2014-11-20 / Around Town

Boat Parade Embodies Maritime Spirit

By James Merolla

The harborfront will be aglow on Friday, Nov. 28. In the event of severe weather, contact Harbormaster Tim Mills at 845-5815 and listen to the recording, or tune to VHF 14 for announcements. (Photo by George Bekris)

The harborfront will be aglow on Friday, Nov. 28. In the event of severe weather, contact Harbormaster Tim Mills at 845-5815 and listen to the recording, or tune to VHF 14 for announcements. (Photo by George Bekris)

Black Friday takes on a whole new meaning in Newport, but, instead of huge sales, there are huge sails. While the boating season officially ends that day, the holiday season is launched.

On Friday, Nov. 28, the night will certainly be black over the harbor, except for the eclectic holiday patterns of flitting lights which pock the sky above some really decked-out decks. That’s when the Newport waterfront community simultaneously launches the annual Holiday Illuminated Boat Parade and Blessing of the Fleet.

In a remarkable annual tradition, that was started 15 years ago by Newport harbormaster Jake Farrell, festively illuminated boats will circle the harbor and compete for best holiday decoration prizes awarded by the Newport harbormaster and community judges. The Newport Yacht Club is open to the public that evening and spectators can also watch the parade from Bowen’s Wharf, Bannister’s Wharf and points around the harbor.

Boat parade marshal Hank Kniskern will be with the judges at the Newport Yacht Club. Boat parade marshal Hank Kniskern will be with the judges at the Newport Yacht Club. Boats will rendezvous in the Goat Island Causeway area with a prompt 6:15 p.m. start. The parade will begin traveling east (clockwise around the harbor) leaving Newport Yacht Club to port where the judges will be located. Boats will proceed along the downtown waterfront, continuing toward King Park.

Boats will finish the last leg of the circle heading north back towards the causeway. Award categories include Best Decorated Powerboat, Best Decorated Sailboat, Best Decorated Fishing Boat, Best Commercial Sailboat, Best Commercial Powerboat, Best Decorated Porch or Dock, and Crew with the Most Holiday Spirit.

Another well-decorated part of the parade is Hank Kniskern, named this year’s parade marshal. Kniskern, 67, was chairman of the Newport Waterfront Commission for eight years and is a longtime advocate for Newport Harbor. Also a sailor, he owns a sailboat called Naarden, named after a little town he lived in while in the Netherlands.

Kniskern teaches business planning, management operations and leadership at Roger Williams University in Bristol. He previously taught strategy and decision-making to military officers at the U.S. Naval War College. Internationally, he has worked in Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and western and central Europe.

He has also sailed in many of those exotic places, as well as in the North Sea, the Netherlands, and the Bosporus in Turkey, the channel that separates Europe from Asia.

Kniskern lives in Newport and enjoys bread baking and being involved in the community. The event that knocks him over for its aquatic tenacity is the November boat parade.

“It’s windy. It’s dark. You can’t see,” said Kniskern, throwing his head back. “Here you have all these boats out there with all these lights. When they hang those lights, the weather is usually freezing. There are probably 20 to 30 boats. People keep their boats in the water well past the point when everyone else has taken them out, simply so they can be in the parade.”

He added that the parade is well orchestrated and is a minor miracle if conditions are bad. “They have to line up. There’s the dance card, all the boats,” said Kniskern. “Last year, the wind was howling 20 knots. A lot of wave action; a lot of wind, probably 30 degrees; when you throw a 20 knot wind in there, you are probably down to wind chill.

“Now, I’m watching it and I’m a cynic, but I say, ‘This is really quite amazing.’ It looks great. The number of people who come in to see this thing is astounding,” said Kniskern. “It takes 90 minutes of set up and 45 minutes to do. It’s a tribute to the maritime spirit. It kind of ends the season; a very celebratory end of the season.”

Kniskern knows that maritime spirit well. While chairing the Waterfront Commission, he procured the grant money that developed the Newport Maritime Center in May of 2012. He describes the center as a place where “visiting boaters can come to refresh themselves, shower, do laundry, recharge their batteries, cell phones, get information, and have a place to hang out through bad weather.”

With experience on so many boards and commissions that he has to use his fingers to count them, Kniskern equates his own ever moving world view to the boat parade he will marshal. “Well, you either react to things or make stuff happen. The commission is a really proactive bunch of folks, with different areas of expertise. We have 950 moorings out there, roughly 950 docks, and then another 125 docks at the anchorage. Last year, 30,000 people came through the Maritime Center. It was something we badly needed.”

Kniskern has turned his attention to doing something similiar in Bristol. For the past two years, he has worked as an adviser with architects, builders, students, and officials to turn the Old Armory adjacent to the Prudence Island Ferry into a maritime center there. A $900,000 Federal Fish and Wildlife grant will underwrite the effort.

“You have to ask if it’s economically feasible. Well, it’s only economically feasible if you use it as an asset for the entire community,” said Kniskern. “There has to be room for museums, restaurants, for people to take showers and use the restrooms, and for visitors on boats to use as a base.”

The parade marshal allowed himself a guffaw. “It’s going out for bid as we speak,” he smiled. “It’s a nice story.”

Almost as nice as hanging out on Nov. 28 at the boat parade, he added. “It’s easy to sometimes get cynical about Newport, with all of our politics. Then, you watch this boat parade. It’s really a tribute to the waterfront communities, the harbormaster and the people who pull it together. It’s one of those moments when you say, ‘It doesn’t get much better than this.’ ”


Illuminated Boat Parade
WHERE: Newport Harbor
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 28, 6 p.m.
MORE INFO: 401-845-5815

Return to top