Set Sail for the James 

click to enlarge feat46_parade_boats_200.jpg

It's said that 20 years ago, a Henrico County harbor master decorated his ship with Christmas lights and took a stately jaunt along the James, a trip that provoked much discussion and community laughter. The next year others joined him and the next year, still more. In 1993 the James River Advisory Council along with the Henrico County Department of Recreation and Parks made this ad hoc water parade an official holiday cruise. And on Dec. 12 a small armada of decorated boats once again will traverse Richmond's waterways for the James River Parade of Lights.

During the event, which normally takes two to three hours, about 20 boats will sparkle with holiday lights and be steered down the James. This shimmering parade will begin just south of Richmond, pass Osborne Landing and Henricus Park, and finish at the Interstate 295 bridge. An awards show for the best decorated boats follows at the Richmond Yacht Club.

Chris Messenger, the parade's chairman, says the parade usually draws 6,000 spectators or more. Before the 2009 installment begins, a cookout will take place on Libby Hill and there will be a countdown to the boat lightings at 5:45 p.m. “It's a lot of fun,” three-year parade veteran Brian Ostergren says. A former award-winner, Ostergren will spend the parade aboard his 38-foot Bayliner, the M.T. Pockets, he says: “You get a great vantage point.” — Rich Griset

The 2009 James River Parade of Lights is Dec. 12 at 5:45 p.m., and starts at Osborne Park and Boat Landing in Henrico County. For information call 748-1567 or visit

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