Thousands of us who live in the Marina and thousands more from miles around come to the Marina to see the annual boat parade in Marina del Rey. But very few remember the first boat parade in Marina del Rey. When that first boat parade circled the Marina’s main basin in 1963 there were approximately 100 boats in the Marina and almost no buildings. Twenty of the hundred boats entered the parade.
Margie and Steve Bragg were among the first hundred Marina del Rey Boat owners who formed Pioneer Skippers Boat Owners Association. They and the other charter members decided to have a boat parade “because the harbor had nothing at the time,” Margie remembered. “We thought it was a good idea, and the county was delighted. Our boat parade would advertise the Marina when nobody wanted to come here.
“The Marina had just opened and had no breakwater, no nothing except a few docks. And very few boat owners.” “In those days, the surge was so strong that it was frightening,” Margie remembered, referring to the waves of water that would come roaring into the unprotected Marina del Rey harbor, damaging berthed boats. “There were times when it threw boats up on the docks — or threw the docks up in the air and down on to the boats. Sometimes we’d all grab axes we kept handy to cut the docklines quickly, before our boats were beaten under the docks. Then we’d all anchor out in the middle till it clamed down. We were a very close group and we had dinners ashore and sometimes dinner dances at our home.”
At that time, the Braggs lived ashore and had just finished building a 47-foot trimaran that Steve designed. The Tres Leis (Three Leis) was built in their own shop, with professional help from Arthur Piver, multihull designer, since lost at sea. “Our trimaran was ideal for a Christmas parade float – a 47-by-24-foot platform. All of us got excited about a boat parade, regardless of the size boat.”
“In the beginning, we walked the docks to get parade entries. We asked for a two-dollar donation. I remember talking to a man who wanted to enter but he didn’t have any money and I was so anxious to see his boat in the parade that I offered him the $2 entry fee.”
“What fun it was! Everyone chipped in — and worked!” Donations from merchants and hard work by boat owners put the boat parades together. “For the first few years,” Margie says, “each parade might have cost us $50 or $60. In fact, it may have been less. Everything but printing the entry form was done by donation, and the printer gave us a nice low price on the entry forms.”
“There was only one restaurant open in the Marina when we had the first boat parade. The Pieces O’ Eight was at the end of a little dirt road. It’s hard to believe now, but everyone in the Marina came — and there was room inside for all of us.”
FLOATING CHRISTMAS TREE:
“Twice we had a Christmas tree on a raft out in the middle of the main basin, with a generator to light it,” Margie recalled. “We kept it there throughout the holiday season. John Erskine and my husband, Steve, took turns rowing out every night with gasoline to keep the lights burning” The trees were mammoth and flocked. They were donated by a local bank. But it was expensive, because Pioneer Skippers had to carry insurance on it, in case some boat clobbered it. “We would bring a raft up to the end of a basin and nail a stand to it. Then the tree went over the fence, down to the raft and was stayed on all four corners. It was beautiful.”
The Braggs didn’t enter the first boat parade, won by Pez Espada IV, but the following year “my husband knew a man who made the Paul Bunyan statues you see in service stations holding tires on one out-stretched arm. “We borrowed a Paul Bunyan. It took nine men to carry Paul to the dock. We had to winch the statue aboard. We wrapped him to the stays.” “At that time, we lived aboard, and I thought he was going to join us for breakfast every morning. They dressed him in crepe paper and cotton to be Santa Claus. My husband climbed a tall ladder and painted red spots on his cheeks, and gave him twinkly eyes. We made him a white cotton beard and eyebrows. Then it rained. You should have seen our Santa. We started all over again, and when we were finished the second time we built a platform on his outstretched arm.”
“Our children and their friends wrapped empty boxes and covered them with ribbons. They dressed as elves for the parade, and bounced around on our 24-foot-wide deck.” Margie sat in Santa’s hand. They took her up the ladder, and tied her into an aircraft seat belt. They left the ladder on the dock. “The parade started. And so did the rain,” Margie recalled. “Everyone on deck had refreshments and Chicken Delight. I was stuck way up in the air in an evening gown. I had a grand view of the parade, and it drizzled throughout the whole hour we circled the harbor. I nearly froze.”
They won first in Class D and then won the grand prize. “So we decided not to enter any more. It wasn’t fair to the other boats.,” Margie recalled.
THE MARINA GREW:
The Marina grew from 100 to nearly 6,000 boats since the first few boat parades. In 1964, a detached breakwater was built, to solve the surge problems. The first restaurant, Pieces O’ Eight on Fiji Way is now Shanghai Red’s. The Christmas Boat Parade is now a Holiday Boat Parade.
The Braggs moved away many years ago. However, many Marina boat owners who have lighted and decorated their boats for marina del Rey boat parades through the years are still here. The may not have won, but they joined the parade, and as they watch each year’s new parade, they remember. Standing on the docks, watching the parade every year, they recall winning – and not winning, but participating in –the boat parade. After their grand efforts they elected to become spectators.
Along with newcomers, who watch this parade for the first time are the many boat owners and crew who have perpetuated our salute to the holidays, Marina del Rey’s annual Holiday Boat Parade.