With sailboats taking over Carroll Creek, a unique holiday tradition has returned to downtown Frederick for its sixth year.
About two dozen sailboats were launched in the creek on Saturday as part of the annual Sailing Through the Winter Solstice project. Volunteers rushed about Saturday morning, lowering the boats off the banks of the creek into the water. Some volunteers had the unenviable task of wading through the water on the chilly November morning to ensure the boats were anchored in place.
Peter Kremers, who co-founded and serves as the chair of the event, may not have launched quite a thousand ships, but he said there were about 25 sailboats in and around the creek this year.
Now in its sixth year, the project has quickly grown into a beloved part of the holiday season in the city. This year’s event has more sailboats than ever.
“We started with one boat in ‘16,” Kremers said of the project’s speedy growth. “I think last year we had maybe 19 in the water; this year we have 22 boats in the water and three on land.”
The Sailing Through the Winter Solstice project comes in conjunction with Kremers’ other project, Color on the Creek, which installs flowers and water plants in the creek during the spring and summer months.
The sailboats will stay on Carroll Creek until March, with each of the boats being fitted with lights and decorations that are sure to brighten up the dark nights of winter.
But the goal isn’t just to make the downtown look nice. The project also helps raise a significant amount of money for a number of local charities.
According to Kremers, each of the sailboats sponsors a different charity, and fans of the sailboats can go online to help raise money for the boat they think looks best, their favorite charity, or perhaps a bit of both.
Each vote costs $1, and voting is available on Color on the Creek’s webpage, coloronthecreek.com. Funds are donated to the charity sponsored by each boat, and the boat that raises the most money for its respective charity wins a trophy.
“You can spend $1, or we’ve had people spend several thousand dollars voting for their boat,” Kremers said, estimating about $67,000 was raised last year.
Kremers said 20% of the total funds raised each will help fund Color on the Creek’s water garden in the spring, with the remainder of the funds going to the charities. As the event gets more and more popular each year and continues to raise more money, Kremers said the percentage needed to sustain the water garden continues to get lower. He hopes to get to a point where 90% of the funds can be donated to the charities.
Volunteers worked hard on Saturday to launch all the boats into the water, demonstrating how much of a labor of love this project is. Joerg Desler, president of Stulz Air Technology Systems, said his company was donating the usage of forklifts to make the process just a bit easier.
Dealer explained the need for forklifts became obvious after Stulz launched a ship to honor its native Germany in previous years.
“We had the idea, ‘How do we build a bridge between our hometown and what’s happening here with the boats?’ So we built a replica of an old sailboat that’s actually located in Hamburg harbor, the ‘Rickmer Rickmers,’ ” he said. “The very first year, we did it all manually, and we tried lifting the boat in and it was very hard to do. So we got the idea, ‘Why not bring the forklifts?’ ”
Stulz’s forklifts dutifully buzzed up and down the side of the creek, helping the sailboats into the water. One of those boats being launched was sponsored by Morgan-Keller Construction, who were using the boat to raise money for City Youth Matrix. The relatively new nonprofit organization has a goal of helping local families break down the barriers standing between their children and a number of enrichment activities.
Aaron Vetter, founder and executive director of City Youth Matrix, said the boat is the physical representation of a “wonderful partnership” between his organization and the construction firm. The sailboat was decorated with Lego and Tonka trucks, and Vetter said the decorations are “perfect synergy” between the two groups’ goals.
“The center of our mission at City Youth Matrix is to connect at-risk youth and their families with enrichment opportunities so they can reach their full potential, so it’s a perfect combination,” he said.
Vetter said this sailboat is the first time his organization has been represented in the annual event, and his group was “right on board” when approached by Morgan-Keller Construction.
The sailboats will be available to see, and to vote on, until March, when a winner will be officially crowned. Until then, they’ll be lighting up the creek every night.
Follow Patrick Kernan on Twitter: @PatKernan