When it comes to the floating neighborhoods of Sausalito, the annual age-old tradition of Christmas caroling gets an appropriate twist — it’s done by boat.
For over a decade, floating home resident Blaze Nash has festooned her small boat Otto with Christmas lights, and ferried a singer and a guitarist around the docks — serenading the Bay Area’s most unique homes with the sounds of holiday cheer. At times they’ll meander among anchored sailboats delivering a rare luxury of landlubbers.
“You’re in the middle of the bay, it’s total darkness out there,” Nash said one evening before setting out on a caroling mission. “And you see these kids look out the window like Santa’s reindeer just showed up — but you’re in this tugboat with Christmas carols.”
The annual tradition started about seven years ago, although no one remembers exactly how. Singer Kristine Barrett and her boyfriend guitarist David Johnson decided to sing some Christmas songs and somehow Nash and her boat got into the act. It’s one of the few gigs where performers first chart the tides before taking the stage.
“So you look at any tide chart, get three feet of water around dusk and make sure it’s ten days before Christmas,” Johnson said. “Good chance of finding us.”
The initial years evolved into a sort of floating party — with revelers tagging along for the ride. But then the second year, a man brought his elderly mother out in a wheelchair to listen. Barrett can still remember the tears streaming down the woman’s face.
“She just started crying as we were singing to her,” Barrett said. “After that, we were just like, ‘we’re taking this seriously.’”
Since then the crew aboard the Otto has been bare bones; heading out rain or shine to share traditional holiday songs with the residents of the Bay Area’s quirkiest neighborhood.
“There’s nothing normal about this,” said floating home resident Ali Fenn as she listened to Barrett singing I’ll Be Home for Christmas. “We pride ourselves on that, and these guys just embody it.”
The boat’s ubiquitous lights and its sound system are powered by car battery. But traversing the boat/stage can get a bit tricky. The musicians have to constantly monitor the batteries while braving the cold.
On a recent night, the crew’s ride-a-long Santa slipped off the side and landed in the fifty-degree Bay — ending his night with a hot shower.
“It isn’t exactly an ideal music playing venue,” Barrett laughed.
The annual caroling, done over several nights each December has become a mainstay among the docks. There is no schedule — no set route so residents just watch for the lights and listen for the singing.
“You hear that voice across the flat of the water,” said resident Rachael Lamkin. “There’s this real sense of magic and community and love.”
As Blaze maneuvered Otto through the channels and docks, silhouettes of residents began to fill the decks — backlit by Christmas trees and lights. Johnson plucked jazz chords on an electric guitar as Barrett’s smooth voice soared above the boat’s motor — as if calling the local population to prayer.
“It almost feels sacred to me at this point,” Barrett said. “It’s like, we carol every year no matter what.”
Nash said neighbors will often come up the next day with tears in their eyes, thanking her for the music. She said it’s become one of the most cherished traditions of the docks.
“I think we do it because it does our heart a lot of good to do it,” Nash said. “It gives us so much joy to do it.”