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Banner Year For Oyster Fest 30

Another great Oyster Festival is now a memory.

“It was incredible. Many people broke (food sales) records from the past. I would call this almost the best year ever. I am just starting to get some of the results, but, it looks like a banner year,” said Rotarian Bev Zembko, Tom Reardon Memorial Food Court coordinator.

The 30th Annual Oyster Festival is supported by the Oyster Bay Charitable Fund and is a project of The Oyster Bay Rotary. And the public seems to understand the true focus of the event. Walking along Larrabee Avenue on Sunday, a guest wearing a suede jacket with Harley Davidson written in sparkling rhinestones on the back, was talking about the $20 fee for parking in the Roosevelt Elementary School lot. “The money is for the benefit of the PTA. They use the money for programs for the school children,” she said, explaining that she and her companion appreciated being close to the festival and giving to a worthy cause at the same time.

That seems to be part of the magic of the festival: that people appreciate that it is a fund raiser for the non-profits, and for the love of oysters and seafood. This year the Oyster Shucking Contest set a new record. “There have been Oyster Shuck-offs but this was the first time we had an Eat-off,” said David Relyea, whose company Frank M. Flower & Sons, Inc. has provided the festival’s oysters for 30 years.

Each year Oyster Festival crowds at the shucking and eating contests get used to seeing some regulars on the stage but this year Dave Mahnken of Melville, who won his tenth title last year for shucking 35 oysters in four minutes, wasn’t there to defend his title. “His daughter was being married and he was at the reception,” said David Relyea. Another favorite was back. Andy Schuller drove up from North Carolina to celebrate his 50th birthday at the 30th Oyster Festival. He came in fourth.

“Everyone thought he could win, but I guess it is 30 years later,” said Relyea. “He originally shucked 57 oysters for first place.” His sister Stacey Valentine and niece Corinne were there cheering him on in the front row.

Another retuning contestant was Ralph Alarcon who was the winning shucker with 38 oysters. “His new baby daughter was there, looking adorable,” said Betty Tiska, who regularly volunteers for the oyster contests. “She was wearing a hand knitted elephant hat with big ears,” said Betty.

Ralph Alarcon, 37, of Lynbrook, won the oyster-shucking contest, opening 38 in four minutes. He came in second in 2011. The fastest eater this year was John Guiliano, 64, of Syosset. He had been the winner at the first Oyster Festival. This year he ate 108 oysters, as did Nathaniel Cocca-Bates, 31, of Harlem resulting in the first ever eat-off. During the one-minute eat-off, Guiliano won by eating 71 oysters to Nathaniel’s 36.

Waterfront Tour

Dave Relyea and Betty Tiska were taking a walk along the Western Waterfront Pier and on the schooner Mystic on Sunday morning. Her main deck has a salon/dining area, and a lounge (both with wrap-around views), plus a ship’s store. Mystic has wide decks for relaxing and permanent deck-box seating, full-length on port and starboard. It is made for enjoying.

On board they met Geoff Jones, owner of the Anne (pronounced Annie), an 1884 oyster sloop. The Anne didn’t make the Oyster Festival this year, because of the rough seas: the waves were too high. Jennifer Sappell, Tall Ship co-coordinator (with James Werner) said they felt the Anne was too fragile to take the trip across the Sound from Connecticut. Jones was delighted to give the history of his oyster sloop and the story of its many engine changes.

Sappell said the same rough seas that kept the oyster sloop  Anne from coming to the Oyster Festival kept the schooner Mystic going slow. It was expected to arrive at the dock at noon on Friday, then 3 p.m. and finally at 6:30. “The ship was going 10 mph all the way from Mystic, Connecticut,” she said.

Sappell also co-chaired the events on Audrey Avenue and said, “I’m going to be very happy Monday. It’s my job to make sure everyone is happy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

She said what was so amazing to her was, “The transformation that takes place at the Oyster Festival when the waterfront in October goes from a barren park into a metropolis.” She added that another new feature for the festival was the Long Island Parent Tent. “It is for mothers who are breast feeding and for changing kids and for having some downtime for the kids, themselves. It was across from the West End Stage.”

There was something for everyone at the festival.

As Sappell had two jobs, so did her co-coordinator on the Tall Ships, James Werner was also the Youth Sports Activity Coordinator.

On Friday, James Werner was on the phone telling people about the two professional soccer teams, the NY Cosmos and the LI Rough Riders that were coming to the festival. “They were bringing a curtain backdrop and we will be photographing the kids, wearing a team jersey. They will be signing a one-day contract to be with the team. It is actually a liability release.

“But they promise to play fair, do their homework and listen to their parents,” he explained. He was also taking charge of the NFL Punt Pass Kick contest on Sunday.

Fireboat’s Fourth

The fireboat John J. Harvey, built n 1931, was another returnee to the festival that was tied up to the pier for the fourth time. In 2001 she pumped water at the site of Ground Zero for 80 hours, until NYC water mains were restored. Her owners have been working since 1999 to raise awareness of the importance of historic vessels to the history of New York City and the United States - and they are succeeding said Captain Huntley Gill. The fireboat has earned the interest of preservationists. It has worked through a NYS EPF matching grant and recently won a prestigious Federal Save America’s Treasures grant of $165,000. They are raising the last $50,000 of the funding and will be reaching for it at a Nov. 4 benefit. “We’ve done all the below deck work needed and now are working above on the water damage and rust.”

The Christeen was in her usual berth on the west side of the Western Waterfront Pier and was offering the public three rides a day at the festival. Captain Pete Macandrew was extolling the work of a new crew member, Mark Wagner. “He came with friends to sail on the Christeen and he stayed. He is one of those rare and capable volunteer crew members. We had a diner group onboard and Mark noted my eye fell on a bit of rigging floating on the water and he caught my gaze and moved the Christeen over to avoid the debris.”

Mark graduated from the University of Missouri at Rolla with a degree in mechanical engineering, lives in St. James and works at the Visentin Bike Shop on Pine Hollow Road. It is known in biking circles for its high end racing equipment.

The Ida May Project

Another boat is berthed on West End Avenue, is the Ida May.

The Christeen Oyster Sloop Preservation Corporation is building a replica of the historic Ida May oyster dredge.  The original Ida May was built in Bayville by Frank M. Flower in 1925 and was one of the first powered dredges in the oyster industry.  Once completed, the replica will be owned and operated by the WaterFront Center where she will take the public out on the water for recreation and marine and maritime education.

Marine artist Ken Marcell has created several prints for the IMP group and was at J Building greeting visitors. Fran Johnston, another IMP volunteer was there selling T-shirts and prints as their fundraising effort.

Since 2009, Building J, a large shed on the Western Waterfront, has been transformed into a boat building shop and construction of the Ida May is about 25 percent complete with her frame assembled. The Christeen Corporation is raising capital to complete the project and the J Building doors are open to visitors Tuesdays and Thursdays. Donations are always welcome.   

There was so much more to the Oyster Festival. This year for the first time the LIRR took ticket-taking seriously. The train gets so crowded as people get on at each stop, starting at Penn Station, that it is hard for the conductors to collect the tickets. This year they set up barricades for people exiting the trains for ticket collection. There were check points set up at the entrance to the carnival midway.

Another interesting feature of the festival was the sight of dog owners standing outside Theodore Roosevelt Park where the main part of the festival is located, pet-free. As a result family members sit with their pets, often waiting for the rest of the family to come back. The dogs are well behaved and well treated since outside there is room for them, but inside, the crowds might not be as careful of their small paws.

Next week the Oyster Festival Committee members will give in their reports and with a short breather, will start thinking of next year and how to make year 31, better than ever.