done and you’re out there, it does something to you. Especially on ‘Kids’ Night.’ I get out there and I hear all the cheering and I have tears in my eyes.”

Landon estimates that he and his friends spent at least 500 hours working on last year’s parade. “But I tell everybody, ‘This is my Christmas,’ ” he says. “Besides, it is fun to do.”

He pauses, then adds with a laugh, “I don’t know whether I’m crazy or creative.”

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Parade Watch. The 83rd Annual Newport Beach Boat Parade, sponsored by the Newport Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce, will run for seven nights, Dec. 17- 23. The procession, which is expected to include about 200 boats, ranging from canoes to luxury yachts, begins at 6:30 p.m. just off Collins Island in Newport Harbor.

“This year we hope boat and waterfront property owners will challenge each other to produce the most outstanding display of lights ever,” says Ralph Rodheim, parade chairman.

A grandstand viewing area, sponsored by the Jaycees, will be set up on the Boy Scouts of America, Sea Base, 1931 W. Coast Highway in Newport Beach. Parking will be available at the Newport Dunes, 1131 Back Bay Drive. Shuttle service will be provided beginning at 5:30 p.m. each evening.

Tickets are available at Ticketmaster by calling (714) 740-2000 or by mail by writing the Jaycees at P.O. Box 8956, Newport Beach, CA. 92660. Prices are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for children under 12.

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The parade may also be viewed along the perimeter of Balboa Island and from waterfront restaurants in Newport Beach. For parade information call the Chamber of Commerce at (714) 729-4400.

More Parades. About 35 to 40 boats are expected to take part in the Huntington Harbour Boat Parade Dec. 7 and 8 in Huntington Harbour. The two-day parade is a kickoff event for the Cruise of Lights, a nine-day extravaganza offering harbor tours to view decorated homes.

This year the parade will include an actual wedding as Bob Grant, a Villa Park boat dealer, ties the knot with Tricia Bradley aboard Grant’s 50-foot yacht, Awesome. “We wanted to have the ceremony as we go through the parade,” says Grant, who decorated his boat along a “December Bride” theme.

Both the parade and harbor tours are sponsored by the Huntington Harbour Philharmonic Committee. The parade will start at 5:15 p.m. both evenings in the main channel.

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The Cruise of Lights, which runs for 9 nights, Dec. 13-21, offers nightly harbor tours so that passengers may view the thousands of holiday lights lining the shore. Tour boats depart nightly at 5:30, 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $8.50 for adults and $5 for children two through 12. For ticket information call (714) 840-7542.

And Still More. Dana Point Harbor will hold its Christmas Boat Parade Friday and Saturday, Dec. 13 and Dec. 14, from 7 to 9 p.m. This year’s theme is “I Remember Santa Claus.” The event is sponsored by the Dana Wharf Sportfishing in cooperation with the County of Orange, Dana Point Harbor Assn. and the Dana Point Christmas Festival. There is no entry fee and entry forms are available at Dana Wharf Sportfishing, 34675 Golden Lantern, Dana Point. Phone (714) 496-5794.

Sailing Club. The 10-month-old Balboa Sailing Assn., which offers a variety of sailing events for veterans and novices, is seeking to expand its membership, according to club president Curt Palmer.

Club events include day and weekend sailing trips, lobster bakes on the beach, ocean yacht racing clinics and regattas, Catalina cruises, house parties and raft ups. Beginning in January the club will meet on the second and fourth Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. at the American Legion Yacht Club, 215 15th St. in Newport Beach. For information call (714) 840-3957.

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