There is an aroma carried on the evening air as one boards the C'est La Vie. It's salt and sunshine, rain and wind and varnish and brass polish. It is pure intoxication to anyone who has ever been in love with a boat. The C'est La Vie is the love of Bill Lusk and his English-born wife, Ann.
The boat was built in 1931 in a Seattle boatyard for the U.S. Navy as a pursuit vessel to catch rumrunners. She was 70 feet long, and so was called a six-bitter. She carried a 1-pound cannon on her bow. After World War II, she was sold to an owner who added 8 feet to her stern and topped her off with a flying bridge.
That good boat smell means that the vessel has taken the tall waves head on, ridden down the hills, lifted up her bow, shaken her head and sailed on into the weather.
I was one of the lucky people on board the C'est La Vie last Sunday night for the Newport Harbor Christmas Boat Parade. Bill Lusk is a big, hospitable, hard-working man who has acted as commodore of the parade. His vessel has been the lead boat for 14 years.
The Newport Harbor parade started about 80 years ago, making it the oldest lighted-boat procession on the West Coast. It was started by John Scarpa, an Italian gondolier, and Joseph Beek, a Newport-Balboa pioneer developer. In the first parade there were nine small boats, Scarpa leading in his gondola followed by eight canoes decorated with Japanese lanterns. Now the parade displays about 200 boats of every size, all decorated with the holiday efforts of their owners.
The stately procession of lighted boats made two tours around and up and down the channels and around Lido Isle, Balboa Island, down the Balboa Peninsula, Harbor Island and Little Island.
The houses on the shore were as elaborately decorated as the boats, and every bulkhead and dock was filled with people calling, "Merry Christmas." The houses were festooned with lights. Reindeer, sleighs, Santa Clauses and the ubiquitous Snoopy were on house after house. Some people who live in a house with a slanting roof had built an immense snowman in a top hat out of lights.
The same Christmas folk figures embellished the boats. One sailboat was entirely outlined in red, from bowsprit to transom and up the mast and around the sail. It looked like a floating ruby necklace.
One of the most imaginatively decorated of the boats carried richly colored stained glass windows shaped like tall Gothic arches. One boat towed three dinghies, each one holding a large camel cut from plywood and attended by a camel driver who probably desperately wished he was somewhere else.
Those of us lucky enough to be guests on the C'est La Vie had four-alarm chili, roast beef sandwiches and enchiladas.
To top off the goodies planned by the Lusks, a steward came by with a tray of brownies, truffles and all kinds of pecan, caramel and whipped-cream-topped desserts. You could see the calories hovering over the tray like a cloud. I was sitting by Jim and Mary Roosevelt, and as I reached for a fudge ball dipped in chocolate and rolled in minced almonds, I said, "The Lord will punish me."
"No, He won't," said Jim. "He's extremely understanding at this time of year."
I hope Jim's right.
May this be a wonderful holiday season for you and may all the people who will be working tomorrow have a wonderful day. I wish a joyous season to doctors and to emergency room personnel, to people on the baywatch boat, to head waiters and caterers who will eat their dinners when everyone else is finished, and may someone remember to save some dark meat for those of us who love it.
A cut crystal goblet of ruby port to veterinarians and to firemen; to policemen and border guards, sweaters soft as duck down and warm as toast.
A happy holiday to all of the boat crews who work so hard to catch Christmas in lights and to bring a Christmas sparkle to people looking on.
And may there be warm beds and succulent turkey for those least expecting it.