Midway through a description of the Bahia Yacht Club's lavish entry in the Channel Islands Harbor Parade of Lights, Archie Robinson caught himself.
After all, four other yacht clubs were plotting to take away the title Bahia won in last year's parade. They might become privy to the plans of a six-member decorating committee to load Robinson's 40-foot Spindrift motor cruiser with a partridge in a pear tree, ladies dancing, drummers drumming, a lord a-leaping, golden rings and a revolving Christmas tree circled by a train and reindeer.
"We don't want to tip our hand," Robinson explained Monday.
But he quickly relented.
Even if competitors were to get wind of Bahia's interpretation of the parade's theme--"The Twelve Days of Christmas"--it was too late to pirate the vision. Bragging was safe, Robinson concluded.
If the time for elaborate caution is past, the time for elaborate pageantry has arrived.
'Tis the season to deck the hulls, as Ventura County's two harbors gear up for parades of boats strung in Christmas lights with bows (and sterns) of holly, garlands and holiday trappings ranging from knickknacks to full-blown extravaganzas.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, a neon Santa Claus suspended from a helicopter will fly over the Channel Islands Harbor, kicking off the Oxnard procession of vessels. The procession will circle twice, from the Channel Islands Boulevard Bridge south to the Silver Strand area and north to Victoria Avenue.
The following weekend, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer will lead the Ventura parade from the bow of a trawler. The Ventura parade, which begins at 6 p.m. Dec. 19, will circle twice from the Pierpont Basin area near the Ventura Keys south toward the Ventura Harbor Village.
At the Channel Islands Harbor, where Saturday's event is expected to draw at least 30,000 visitors, boaters representing yacht clubs take their decorations particularly seriously, said Bob Carter, executive director of the Channel Islands Harbor Assn.
Participants put only the vaguest of descriptions on entry blanks to protect against design leaks, Carter said.
"They're very protective," he said. "They don't want to give away their secrets. This is very competitive."
Bahia's crew, for instance, visited a library to pin down period attire for an English lord, said Robinson, 60, a retired insurance company executive from Tarzana. As a lord a-leaping, Bahia member Ed Mundy will wear a puffy-sleeved jacket and tights in a costume of "around 1792"--roughly the year "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written.
The Channel Islands Yacht Club plans to wrap 250 feet of outdoor Christmas lights around a 40-foot Christmas tree that has been run up the main mast of the Auntie-O, a 42-foot Islander ketch. Three floodlights will illuminate watercolors depicting the 12 days of Christmas while a public-address system blares a recorded version of the carol.
"We wanted to have the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," a member joked, "but we couldn't get them all on board."
The Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club, stung by a third-place ranking last year, has deployed six subcommittees to set up mechanical figures representing all 12 days of Christmas on the 60-foot Junior Executive.
"Our display is overkill," admitted Herb Huston, 77, a retired photographic engineer who heads the club's construction subcommittee. "But we'd like to be better than anyone else. It's like with a football team. We're anxious to get the title."
At the Ventura Harbor, the parade is decidely more low-key, said Robert (Flash) Wheeler, 50, a sales manager for a real estate title insurance company who has participated every year the event has been held.
The Ventura event attracts about half the crowd of the Oxnard one, according to the Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau, and usually does not include more than 35 boats.
One of the harbor's two yacht clubs--Ventura Yacht Club--hasn't had an entry in three years, effectively ruling out heated club competition, he said. And individual entrants appear to be as relaxed.
Every year since 1973, for instance, Wheeler has dusted off the same four plastic reindeer and suspended them from the bow of his 44-foot trawler to give the appearance that "they're actually pulling the fly bridge of the boat." Then, with Rudolph's nose lighting the way, the floating parade proceeds.
"They're movie producers over there," Wheeler said of the Oxnard folk. "They're able to come up with some sophisticated stuff. We're a little different. . . . We do it for the fun. Personally, I could care less whether I win."
Both events began on much smaller scales, as gimmicks to promote the respective harbors.
Only 11 or 12 boats participated in the first parade of lights 22 years ago, said Ed Shilbrack, Channel Islands Marina dock master, who retires this year after 25 years of service. Decorations in those early years were decidedly low-tech. Participants "would have streamers and some Christmas tree lights up their
masts," he said.