The Magic Ship of Christmas, owned and operated by scout troops 799 and 2799, is pictured in 2022. Contributed photo.
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With the arrival of the winter holiday season, Morgan Hill residents are likely to experience the iconic and always entertaining sight of the Magic Ship of Christmas—helmed by Santa Claus himself—slowly cruising down the public streets on its way to various events before Christmas Day. 

The Magic Ship—in fact a wooden vessel facade built on top of a stripped-down 1963 Studebaker Lark—has been owned and operated by local scouting troops since 1976, when it was created in Morgan Hill by Dan Gregg and John Espinoza. Each year, starting in December, the ship makes numerous voyages across town for public and private events that always include an opportunity for kids to line up to meet Santa—and for their parents to obtain photos of the encounter. 

And in recent years, the Magic Ship—owned by Morgan Hill scout troops 799 and 2799—has made its annual maiden voyage in the local Kiwanis Club’s Holiday Lights parade through the city’s downtown. This year, the parade takes place Dec. 2, starting at 5:30pm on Monterey Road at First Street. 

In what has become a tradition, Santa and the ship will end the procession at the Community & Cultural Center, where St. Nick and Mayor Mark Turner will lead the lighting of the city’s holiday tree, explained Magic Ship “Scheduling Elf” and scout parent Heather Poore. After the tree lighting, Santa—played by Scoutmaster Phil Peterson—will park the ship at a nearby, convenient location for children and families to line up to meet him. 

The next public appearance for the Magic Ship, Poore said, is a Dec. 16 event at the Magical Bridge Playground at the Morgan Hill Community Park. The “Magical Holiday” festivities at the playground include visits and photos with Santa aboard the ship, as well as live performances from a number of groups. 

The Magic Ship of Christmas is also available throughout December for private parties and events, helping the troops raise funds for scouting activities, Poore explained. Those spots are filling up, but the ship is also expected to make a number of short-notice stops at public locations such as shopping center parking lots. Poore typically announces those a day or two in advance on the ship’s Facebook page, titled “Magic Ship of Christmas.” 

And with community service a cornerstone of scouting, the troops expect to deploy the Magic Ship for an evening of caroling at a local nursing home before Christmas Day, Poore said. 

The ship’s operations depend significantly on donations from the community. Poore said each year as the Christmas season approaches, the troops reach out to Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce members to solicit donations. 

“Those donations support the majority of our operations,” Poore said. 

The troops also raise money with the Magic Ship by selling printed photographs of Santa meeting children at the public events. 

Those who haven’t seen it might not believe it, but the Magic Ship does indeed travel on local roads to get to and from its various events. Poore said it’s a production just to move the 30-foot-long ship, requiring a crew of at least 10 people including the driver, front and rear pilot vehicle drivers, and the scouts themselves who set up and operate the vessel once it reaches its destination. 

But it’s all worth it, as the Magic Ship is a crucial fundraising and community building tool for the scouts, Poore explained. In fact, the ship has become so popular that the scout parents have created a new nonprofit organization that is focusing on creating a new “Magic Ship 2.0”—an effort for which an old RV has already been donated to potentially serve as the vessel’s base. 

“Rebuilding a whole new ship is going to be costly. We’re hoping it will be a ship that can travel another 40 years,” Poore said. 

The name of the nonprofit is MSMH Foundation, and anyone interested in helping can visit the ship’s Facebook page or send an email to [email protected]

Santa Claus waves from the helm of the Magic Ship of Christmas, crewed by Boy Scouts Troop 799 at the Dec. 5 holiday parade. 2015 file photo.
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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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