Decorated boats paraded in the Beaufort River for a sprinkling of holy water and a chance for prize money Sunday as one of the Beaufort Water Festival's oldest traditions -- the blessing of the fleet -- helped usher in the end of the 57th annual, 10-day event.
The vessels in the Parade of Boats didn't have to compete for blessings but they did for the attention of judges, with three boats taking home $100 each for being the most decked out on the final day.
Out of 10 entrants, DragonBoat Beaufort paddled its way into the judges' hearts, earning the Judges' Favorite Award. The best-decorated pleasure vessel went to Salty Dogs, with Marge Barber as captain.
The only commercial vessel entered in the contest -- the Gracie Belle, owned by the Reaves family of Sea Eagle Market -- easily sailed away with the top prize in the commercial category. The family shrimp boat was decorated by the youth of Shell Point Baptist Church and had plenty of inflatable beach toys and enthusiastic youngsters on board.
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On land in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, volunteers were putting in their final hours cleaning up the remains of the festival and reminiscing.
Erin "Tank" Morris, who helped organize the final day's events, said the ending of the festival was bittersweet. This year was his first as a coordinator, and he said he averaged three to four hours of sleep a night and missed seeing his 6-year-old son.
"I'm excited to go home, sleep, relax, get off my feet a little and get in the air conditioning," Morris said. "But I hate to see it go because it's so much fun. We're like a family here."
Next year, Morris said he'll be back with ideas for how to get more boats off of the sandbar and decorated for the parade.
Hope you didn't miss
Festivalgoers quickly snapped up a t-shirt or other merchandise commemorating the 57th annual Beaufort Water Festival. Youth and toddler sizes of the event's official apparel sold out in the early days of the festival and online orders are closed. A limited selection is available at Grayco and at the Visitor's Center on Craven Street.
Volunteer of the day
For merchandise director Melina Lee, manning the festival's merchandise booth was a vacation.
"I took off work to come down here," said Lee, who volunteered for the first time at last year's festival.
During the 10 days of the festival, Lee oversaw a brisk business selling t-shirts, hats, coozies and other commemorative apparel in a tent located at the front of the Festival Art and Craft Market.
She worked from 7 a.m. to nearly midnight each day, and she'd gladly do it again, she said.
"Growing up in Beaufort, the Water Festival has many coming-of-age moments. The first year you get to go to the Street Dance you feel like you're grown. Then several years later when you prefer the Commodore's Ball you know you've grown UP. Fun times," Geni Flowers via Facebook.
To see what others are saying about the Beaufort Water Festival on social media, go to www.beaufortgazette.com/waterfestival.