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Overpowering Sight : 200 Illuminated Boats Kick Off Newport Christmas Parade

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Electricity was in the air.

That’s not just a turn of phrase. It’s true. And it came in a full-color spectrum, floating over the water.

It was the 83rd annual Newport Harbor Christmas Boat Parade.

On the first night of the weeklong extravaganza Tuesday, more than 200 boats, decorated with a range of lighted displays, joined in the graceful procession through the harbor channels, strutting their twinkly stuff for tens of thousands of onlookers.

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People gathered in grandstands and parking lots, perched on tony balconies or enjoyed prime viewing from coveted waterfront restaurant tables, booked as much as a year in advance. They admired boats as tiny as 15 feet, with only a modest--but sincere--string or two of lights, and 135-foot yachts with flashy decorations 30 feet high, displays that reportedly cost as much as $20,000.

“I think it’s really neat, all the lights and everything,” said Jodi LaPointe, 12, of Huntington Beach, rubbing her hands together in the cool night air.

“It’s pretty,” agreed her friend, Liz Pacelli, 12, of Garden Grove. “The lights are amazing. How do they do that, getting them so high up there?”

Many spectators in the grandstand at the Boy Scout Sea Base agreed that their favorite entry was a large yacht topped by an enormous multicolored balloon, illuminated from the inside. A big white bear leaned against the balloon on one side, and on the other a jolly little Santa perched on the bow, his arms outstretched.

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The displays came in all shapes, sizes and hues. Another favorite was a vessel featuring a lighted figure of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas riding in a steam-spouting car with spokes of flashing blue, red and green. The whole works was magically “pushed” by an enormous Abominable Snowman, and it blared a series of Christmas melodies.

The Crystal, the biggest private yacht in the parade at 120 feet, layered horizontal rows of red and green lights on its three decks. An especially dramatic entry was a yacht with twinkling white stars and green pine trees suspended, seemingly in mid-air, from its mast.

For some boats, understated simplicity ruled the day. One cruised silently by, with two strings of white lights suspended from the back in the shape of angel wings. One little vessel decked itself out all in blue lights, casting a cool reflection into the ripply water.

Many of the boats, which compete for prizes in various categories, seemed to be throwing little parties of their own on board. On the larger vessels, passengers could be seen raising champagne glasses and hovering over tables of food. On the smaller ones, well, there was lots of good cheer.

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“Happy New Year!” somebody yelled from shore to a passing boat.

Silence.

“I can’t hear you!” the shouter yelled again. “You’re not drinking enough champagne!”

This drew laughter and whoops, then several bellows of: “Merry Christmas!”

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