The McKinley Boat Owners Association (McBOAT) and the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center (MCSS) hosted the city’s first Venetian Boat Parade in the McKinley Marina channel on August 19.

Along with a City of Milwaukee Fire boat and Police boat escort, 14 vessels clad extensively in themed lighting took part in the inaugural sailing festival. The decorations and complexity of illuminations were multiplied by the mirror-like water at night.

Presented along with support from the Milwaukee County Parks, the idea for the free parade was to entertain Milwaukee residents with a pageant of light and raise funds for the Milwaukee Water Commons, to support their work with kids and water conservation. Proceeds were collected from the boat registrations and refreshment sales.

Volunteers from McBOAT invested a great deal of effort to plan and enlist the small flotilla, and coordinate with the Coast Guard and Homeland Security to hold the event. The combination of sailing ships and motor boats attracted hundred of families and spectators along the route, many arriving well before sunset to get a coveted spot for viewing.

“We really did not expect so many people to attend, attendance was more than we could have imagined. The power of social media brought in numbers that took all available parking, then filled the grass parking,” said Mike Johnson, President of the McBOAT Board of Directors and organizer of the Venetian Boat Parade. “People staged from the breakwater pier, along the marina office area and piers, to the grassy area between Center Marina and South Marina, by the Sailing Center, and east up to O’Donnel point.”

Johnson had dreamed of the Venetian Boat Parade since 2013, and this year he finally had the chance to make it a reality. A panel of judges scored the boat decorations, and presented a best-of-show award after the parade concluded. The naval contestants included a Captain Morgan themed tiki bar, American pride tropical island, 1970s disco club, and assorted spectaculars of colored lights and kitsch.

As a nonprofit organization, the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center provides educational and recreational sailing programs to those who wish to gain access to Lake Michigan and learn to sail regardless of age, physical ability, or financial concerns. McBOAT’s mission is to advocate on behalf of McKinley slip tenants, provide an outlet for boating education, and maintain a working relationship between the tenants and the McKinley Marina Staff.

“People can’t wait to see the Venetian Boat Parade next year,” added Johnson. “They were telling us that with all the attention this has created, they imagine more boats will want participate next year. Some really thanked us for an amazing night that Milwaukee has not seen before.”

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Lee Matz