Some of the highlights:
The Blessing of the Fleet
Shrimp boats, fishing boats, and sailboats cruised by the docks to receive blessings from local clergy; our favorite was the blessing of the fishing boat named “Trash Can.” (Even the minister snickered at this one.)
King Retsyo (that’s oyster, spelled backwards) and Miss Florida Seafood arrived by shrimp boat to preside over the festivities. As Eric noted, the queen was young and beautiful, but apparently there’s no equivalent requirement for the king, who was about as old as us and a little rough around the edges. (We discovered that the king is recruited for his leadership in the seafood industry, not for his beauty. And according to a bit of gossip we overheard at the parade, the king was mighty cranky about having to get up at the crack of dawn for the event.)
I’m not sure if there’s still a talent requirement for the festival queen, but I do recall years ago a contestant who shucked oysters to a recording of “Stars And Stripes Forever.” I just love that.
The best parades are small-town, done big. This was an exuberant procession of high school marching bands, fire trucks packed with kids, vintage boats and cars, nautically themed floats, and dignitaries and parade royalty performing the beauty-queen wave from the bows and sterns of boats. We scored big on beads—every passing float and boat tossed beaucoup strings of beads, Mardi Gras style.
The Oyster Shucking & Oyster Eating Contests
The finest oyster shuckers in the area competed for the title of fastest oyster shucker. The contest, which involves shucking 18 oysters, was over almost as fast as it began. The judging took far longer: Points are deducted for bits of shell, torn up oysters, or blood (a hazard of razor sharp oyster knives).
Meanwhile, the oyster-eating contest got underway. The only requirement: Keep ‘em down. The winner ate 168 raw oysters in 15 minutes. I cannot imagine.
Seafood gumbo, oyster stew, fried mullet, smoked mullet, raw oysters, fried oysters, boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, crab cakes, fish tacos…that barely scratches the surface. I finally settled on local scallop tacos with lime cilantro slaw, and Eric chose a shrimp po-boy. Both were delicious.
The seafood industry—oystering, crabbing, shrimping, and fishing—is the lifeblood of this area. There’s good reason for the people here to celebrate and take pride in their community and their outstanding seafood. I hope it forever remains an unpretentious fishing village.
This sounds great! My mouth is watering.
Where do they put all of these folks. (campgrounds?)
Campgrounds, B&B’s, or staying with family and friends — but I think the majority of people come for the day from surrounding towns in North Florida and Georgia. Oddly enough, it didn’t feel crowded in town to us at all! It’s much crazier in Ashland on the 4th of July.