New award, repeat champs highlight 34th annual flotilla as organizers make final preparations

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As organizers are finishing preparations for the  34th annual North Carolina Holiday Flotilla this week, participants this year will have an opportunity to honor one of the event’s most passionate supporters with a new award that will highlight Wrightsville Beach themed boats.

The category will be named in honor of Paula Sturdy, a frequent flotilla entrant and supporter who died unexpectedly in January, and will award a $1,000 prize to a boat that judges deem best depict a Wrightsville Beach theme. Her husband Van Marr is working on details, with the prize money coming from donations made to the flotilla in Sturdy’s honor.

“Her boats often reflected those themes, like the trolley, and we hope this award will encourage more boats to bring something local to the competition,” said North Carolina Holiday Flotilla committee member Linda Brown. She said the board would consider bringing in the new category because of Sturdy’s long commitment and dedication to the flotilla.

The award comes after more than $6,000 was donated to the flotilla in Sturdy’s name and Brown said more donations were expected to push the fund to $8,000-$10,000, keeping the award funded for at least a decade. Marr has committed substantial money to the award as well, Brown said.

One lucky sailboat could get a chance at an easy $500 as organizers of the flotilla are looking for last-minute entries to the parade of boats decorated with lights.

While there are several entries, including the returning champion for the past two years, there so far isn’t an entry into the sailboat category, organizers said this week.

The opening provides an opportunity for a sailboat entry to take the first place prize of $500, said flotilla committee member Jimmy Gilleece

“There are a lot of great ways to decorate a sailboat and it doesn’t take a big investment to create an impressive looking display,” Gilleece said. “And the crowd always loves the sailboat entries.”

Gilleece said that the $25 entry fee also earns four tickets to the popular captains’ party on Friday at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort, where the tickets themselves are $25.

The flotilla will feature the return of the winner of the past two Best in Show awards, as brothers Brent and Craig Jernigan are again entering their 11-5 foot CraigCat into the competition. Two years ago the brother won for the first time with their design representing a blue marlin, and last year they repeated with the “Whitewater Christmas” theme, which portrayed Santa Claus rowing a kayak.

However, Brent Jernigan said this year’s theme was a secret until entry.

“We’re saving it for a surprise, I hate to tell competitors what you are going to do,” Jernigan said.

The flotilla will also include a crowd favorite RescueConnect boat of Mark and Leslie Armstrong, who use the event to promote the organization that encourages animal adoption and foster rescue to help prevent animal abuse. The familiar No. 2 boat, which has a new animal theme each year, won the People’s Choice award in 2016, donating the $1,500 award to the organization.

Flotilla committee chair Shannon Freidich said that those attending the parade will also be impressed with the fireworks display.

“It’s going to be another awesome fireworks display,” she said.

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