The Beaufort River was overrun with shrimp Saturday morning.
In a manner of speaking.
Dumped from the giant green catch bag of a shrimp boat named the Gracie Bell, 5,000 numbered, plastic shrimp bobbed down a quarter-mile stretch of the river as their sponsors and other spectators cheered them on from the seawall at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.
"Show 'em the whip!" one spectator yelled as the plastic crustaceans moved with the current away from the Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge toward a finish line stretched between a raft and a boat.
New to this year's Beaufort Shrimp Festival, the race was the brainchild of the Sea Island Rotary Club, which sold $10 sponsorships for each of the 5,000 faux shrimp. The winner, a shrimp sponsored by Beaufort High School, took home $2,000. Other top 10 finishers also won cash prizes. Proceeds of the race went to various Beaufort children's charities and toward Polio Plus, a Rotary initiative to eradicate the disease in the developing world.
"It's such a cute idea," said Lenore McIntosh of Georgetown as she watched the race from a swinging bench in the park. "I've seen it done with rubber ducks before but never with little floating shrimp. It's very appropriate. This is the shrimp festival after all."
The Shrimp Race was modeled after a rubber duck race staged by the Rotary Club of Daniel Island, organizers said.
The race was one of the first events of the final day of the 15th annual Beaufort Shrimp Festival, an event organized for the first time by Main Street Beaufort USA, an organization that promotes downtown redevelopment. The group took the reins of the festival from the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, which created Beaufort's annual celebration of all things shrimp.
LaNelle Fabian, the group's executive director, said the organization and execution of this year's festival went smoothly despite the change in leadership.
"I worked for years as a volunteer for the festival and as a staff members and we have a handful of volunteers who have done this for a while so it's gone pretty smoothly," Fabian said.
The thousands who flocked Saturday to Waterfront Park didn't seem to notice the change in leadership.
Nibbling on a basket of fried shrimp and wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of a shrimp, Bill Charles of Lady's Island said the event represents all he loves about Beaufort and the Lowcountry.
"Apart from maybe the palmetto, that tiny critter might be one of the biggest symbols for our state," Charles said. "Shrimping is a big part of this area's history and culture, and something we should be proud of."