Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

Lights on the river
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Dec 3, 2012, 14:04

photo by Caitlin Davis Local boaters lit up the James during Saturday’s boat parade.

From the Appomattox to the James, Hopewell’s twin rivers shone on Saturday night as boats adorned with festive lights made their ways past shoreline viewers scattered throughout the city.

The Hopewell Recreation and Parks Holiday Boat Parade ended at Jordan Point Marina, where spectators waited to catch a final glimpse of the lights before the boats went dark.

Justeen Evans and her daughter Alexis Sponaugle ran down the pier at Jordan Point on Saturday night, just as the boats started coming into port. Evans said she rushed to the marina so her daughter could see the lights sparkling on the boats.

“She loves lights and she loves Christmas,” Evans said. “This is also our mommy, daughter time.”

Sponaugle pulled at her mother’s arm and pointed at the boats coming into the marina, including one presided over by the Grinch. The night brought back childhood memories for Evans , even as she made new memories with her own daughter.

“I used to come when I was little with my dad,” Evans said. “I loved it as much as she does.”

This was the ninth year Recreation and Parks has organized the event, but it has been going on for years in different forms.

Marsha Blakely disembarked from a boat belonging to Robert and Nancy Walker, of Colonial Heights, with a smile on her face. She said spending as evening on the water and hearing the cries of “Merry Christmas” from the pier was wonderful.

“I have done this now for four years,” Blakely said. “We have moved away, and we all came back and now get to do this for the first time in years.”

Blakely laughed as shed recalled the moment during the parade when Robert Walker turned the boat in a full circle, prompting cheers from the audience. She said that while the evening was memorable, she still wished there were more people in the parade.

“Instead of 12 boats, I wish there were more, more community support and effort,” Blakely said. “I mean come on, ‘Where’s your spirit.’ This thing can be more spectacular, much bigger. We need to get more people participating.”

For Robert Walker, the night was filled with fun, regardless of how many decorated boats sailed from marina to marina.

“As hard as it is to own a boat right now, I am amazed at how many people love the river and love to be out here, no matter what it costs,” Robert Walker said.

Robert’s wife, Nancy Walker, said the evening was near perfect, with clear skies and balmy temperatures.

“I thought it was beautiful weather,” Nancy Walker said. “It turned out to be nice weather and the water was calm.”

She said spirits are always high for the annual river parade.

“The boating community is like a family,” Nancy Walker said. “We have been up and down the coast from North to South and I don’t care what marina you go to, boaters are like family. There will be somebody there to help you, no matter what you need.”

That family spirit first set light to the boats years ago, as the annual holiday parade originated from the Hopewell Yacht Club in 1986.

Robert Walker said the idea started with just a few boaters before it took off with a larger group. He joined the procession in 1987 and has participated in every parade since.

“I hate cold weather, but I am a boater,” Robert said. “I have always said any day on a boat is a good day.”  

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