Lights on the F/V Noelani.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

Wrangell’s annual boat parade lit up the Zimovia Strait over the weekend (December 18). Here’s KSTK’s report from the water. 

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The F/V Noelani is festooned in lights. Red and white strands run up and over the outriggers from bow to stern, multicolored lights run the circumference of the boat, and a string of white icicles with clear stars at the tips keeps hitting boat passengers in the face as they walk in and out of the cabin. 

Parade boats light up the water in front of City Dock.
(Courtesy Alex Johnson)

It’s bitingly cold out in the Zimovia Strait, and as the 42-foot aluminum hull of the Noelani chugs into view of Wrangell’s City Dock, headlights from the cars of parade watchers join the rippling moonlight on the water. 

The boat isn’t usually this dressed up.  

“We fish, salmon and shrimp and halibut,” explains Captain Chris Guggenbickler. He stands at the stern, attaching orange electronic fuse wire to a firework. This is his second year participating in the boat parade. 

“John [Yeager] and Brenda [Schwartz-Yeager] got me started on this,” Guggenbickler explains. 

Schwartz-Yeager calls from across the deck: “You have a better boat than we do!”

Wires in place, Guggenbickler calls out a warning: “Watch your ears!” 

Around 15 passengers on the Noelani rush forward to watch the firework explode in a golden shower above the boat. About a minute later, there’s an answering volley from another lit-up boat, the F/V Pacific Sea

This year’s third parade participant, the Rainforest Islander ferry, is also wrapped in lights, but has left the pyrotechnics at home. 

Chris Guggenbickler sets up a firework.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

Clay Hammer organizes Wrangell’s boat parade, and drops off a VHF radio at the radio station so the chatter from boats can be broadcast along with Christmas tunes for the duration of the parade. This year, though, Hammer says he’s glad to be a little further off the water… not in his own boat. 

“It’s really small,” Hammer explains, “It’s only like half the length of this boat. It’s a little mini jet boat. I made it last year and the year before last year the year before that one. But [last year] it was really just jumping around [in the swell]. It was an adventure.”

The annual Christmas boat parade started in the 1970s with Wrangell commercial fisherman and physician “Doc” Davenport. After Davenport retired in 2012, the tradition languished. Hammer says he doesn’t know exactly when he took over organizing the parade.

“Somebody just said, ‘Hey, would you do it?’ And so I did it. And I’ve been kind of heading it up ever since,” Hammer says, “But it’s really a collaborative effort. You just put a bug in a bunch of people’s ears. And then everybody jumps in and so it’s definitely a community thing. People like Goog [Guggenbickler] stepping up and just knocking it out of the park. Literally.”

As the parade organizer, Hammer also kicks off VHF radio greetings from the boats to the public. 

Clay Hammer: Good evening Wrangell! We’ve got the boat parade going on here, three pretty well-lit boats out here. We’ve got all kinds of fireworks going off tonight so far.

Chris Guggenbickler (Noelani): Merry Christmas everybody, enjoy the show. It’s cold out here.

Eric Yancey (Breakaway Rainforest Islander): I didn’t get the memo on bringing all the bombs along but it’s all good, been a good show anyhow and Merry Christmas to everybody. 

The F/V Pacific Sea lights off a firework in front of City Dock.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

Frank Warfel (Pacific Sea): Merry Christmas to everybody in Wrangell from the Pacific Sea and crew, so thanks for coming out and watching us there [kids yelling] MERRY CHRISTMAS!

After greetings, it’s back to songs and fireworks. Aboard the Noelani, the crew tucks into clam chowder, chili, and glazed ham. 

Denise Stewart helped decorate the Noelani for this year’s boat parade. 

“It was snowing and it was freezing,” Stewart says, but she adds it was worth braving the elements to participate in the long-standing tradition. “We did it last year and it was a bang-up good time so this year we were looking forward to it. There’s no place like Wrangell over the holidays, it’s such a festive community.”

The boats turned north towards the point of the island and Petroglyph Beach, firing the occasional sparkly salvo, then south towards Shoemaker Harbor, before they head back to their slips.

Get in touch with KSTK at or (907) 874-2345.