LAKE WYLIE -- For George Medler, Saturday's annual holiday boat parade is more than just a floating, incandescent spectacle. It's an annual indication of yet another Christmas arrived.
"We sort of get cranked up about this," Medler said. "To me, this is the start of the Christmas season. I don't like Christmas to start in October."
Medler takes the signature Lake Wylie event seriously.
"The decorating committee will be here in a minute," Medler said Wednesday, waiting patiently atop his 36-foot Wellcraft docked at Catawba Yacht Club.
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The "committee" is made up of Medler's daughter Jane, friend Holly Graber and his boat's namesake, granddaughter Lindsay. Between trips to the store for lights, the group spent an afternoon adorning Miss Lindsay III with two illuminated trees on the bow, a blow up Santa, strands of icicle lights, candy canes, reindeer and an inflatable snowman that makes the boat larger than its dock.
"We go through this every year," Medler said.
What separates his boat from the darkened night is the 18-foot blue cross on the bow. That decoration goes up first, followed by other arrangements such as large icicles in the cabin.
"We have to have those inside so you can bash your head into them," Medler said. "They're very nice."
Medler and his committee should have decorating down to an art, or at least a science. When he began decorating his boat for the annual parade, Lindsay was 6 years old. This year, Medler said, the high school freshman may bring her boyfriend aboard.
"He's not my boyfriend," replied Lindsay.
What shines through the annual decoration of Medler's vessel is how homelike it is. After all, several of his Catawba Yacht Club neighbors actually live on their boats as permanent residents and Medler might spend a week or more at a time on his boat, often with his granddaughter during the summer. At Christmas, the boat undergoes the same changes any home might.
Jane talks with her father about whether to buy new icicle lights or use the old tangled ones. Lindsay plugs in a tree from below deck and calls out to see if it works. The family reminisces about Christmas parades past, like when they had to redo the reindeer to make them fly toward the lake and not into the boat, or the first year when the lofty decorations caused Miss Lindsay III to hit Buster Boyd Bridge.
"I went back and had to do some surgery," Medler said.
As they begin, the holiday decorations seem more tedious than traditional, more work than wonder.
"Right now it doesn't look like we know what we're doing," Lindsay said.
Yet as dusk falls on the water, the decorations take shape, creating a glowing reflection atop the lake.
On Saturday, 13 people will celebrate Christmas atop Miss Lindsay III. Like any family gathering for the holidays, Medler will think of loved ones not there,and also will be thankful for everyone joining him.
"We're doing this to start the Christmas season," Medler said. "It's one more way to get all the people together."
The boat parade, sponsored every year by the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce, typically features about 20 entries depending on weather. In this 20th year of the parade, event organizers are hoping for a strong showing since the parade had to be cancelled last year because of the drought.
WANT TO GO?
The 2008 Lights on the Lake Holiday Boat Parade begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at T-Bones on the Lake. The boats will travel across the lake to RiverPointe, then to Copperhead Island before circling back toward the marinas on the west side and going under Buster Boyd Bridge. It proceeds to Camp Thunderbird and the entrance to River Hills Marina before circling back by the Red Fez Club. Registration by today costs $20, or late or day-of registration costs $25. For more information, call 803-831-2827.