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Santa and friend pose for a photo at the annual Special People's Cruise

Special People’s Christmas Cruise

Special People’s Cruise at Meydenbauer Bay Yacht Club

Yesterday I was the “Santa photographer” for the Special Peoples Cruise at Meydenbauer Bay Yacht Club, an annual event that I have been helping with for somewhere between 20-25 years.  I really wish I could remember exactly when I started taking photos of all of the participants as they visit with Santa, but I’m afraid the years that long ago are a bit of a blur. Ah, the joys of aging!  😉

For those who are not familiar with the Special People’s Cruise, it consists of a number of local yacht clubs working with their members to take hundreds of Special People who have a variety of disabilities out for a cruise on Lake Washington for an hour or two.  This is a BIG deal for almost all of the participants, both the “special people” and the boat owners.  The boats are all decorated with Christmas lights, and set off together as a fleet.  MBYC alone sends out several dozen boats with over 100 special people, as well as a bunch of volunteers to help everyone on and off the boats and to help during the duration of the cruise.  The Cruise takes place on the first Sunday in December and happens (almost) regardless of the weather.  There have been a couple of close calls over the years when it was stormy, but the Cruise has always taken place.

This is an event that has changed a lot over the years.  Before I started working as the photographer, there was no photographer, and Santa just made an appearance to say hello and give a few “Ho Ho Ho’s!” to the crowd and lead the singing of some Christmas carols.  At that time MBYC was just about the only yacht club in the area who was part of the Cruise, and we regularly had well over 200 participants who were brought to the Club by bus from all over the Seattle area.  A couple of times when there were snowy conditions things got a bit crazy trying to get everyone there in time to make the Cruise, and even crazier when the busses had difficulty getting everyone home on the snowy roads.

Over the years more yacht clubs decided to participate, and the number of participants who went out on the MBYC boats dropped off as more and more boats were available at different locations.  I am not sure just how many total participants there are now, but I would not be surprised if it is more than 500 special people.  We have leveled off at ~100 people now at MBYC, but I have no idea whether that number will change with time.  I am still seeing many of the same people who were there the first year I started!

Once I came on as the photographer we changed how everyone interacted with Santa.  Our Santa was a man named Gene Nebenfuhr, who absolutely loved his role as Santa and even had a van decorated with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town!” painted on both sides that he drove all year long.  Gene and I decided to have every participant who wanted to have a chance to sit next to Santa and have their photo taken with Santa.  Gene’s daughters dressed up and acted as Santa’s Elves to distribute gifts to everyone.  I would then get the film processed and printed (this was LONG before digital cameras had even been dreamed of, and also well before the Internet), and I would work with the various agencies to get the photos distributed to all of the “kids” involved.

Sadly “Santa Gene” was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2012, and since then Gary Woodring, one of the MBYC members, has stepped up to take Gene’s place. Gary has done a great job of carrying on the tradition begun by Gene.

Here is the link to all of the other Santa photos, if you know someone who was involved and would like to see or download any of the photos – Special Peoples’ Christmas Cruise 2016.

And for those who are curious, the young lady pictured above with Santa is my daughter Kerri.  🙂


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