KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — A 76-year-old Maryland sailing enthusiast won the men’s division of the 51st annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest in Key West on Saturday.
Bill Ochse of Ocean City impressed the judges by playing a “drum roll” and march excerpt on his fluted, pink-lined shell.
“When you cruise, the conch horn becomes an important instrument,” said Ochse, who once performed in a conch orchestra. “That’s the way you greet other boaters when you come into a harbor, and at sunset you blow the conch horn to salute the setting sun.”
Ochse said that although he has taught others how to make conch horns from shells, for the contest he played one he hadn’t crafted because he liked its tone.
“They all sound differently,” he said. “This is a deep-throated conch horn, and it’s got a real deep resonance to it.”
Judges evaluated contest entrants from children to seniors on the quality, novelty, duration and loudness of the sounds they produced.
The teen division winner was Key West’s Taylor Nasser, 13, who blew a lengthy blast while hula-hooping, and Mary Lou Smith of Panama City Beach won the women’s division.
Key West youngster Sam Holland, 5, won the boys’ division for the second consecutive year and 6-year-old Marlee Prigge, also of Key West, won the girls’ division.
The top group entry was the Boca Chica Conchestra, whose 24 members performed a conch-shell accompaniment and offbeat dance to a recording of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville.”
Conch shells have been used as signaling devices in the Florida Keys for at least 200 years. Native-born islanders are called Conchs, and the Keys are nicknamed the Conch Republic.
The contest was conceived by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, founded in 1960 to advocate preservation of Key West’s culture and historic buildings.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)