Jammed into the Coupeville Rec Hall like the proverbial sardines, people stood elbow-to-elbow awaiting this year’s Mussel-eating competition.
Phones out, ready to grab pictures, the crowd egged on the mighty mollusk-eaters.
“Three … two … one …” and more than 20 speed-eaters wolfed down red Solo cups filled with mussels as quickly as they could.
They may have had differing techniques, but all ate with vigor.
Rawle Jefferds, of Penn Cove Shellfish, along with Musselfest organizers, supervised the contestants with a close eye, as did the crowd.
When a champion emerged, raising his hands high in the air, onlookers cheered and applauded the mussel-devouring victor.
Ryan Leckie, of Bellingham, was crowned king for the third year in a row Saturday. Sunday’s winner, Cord Goss, was a newcomer, not only to the competition, but the festival itself.
Leckie said the hardest thing about the competition was not missing a mussel.
Goss, who lives in Lynnwood, said “shuck and suck” was his winning technique. He grinned from ear to ear as Jefferds draped him with the velvety, royal blue cape and placed the gold crown adorned with shells on his head.
Asked if he would return to the competition next year, Goss replied, “I have to now, I’ve got to keep my crown.”
The eating contest may be the most energetic event of the two-day Musselfest celebrations, but attendees found plenty of other activities to enjoy.
This event included chowder-tastings, a firetruck visit for children, live music, boat tours, cooking demonstrations, beer tents and a magical mermaid.
And, of course, mussels aplenty.
The weather was sunny and clear this year, which many festival-goers and organizers said they were pleased to see.
The mermaid, who held court inside the Masonic Lodge, was peppered with questions by children.
“Do you have any pets?” they asked. “Where did you come from?” and “Do you have a mom?”
A purr-maid, or cat-mermaid; jellyfish and a seahorse were among the pets kept by mermaid “Nymphaea,” also known as Stella Rowan of Oak Harbor.
The mermaid explained she does have parents, that her makeup stays on by magic, and no, she can’t perform any cool magic because it scares humans.
Rowan said she made most of her costume herself, except for the tail, which is usable for swimming.
Coupeville resident Aurora Anderson said her daughter, 3, was delighted by Nymphaea, as she’d never seen a Whidbey Island mermaid before.
The texture of mussels can be off-putting for some children, but Eleanor Dains, 5, was willing to try one — for a bribe.
She described it as squishy, colorful, and not her type of food.
“I got a dollar,” she said. “I didn’t really like it.”
Bands played and beer was served at two tents, in the Waterfont Beer and Wine Garden behind the Rec Hall, and at the Penn Cove Shellfish Mussels and Music beer and wine garden.
Proceeds from the Penn Cove Shellfish tent go to the Boys and Girls Club of Coupeville and the Coupeville High School science scholarship program.