Shrinking violets don't stand a chance in Clear Lake's annual Yachty Gras Grand Night Parade, billed as “America's largest Mardi Gras boat parade.” Sure, judging is based on all sorts of factors – theme, music, lighting, creativity and costumes – but it's the enthusiasm that will take you over the top for the win.
It was the hula-hoopin', umbrella-twirling krewe of Cajun Seadation that snagged Best of Show last year, while the dancing jesters of Palagic Soul earned top honors in the power category.
Discipline and protocol garnered second place for the Sea Scout Ship Triton in the sail division last year. Standing at attention in their dress whites, their shipshape formation and unified salute commanded respect. But they were pushed out of the top spot by those disco-dancing, glitter-garbed revelers on board the Halcyon Daze.
What we can't figure out is, “Who's having the most fun?” The landlubbers on shore trying to catch the beads, or the krewes making as much noise as possible each time they pass the parade judges at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on the Kemah Boardwalk.
Boats of all sizes participate – all it takes is proper insurance and an appropriately silenced exhaust system – which means we've seen everything from 100-footers to one brave soul in a rowboat. “It was really funny because he had a little lantern that was like a candle, and he just rode along and stayed off to the side,” says Maurine Howard, Ph.D., executive director of the Yachty Gras Foundation.
She says the boats line up in front of the Watergate Marina, then travel down Clear Creek Channel, past Clear Lake Shores, along the Kemah Boardwalk and then circle back to Galveston Bay. “They keep doing that route and they do three to four passes. It takes quite a while to do that many boats,” says Dr. Howard.
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Yachty Gras extends invitations to the mayors of Houston, Galveston and surrounding areas as arbiters of originality and good taste. “All around the lake, every city, La Porte, Baytown, Pearland, every city's mayor is invited to be a judge," says Howard.
And whoever started that rumor about “no beads” needs to walk the plank. Howard assures us that the skippers are out buying beads in bulk, and that people are already standing in line to catch them. They're in the process of sourcing vendors and, come next year, they'll be introducing biodegradable beads.
The Yachty Gras Grand Night Parade begins February 18 at 7 p.m. along the Seabrook Channel and the Kemah Boardwalk in Clear Lake. For information, visit yachtygras.com. Free to watch.