One of the Beaufort Water Festival's oldest traditions came back with a bang this year as the crews of 11 local vessels danced, sang and swashbuckled their way through the blessing of the fleet to compete for the prize of the best decorated boat.
The 56th annual, 10-day event culminated Sunday afternoon at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Locals and visitors gathered on the seawall to watch the festival's blessing of the fleet. Meanwhile, volunteers worked to remove fencing and to dismantle the main stage while watching the ceremonial passing of the "torch" from this year's festival commodore, Bob Bible, to next year's elected leader, John Gentry.
Led by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources boat The Silver Crescent -- with Bible and other festival staff on deck -- about 25 vessels made the first pass along the Waterfront Park seawall to remember those who have lost their lives on the water.
The Rev. Paul MacNeil, pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church of Beaufort, read Psalm 8, the blessing for a ship or boat, and then blessed each passing vessel. John boats, pleasure crafts, trawlers and even a tiny, remote-control speed boat were sprinkled with holy water.
"The ocean provides so much importance to us ... it's a playground for so many of us in God's garden," MacNeil said.
On the second pass, Bible welcomed Gentry and his wife, Jan, and the crews of the competing vessels amped up the music and turned on the charm for the judges. Eleven vessels entered the contest to determine the best-decorated boat in three categories.
The trawler 'Lil Hoss, owned by George White, was packed with crew members dressed as pirates with banners and flags celebrating "300 years of pirate history in Beaufort."
Their enthusiasm and a blast from the ship's cannon cinched it.
For the second year in a row, 'Lil Hoss and its crew took home two $100 checks -- one for the best-decorated commercial boat and another for being named the judges' favorite.
The trawler Chancy James won best decorated pleasure vessel when no other non-commercial vessels entered the contest, organizer Dan Thompson said.
The trawler and its cohort Gracie Belle, both owned by the Reaves family, are named after Craig Reaves' grandparents. Both crafts were manned by family members and children from local congregations, including members of the Shell Point Baptist Church's youth group, Reaves said. Gracie Belle featured religious and historical decor.
"Over the years, we've done a variety of themes, but we always have a clear message presenting the gospel," Reaves said. "We look forward to the festival every year because we like to support the community and in turn, the event really helps the community."
Not long after finishing some of his last duties as commodore, Bible reflected on the week he said "couldn't have gone better." He thanked the volunteers for their dedication and the weather for cooperating.
"We were blessed with great weather and I think most of the events were well received by the public," Bible said. "I think the next crew is ready to take charge. I really wouldn't change a thing."
Follow staff writer Cassie Foss at twitter.com/LCBlotter.