Painting with lights

By Tuesday morning, Peter Barbour had installed Snoopy's dog house, Charlie Brown's Christmas tree and Linus' blue blanket — all on his 11-foot dinghy.

A long to-do list yet remained: Put in place Charlie Brown. Find fluorescent lights. Download music.

This decorating of his craft, D25, named for Dec. 25, is an annual labor of love for Barbour, who has been preparing for his 10th year of participation in the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade.

The event, which starts Wednesday, marks a way to give back to the community, he says.

Awards may not be the primary goal, and yet — in a feat of duct tape, glue and tie wraps — Barbour has won a prize every year in categories like Humor and Originality and Animation and Special Effects.

Now he has his sights set on yet another honor, one that he has yet to win.

This year, the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the parade, will award separate sweepstakes prizes to both commercial and non-commercial boats, making it possible for vessels like Barbour's to receive the honor without competing against the reigning — and much larger — champion.

An Ocean Alexander 80-foot yacht known as the Last Hurrah has taken home that top prize for four of the past five years. The Meadows family owns the boat and an electrical contracting company that engineered the lighting and power systems for Disney's California Adventure and the Honda Center.

With such credentials, the Meadowses have had no option but to go all out, said family member Cathleen Vick.

They make for stiff competition. This year's decor, the design of which has been in the works for months, includes more than 30,000 Christmas lights, some of which illuminate welded metal pieces shaped as music notes, fit for the parade's Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree theme.

Installed by way of a 50-ton crane, a 22-foot tall tree also stands on top of the yacht, as does Santa's Rockin' Soda Shop, which will change color throughout the show.

"If we came out and did a crappy job, people would look at us askance," Vick said.

Regardless of size, the boats must remain stable and upright, have a design that flows and keep intact their decorations while in transit.

And every boat, big or small, has its secret weapon. Ron Cram builds an elevated platform on his 19-foot boat, where an extra level of decorations can be displayed. He also designs something to pull behind it.

Scott Schubert, who spent Tuesday morning hanging icicle lights and fastening bows, finds that his daughters and their friends always steal the show by performing practiced dance numbers throughout the night.

Barbour, meanwhile, thinks of his boat as an avenue to tell a story, albeit a short one.

What he professed to be a "blob" of lights during the day, each poked through a net of black plastic chicken wire attached to the mast, will depict the shape of a drooping Christmas tree when programmed and lit at night.

"If you have an idea of what you want to draw, you use it as a canvas and you use the lights as paint," said Barbour, who studied physics, of the chicken wire method.

Juxtaposed near the sad tree, a Snoopy cutout will stand next to his bright red house, where a winning blue prize ribbon, perhaps a subtle hint to the parade judges, has been hung.

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