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Katrina evacuee floats her boat

Sheila Barger had to leave her hometown after the hurricane. Now she's helped design a vessel in the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade.

December 11, 2006|By Jessie Brunner

Float designer Sheila Barger came to Costa Mesa to visit her brother in late August of 2005, intending to stay only a week.

But two days into her vacation, Hurricane Katrina devastated her hometown of New Orleans and she decided to make Costa Mesa her permanent address. Along with her home, Barger lost her entire portfolio and all her references.

But with the help of Ralph Rodheim, chairman of this year's Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, Barger is back in business and has designed and crafted a 52-foot-tall sailfish to adorn the official Tommy Bahama boat in the parade.

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Barger was surrounded by a troop of 12 men, all wearing Santa hats, as they worked to hoist the marlin, aptly-named Tommy, onto the catamaran Starlight Friday.

The Starlight will be shining brighter than ever before with the help of 22,000 lights that make up the fish's body. Bob and Louise Sasine, the Starlight's owners, have taken the boat to the Bahamas three times, making it the "perfect choice" for Tommy Bahama's parade entry.

Tommy Bahama restaurants lent money and muscle to the project, employing several staff members of their Newport Beach location to help raise the fish Friday morning.

General Manager Scott Perry was excited about the company's decision to get involved with the boat parade, now in its 98th year.

"I think it's incredible that she could weld that many pieces together to make it look like our marlin," Perry said. "It's amazing."

Following the theme of this year's parade, Holiday Magic Through the Eyes of a Child, the boat will feature a child catching the massive, blue-and-green sailfish with a giant, red fishing pole.

The fish will be accompanied by palm trees and splashing water fashioned of rope light, and a metal alligator, a nod to New Orleans tradition and Barger's signature item.

Throughout the fish's construction, which lasted about three weeks, Barger was assisted by her "partner in crime" Peter Ryn and his 7-year-old granddaughter Fayth, whose fingers were sore by the end from clipping more than 1,500 wire ties. She definitely earned the right to play the child that will be fishing aboard the catamaran on opening night Wednesday.

"She was a real trooper," Ryn said of his granddaughter. "She stayed with us the entire day."

For the future, Barger has no specific projects in mind, but she plans to return the favor and help Ryn with some of his work.

"I'm going to take a little break after this one," Barger said. "I think I'll learn how to do cars … haven't don't that yet."

The parade begins at Collins Island at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

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