There's no better place to celebrate the holidays than in the Caribbean. Just power or sail to virtually any island and you'll find festivities galore, including many with a nautical theme such as lighted boat parades, holiday racing, dockside parties and New Year's revelry.
Lighted Boat Parades
Deck your decks with lights, ornaments and even Christmas trees and take part in a Lighted Boat Parade.
San Juan Bay will serve as a grand stage for the Christmas Boat Parade, hosted by Club Nautico de San Juan in Puerto Rico on December 11. More than 30 vessels are expected to take part, starting at 6pm. The parade will launch in Old San Juan, where spectators can watch the fleet, and pass by the cruise ship docks and the Cataño boardwalk. "We want to attract international boats sailing through the Caribbean during the holidays," says commodore Ralph 'Agie' Vincente.
St. Croix's annual boat parade will set sail on December 11, at 6pm in Christiansted Harbor. Afterwards, there's a visit by Santa on the boardwalk, several shops and restaurants stay open late, and a spectacular fireworks display follows.
On the same day, you can also parade your vessel at the Bitter End Yacht Club (BEYC), on Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands. "We expect upwards of 30 boats this year, many of them crewed and bareboat charter boats, but local boats too. Since many skippers get a little nervous about maneuvering at dusk, we added a 'moored category' a couple years back for those that just want to hang out on a mooring ball or on the docks, but still want to get into the holiday spirit," says John Glynn, BEYC's vice president of sales.
The Virgin Islands Charteryacht League will host its lighted boat parade in Charlotte Amalie harbor on December 17.
Some see the holidays as a time for revelry, others for racing. On December 18, the Royal British Virgin Islands Yacht Club will host its Commodore's Cup, complete with both long and short courses, followed by the annual Commodore's Christmas Dinner. "Non-members are welcome to race and attend the dinner," says Guy Phoenix, captain of sailing. "Visiting yachtsmen to the BVI receive automatic temporary membership for up to one month."
Junior sailors will rule on December 19, when the Dominica Yacht Club will host it's first-ever Optimist Regatta. The event will take place from 9am to 4pm in Portsmouth.
Meanwhile, the Antigua Yacht Club will run its High Tide Series from December 19-26, followed by its Nelson's Pursuit Race on New Year's Eve.
There's also the New Year's Eve Regatta, a just-for-fun race around the island open to sailboats of all sizes and visitors and locals alike, on St. Barths.
Warm up to the holidays at the St. Maarten Yacht Club's Christmas Party set for December 12. Also in the run-up to the big day, Marina ZarPar in the Dominican Republic usually hosts a free party once every two weeks for cruisers who are in the marina. "The Christmas party is consistent with the free cruiser parties," says Frank Virgintino, who wrote the Dominican Republic Cruising Guide, "however, it is larger and sometimes has a live band that plays merengue and bachata music."
This year's new and improved ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) Village at IGY Rodney Bay Marina, in St. Lucia, which will be opened December 13 to 17, offers a hugely festive atmosphere. There will be crafts people available for last minute presents, specialty foods, a beer garden, floating entertainment such as live music, and fun for the kids including face painting, wash-off tattoos and bouncing castles.
On Christmas Day, there will be a raft-up at Christmas Cove off Great St. James Island and across from the St. Thomas Yacht Club where all are welcome. "It's the best way in the world to celebrate Christmas," says manager, Bill Canfield.
In Antigua, head to Nelson's Dockyard for the Charity Champagne Christmas Party. Hundreds of people dress up in red and white and gather to enjoy live soca and calypso music and a champagne bar. The party starts around midday and finishes when the last man falls.
Ring in the New Year
Foxy's Tamarind Bar in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke, is a perennial place to usher in the New Year. But, it isn't the only place to party. There's music and dancing on the dock and fireworks at midnight in Gustavia, St. Barths. The whole bay lights up with St. Lucia's biggest firework display at Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. In Antigua, the party and fireworks takes place at Fort Berkley.
"Finally," says Nicola Redway of the Bequia Sailing Club, "there is a fabulous 15-minute firework display at midnight on New Year's Eve in Bequia that has become a 'don't miss' for boats from miles around. The harbor at Admiralty Bay is almost as full on New Year's Eve as it is at regatta time!"
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.