Christmas will be a bit more festive for the 460 residents of Tangier Island, a remote fishing village on a tiny spit of land in the Chesapeake Bay, thanks to a group of general aviation pilots. Pilots and passengers in 28 airplanes flew on Dec. 13 to the Virginia island to drop off bags of holly, bringing along Santa Claus, candy, gifts, and loads of good cheer.
The Tangier Holly Run fleet this year consisted of everything from Ercoupes and other light sport aircraft to a formation of Van’s RVs, a single-engine turboprop and everything in between. Santa arrived in a Garrett-powered sleigh, looking—and sounding—a lot like a Mitsubishi MU-2 twin turboprop, with the call sign “Rudolph One.” He and his elves were swarmed by children of the island as he handed out candy canes and other gifts at the airport before boarding a golf cart for a tour of the island, greeting residents throughout the community.
The pilots meanwhile unloaded dozens of bags of holly and other greens for the residents to decorate their two churches and their homes. The island has only a few dozen trees and almost no evergreens. The pilots also brought along school supplies and other gifts.
“The holly run means a lot,” said Tangier Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge. “It’s encouraging to the residents to see that so many people from off the island are concerned about Tangier and take an interest in the island.”
This is the forty-seventh annual Tangier Holly Run. Cambridge, Maryland, resident Ed Nabb started the tradition in 1968 after learning from his friend on the island that the residents didn’t have any traditional holiday greens. He loaded up his Ercoupe and brought some to the island’s 2,400-foot-long runway, which runs the entire western length of the island. In following years, friends and then friends of friends piled on, bringing their own airplanes and own greens. Nabb’s son Ed Jr., took over organization of the event for many years until about five years ago when the employees and customers at Chesapeake Sport Pilot, a Bay Bridge Airport flight school, took over the logistics and planning.
Chesapeake Sport Pilot owner Helen Woods said the school’s staff and renters now handle the invitations, planning, and serving of breakfast at Bay Bridge Airport, which serves as a gathering place for the Tangier fleet before launching for the island.
With their charitable duties done, the pilots took advantage of a crisp December Saturday to attend a holiday service at Swain Memorial United Methodist Church on the island. The church is just around the corner from the health clinic built in memory of Dr. David B. Nichols, a physician who for years flew his helicopter to the island to deliver medical care in a worn medical clinic. (See Dr. COPTR from the September 2009 issue of AOPA Pilot.) He helped dedicate a new clinic named in his honor before his death in 2010.
In lieu of the traditional $100 hamburger, the Holly Run pilots opted instead for the local favorite, crab cakes, with the crabs and other seafood fresh from the local commercial fishermen in the village.
And while food may be the motivator for some pilots, for others there’s more to it. “It’s a great opportunity for us as general aviation pilots to show off both our love of flying as well as our love of helping others,” said Woods. Flying, helping others, good food, and camaraderie. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.