Submitted by Olympia Yacht Club
When the word Seafair is mentioned, what comes to mind are parades held on warm August evenings with lots of Seafair Pirates running about entertaining (or in the case of the author aged seven, scaring) children watching the parade from Seattle’s sidewalks. But many people don’t know that Seafair is more than just the Blue Angels, hydroplanes, and pirates enlivening late summer Seattle. One of their events extends into Olympia during the shortest days of winter.
The 76 Seafair Holiday Cruise is an annual Christmas-timed event that takes adults with developmental disabilities out on privately owned pleasure boats for a 90 minute cruise on their local waters. Formerly known as Special People’s Cruises, the 76 Seafair Holiday Cruises are held annually in early December in Seattle, Tacoma, Bremerton and Olympia. In total the event involves about 400 boats and reaches roughly 2000 guests who join them on Puget Sound’s waters.
Olympia’s participation in the Holiday Cruise started 33 years ago in 1985 when visitors from Bremerton to the Olympia Yacht Club (OYC) suggested OYC join the annual event. OYC joined that very December and have hosted a Holiday Cruise every December since. For many years now, Thurston County Recreation Services has been a very active Holiday Cruise co-sponsor by helping arrange for the event, providing registration and staff. Without the dedicated support of Thurston County Recreation Services it wouldn’t be possible for the OYC to reach the nearly 130 guests who join the cruise each year.
Olympia Yacht Club boat skippers volunteer their boat and their time, as well as their crew’s time, on a Sunday afternoon to help the guests board the boat and then take them out on Budd Inlet. Once underway, the Holiday Cruise fleet of approximately 25 boats sails north from Percival Landing and by the Port of Olympia to a point slightly beyond Anthony’s Hearthfire restaurant. There, Santa & Mrs. Claus, coincidentally also cruising that afternoon, are standing on the deck of an anchored boat waving to the guests as they sail by. As the boats move towards Santa’s Boat, guests are able to speak with Santa by radiotelephone. When guests return to the OYC clubhouse for the holiday party held immediately after the cruise, OYC members serve them homemade cookies and beverages. Later, when Santa & Mrs. Claus join the festivities upon their return from Budd Inlet each guest can get their picture taken with them.
While the 25 boats and their Skipper’s are key elements in a Holiday Cruise event there are a lot more Olympia Yacht Club volunteers who pitch in by baking cookies and treats, purchasing and assembling small gift bags to be given to the guests as they depart and decorating the OYC Clubhouse. Also helping out the OYC with the Holiday Cruise is a large contingent of Olympia area middle and high school students who comprise the very competitive OYC Junior Sailing Team.
Guests remember the excitement of their boat ride, and the joy they experienced long after they leave OYC. That joy rubs off on many OYC members, Junior Sailors and staff of the Thurston County Recreation Services person—all of whom contribute to making this Holiday Cruise the popular community tradition that it is.
So, if on a Sunday afternoon in early December you see a collection of pleasure boats in rough formation, headed north from Percival Landing and the Olympia Yacht Club, you can figure that the Holiday Cruise is getting underway. And know that this event, which began 33 years ago as the result of an offhand comment that could have as easily been forgotten, instead has become a an Olympia tradition that’s touched and informed many in the greater community over the last three decades.