By Sean Horgan
---- — Much of the buzz for Labor Day weekend has centered on the 29th Gloucester Schooner Festival, with its nearly two dozen schooners, the Mayor’s Race and a myriad of other events.
But there is another Gloucester tradition that shouldn’t be swamped by the wake of the majestic schooners. The tradition of the Boat Parade of Lights may not be as long as that of the Schooner Festival, but that’s not to say it isn’t as proud.
“This is a Gloucester tradition that’s worth keeping,” said Tobin Dominick, owner and operator of Cape Ann’s Marina Resort on the Annisquam River and the organizer of Saturday’s parade. “It really signals the end of the summer season and takes in so much of the city.”
Dominick should know. It was her late father who started the parade in the early 1990s as an event celebrating the end of the boating season.
The parade features a winding flotilla of decorated boats — and crews — steaming with their running lights on in the growing darkness.
As the years have gone on, the parade has drawn fewer and fewer boats. Last year’s parade featured only about 20 boats and that is a trend Dominick hopes to reverse, starting with Saturday night’s edition of the parade.
The parade forms just before sunset at Jones Creek on the northern end of the Annisquam River, where those who haven’t pre-registered their boat — and Dominick strongly urges boat owners to pre-register at http://bit.ly/1dUMFQu for free.
“They’ll check in, get a number for the side of the boat and then we have to get everybody in line,” she said. “That can take some time. We usually get underway about 7:30.”
The parade route takes the flotilla down the Annisquam, usually with an escort from the Coast Guard and Gloucester Harbormaster, through the Cut Bridge and into Gloucester Harbor where the judge’s boat, donated by Cape Ann Whale Watch, will sit near the Man at the Wheel statue.
The boats then motor into the Inner Harbor, offering the patrons of many of the city’s waterside restaurants a free twilight nautical floor show before heading into Smith Cove and back into the harbor.
“We usually get back into the harbor just before the fireworks start,” Dominick said. “And that’s where it ends.”
Saturday’s parade will be a fitting end to a wholly nautical day around America’s oldest seaport, with the Schooner Festival events that include the Working Waterfront Walking Tour starting at 10 a.m. at the Fisherman’s Memorial; the day-long Maritime Gloucester Heritage Day; an open house at the Coast Guard Station on the Harbor Loop from noon until 4 p.m.; the premier rollout of the Public Lobster Bake from 4 to 7 p.m.; the Concert on the Boulevard at 7 p.m. featuring “Full Circle”; and the fireworks display over Gloucester Harbor beginning around 9:15 p.m.
And of course, there will be the ever-present natural spectacle of the almost two dozen schooners as they serve as a backdrop to all the day’s events.
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT