From the opening of the gates on Friday morning to the much anticipated concert on Saturday night, the 49th annual Florida Seafood Festival came off without a hitch and lots of folks are calling it the best ever.
The weather was perfect with temperatures rising to 80 degrees during the day, clear blue skies and a light breeze.
More than a dozen boats came for the Blessing of the Fleet on Friday afternoon. As about 100 onlookers watched from shore, Moss Florida Seafood Christina Collins and King Retsyo Smokey Parrish arrived aboard the Buddy’s Boys shrimp boat. The eclectic collection of vessels included the shrimp boat Freedom that continued on to work afterwards; Floridays, a sailboat; sport fishing boats Stray Dog and Trash Can and Captain Gill’s charter houseboat the Lily. As the boats made their way to the pier, they were surrounded by a school of dolphins that raced and jumped in their wake.
The Rev. Themo Patriotis of the United Methodist Cooperative Parish, Rev. Martha Harris of Trinity Episcopal Church, Rev. Craig Hicks of Living Water Assembly of God, Rev. Barry Hand of the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Dr. John Sink and Sister Jeanne Drea of St. Patrick Catholic Church officiated at the blessing.
Micah Patriotis acted as crossbearer and Chris Clark performed on bagpipe.
The king and queen walked with their entourage to the heart of the festival where the royal couple was welcomed by Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson who praised the seafood workers and maritime trades as the foundation of the county economy.
Festival President John Solomon said that based on ticket sales, just under 30,000 people attended the festival, slightly fewer than last year but sales were brisk in the food court. Many of the food booths run by local not-for-profits sold out before the gates closed Saturday night. Solomon said, over the last three years, there has been an increase in participation by local food vendors. This year eight of the food booths were occupied by a not-for-profits, up two from last year.
“We ask each local vendor to specialize in just one or two food items,” Solomon said. This year, Franklin County cooks prepared and sold gumbo, fried mullet, oysters, fried Oreos, low country boil from an heirloom recipe and more.
The number of arts and crafts booths was up slightly from last year and most vendors reported good sales.
The annual Friday night Oyster Roast fundraiser for the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce was a sell out with more than 200 in attendance. The Apalachicola Bay oysters served there and at the festival were exceptionally fat and salty.
Some of the competitors in the oyster eating contest on Saturday thought they were a little too fat and complained they were larger than usual.
The winner of the men’s division of this year’s contest, newcomer Lee Postiere, managed to down 20 dozen (240). Second place went to Warren Melzer who ate 150 oysters, and third place to Jerome Brown who downed 145.
In the women’s division Angie Harnage took the honors for the second consecutive year consuming seven dozen. Last year, she ate 10 dozen. With six dozen under her belt, Ashley Goins came in second, followed by Andria Price who consumed five dozen.
In a surprise upset, Rick McCurley, sponsored by Dusty’s Oyster Bar in Panama City Beach, took first place in the oyster shucking contest. Last year’s champ, and the reigning national champ, Mike Martin was first to finish but came in second based on points for presentation. Brandon Patrick was number three.
T.J. Ward said he and the other oyster judges, Lynn Griner and Dan Davis consider whether the oysters are completely detached from the shell, if blood or trash is present and whether the oysters are broken. The shucker with the best score for presentation receives a 10- second bonus.
“The judges take their job very seriously and treat it with the dignity deserved,” said Michael Shuler, the festival director who oversees the shucking competition. “The outcome has a major effect on prestige if not finances.”
McCurley, runner up in the 2012 National Oyster Shucking Contest in Leonardtown, Maryland, has not competed in Apalachicola for six years. As winner, he will receive a $500 check to help pay his way to the national competition in 2013. Second place receives $100 and third place $50.
Pam Brownell organized this year’s Saturday morning parade. She said some changes were made, such as not having beauty queens showcased seated on the hood of a car. For safety’s sake, everyone was either in a vehicle or on a float.
A number of boats were called into service to ferry lovelies, including the Franklin Needs Calendar Girls, along the parade route. This gave the parade even more of a nautical flavor. Over 60 entries were displayed. Brownell said she received entries and cancellations up to the last minute. The Seahawks marching band gave an outstanding performance, looking smart in their black and silver uniforms. Also new this year was a pre-parade line-up, that did not stage on 12th Street, and thus did not block access to Weems Memorial Hospital
The weekend culminated with a concert by celebrated country artist Lee Brice, who arrived a little late but gave a performance well worth the wait.
To view galleries of the parade, the concert and other festival activities, visit www.ApalachTimes.com.