Minutes before the 54th Annual Beaufort Water Festival Grand Parade wound its way down Bay Street on Saturday morning, six-year-old Gigi Morgan stood in the middle of the road with her grandfather, binoculars to her eyes, hoping to catch an early glimpse
It was Gigi's sixth festival parade and the 23rd in a row for her grandparents, Mitch and Carolynn Beverly.
"She's getting so anxious for the parade that her grandfather thought using the binoculars would ease the pain," said Carolynn Beverly with a laugh as she sat beneath the shade of a storefront awning. "She's a Beaufort girl."
The excitement was palpable throughout downtown Beaufort as more than 2,000 spectators lined up to watch the parade, also broadcast live on local television.
The event started at 10 a.m. at the tennis courts on Bladen Street, marched down Boundary Street and around Bellamy's Curve, traveled Carteret Street and ended at the U.S. Federal Courthouse at Bladen and Bay.
More than 60 businesses and organizations participated, waving and tossing beach balls, popsicles, candy and other trinkets to the crowd. A U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard led the way, holding the American and Corps flags high -- and making up for the absence of the perennial parade leader the U.S. Marine Corps Marching Band, which had a last-minute scheduling conflict.
"The people who go to watch the parade don't see the behind-the-scenes stuff that we go through," said Pat Harvey-Palmer, parade chairwoman for the Beaufort Lions Club, which coordinates the event. "As long as they're OK with it, that's what's important. There were some really cool entries."
Among those weaving through downtown on floats and displays: a water-skiing Jesus; Abraham Lincoln on a giant tricycle; bicycles decked out as boats, complete with three-dimensional sails; a swim-trunk-clad cow in a kiddie pool; mini Corvettes turning figure-eights; Beaufort Garden Club members with lace parasols; a golf cart turned soccer ball; and dancing members of the Beaufort Shag Club.
"We loved it," said Tammy Harold, a Columbia resident who watched the parade with daughters Alana, 11, and Hannah, 13. "We drove two hours to see it. The floats are very creative. It's wonderful."
Notoriously hot July weather had kept Beaufort residents Erinn and Andy Womack indoors during the past six or seven Water Festivals. Not so on Saturday. The couple was among those cheering for parade participants under partly cloudy skies and a temperature near 90 degrees.
"The parade was great," Erinn Womack said, smiling at daughter Emily, 4, and son Carter, 2. "We have had a ball."