A winter sailboat in southwestern Colorado? Dolores is on board.
How did a sailboat become such an iconic and beloved cornerstone of Christmas in a city nearly 7,000 feet above sea level?
Every year in Dolores, a sailboat sparkles with an array of colored lights, hovering above glowing blue bulbs reminiscent of the swirling sea below.
The boat shines proudly at Eighth Street and Railroad Avenue in Dolores.
“You often see it along the coast,” said Dolores owner and resident Steve Hill.
Although far from the seaside, Montezuma County’s elevation seemed suitable for enough scenery for Hill to use his boat to spread Christmas cheer in an unconventional way, that is, unconventional to southwestern Colorado.
“Why not do it here?” he was thinking.
Hill bought the boat in 1988 and sailed with his wife, before the ship made its debut as a Christmas decoration in 1990.
He bought it from lawyers in Albuquerque.
Under their ownership, the boat had been named Chief Joseph.
Hill changed it to Mental Health.
“Because I felt saner after sailing for a day,” he said.
Coincidentally, there is another Montezuma County boat with the same name, he said.
There were a few on and off years when Hill and his wife abandoned ship. They like to travel in January and have sometimes failed to light the boat for a holiday show.
During those years, Hill found himself in deep water. It was obvious that the boat was making waves in the community of Dolores.
“If I don’t, I hear about it the rest of the year,” Hill joked.
He marked the boat for a fairly cheap price, he said, although it needed repairs now.
“We seem to have the energy to decorate it but not navigate it,” he said.
Even if it is “quite possible” Mental Health will one day take to the waters again, Hill said he also has his eye on another boat – a tri-hull the same size as his sailboat.
Each year the decorations fluctuate slightly.
“I can never do the same thing twice,” he said.
It’s usually everyone on deck, with neighbors and friends offering to help string the boat up with lights starting the week after Thanksgiving.
The embellished ship is usually ready for its metaphorical sail the following weekend.
“It’s such a treat for people,” Hill said.