Annual Rotary Christmas Flotilla on the New River
12/3, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. • Free
Waterfront Park, downtown Jacksonville
Holiday flotillas can be more than just a fun and festive way to begin the Christmas season. They offer a gathering place for family and friends to appreciate the beauty of the coast and its offerings. For the Jacksonville Breakfast Rotary Club, the 24th annual Rotary Christmas Flotilla serves to accomplish much more. When it comes to drawing attention to a community passionate and determined to revive its downtown, this year’s Christmas flotilla obliges two purposes: to unify all into the joyful upcoming holiday and put the troubled past of downtown Jacksonville to rest, all while exemplifying the Rotary Club’s core value of service before self.
Gathering in Wilson Bay before navigating the waterfront, the flotilla takes place December 3rd, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Waterfront Park, and will benefit local charities ranging from The Boys and Girls Club, the USO, the Eastern North Carolina Boy Scouts and county wide scholarship programs which benefit all of Onslow County high-school seniors. Hopefully supporting 500 to 1,000 people, event chairman and chief for the city of Jacksonville Fire Department, Rick McIntyre hopes to see even more boats and families by the waterfront this year. Thus far his expectations appear to be coming to fruition.
“Though one of four in our county, our flotilla is the only flotilla that cruises down the New River,” McIntyre explains. “We’ll have an MC, concessions, and any monies from them will go straight to local charities.”
Of course, all’s well as long as the weather holds out. Assuming it does, McIntyre hopes for big crowds who are looking to simply bask in the glow of the season. “This program is a program that’s loose, casual, flexible and informal,” he says. “It’s not one where everyone must sit in certain row and keep to themselves. That defeats the point. We want people to come and enjoy the family atmosphere for a couple hours. Being downtown is a great opportunity to meet new people. Being a Rotarian is about service above self—and that is one of the reasons we’re involved.”
Chief McIntyre is undergoing his sixth flotilla, and he assures every boat will illustrate enjoyment for every age group and demographic. The boats will be decorated and lit beautifully to a multitude of themes which support the upcoming holiday—be it reindeers, peace-inspired or simply enthused with joy. Of course the underlying cause is to disprove the theory burdened upon Jacksonville’s downtown: that its streets lurk with danger. The flotilla will perpetuate the growth of downtown in a positive (dare I say it?) light. For Pam Thomas, former president of the Jacksonville Breakfast Rotary Club and current chair member of the Onslow Board of Education, events like this are excellent in drawing people to our own waterfront to expose them to local happenings and what our town really has.
“If they walk around during the flotilla, they’ll see the Pelletier House and the USO,” she says, “and [learn about] other programs our city offers [which] go unnoticed. Maybe it’s because of where it’s located—the heart of Jacksonville. Or maybe it’s because of the construction, no one pays much attention to the waterfront at all. But it’s absolutely beautiful down there.”
Thomas, who has lived in Jacksonville for almost her entire life thanks to her father’s stationing at Camp Lejeune, trusts when the old bridge is dismantled and the new one is completely constructed (a project expected to last through summer 2013), catering to the need of the growing traffic throughout Jacksonville center, people will see the waterfront in a new way. The success of the flotilla garners such hope.
“Five or six years ago, we didn’t have any entries for the flotilla due to lack of participation,” Thomas continues. She’s seeing a different outlook now, hoping to surpass the 24 participants they had last year. Thomas and Chief McIntyre stress there’s no charge for registering, which is still open, and the only requirement is partakers must use a powered boat. Folks can register at the Tideline Marina on Old Bridge Street. However, the cutoff date is December 1st. Participants will be presented with a plaque and are welcome to enjoy a fish fry at the end of the night.
With only days remaining until the event, Jacksonville Breakfast Rotary Club wishes to assure the community they have left no stone unturned when it comes to safety, either. The Wildlife Commission will lead the entire flotilla. The club has also met with Coast Guard regulations and is working in unison with the police department as several water safety boats will be standing by.
“We stress safety first,” Chief McIntyre insists. “We also like clean and green, so we have several recycling bins provided. Downtown has gone through a number of evolutions. What you’re seeing now—new parks developed, blighted buildings being torn down, new housing built, new businesses entering and renovating structures—it’s all about cleaning up, planting trees and brightening it up. More so, it’s about encouragement to live and work and thrive in downtown Jacksonville. This flotilla is another opportunity to meet, greet and enjoy the downtown area, especially during Christmas.”