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A steady hand, a calm disposition, and plenty of shucking has contributed to Vic Pearsey's oyster-opening championship reign.
For the ninth consecutive year, Ms Pearsey, an oyster opener at Barnes Wild Bluff Oysters, won the women's open section at the Bluff Oyster and Food Festival on Saturday.
Once settled at the opening bench, pallet under her feet to boost her height, Ms Pearsey calmly counted and checked the 50 oysters, making sure they were up to standard, before arranging them flat side up, ready for the competition.
Her time was 3 minutes, 12 seconds, 12 seconds ahead of Peggy Bishop, also of Barnes, with Alecia Brown (Ms Pearsey's niece), of Calder's Oysters, third in 3 minutes, 32 seconds. Only in her first season of opening, Ms Brown also won the novice oyster-opening competition.Ms Pearsey said her main motivation to compete was encouraging more girls to get involved in the competitions. She planned to return next year to try for a 10th title.
In the men's open competition, also opening 50 oysters, the previous reigning champ of five years, Shane Wixon, was ousted by Ricci Grant, of Barnes, in 2 minutes, 58 seconds.
Mr Grant, a runner-up in previous years, finally shucked his way to success this year.
Mr Grant was elated, agreeing with Ms Pearsey the oyster shells were soft, meaning he had to slow down "a little" to avoid cutting any oyster flesh.
As well as the oyster competitions, about 20,000 salt-water bivalve molluscs were consumed in a variety of ways, both cooked and raw, by the thousands who came to the festival, Bluff promotions and publicity officer Lindsay Beer said.
About 4500 people came from various parts of the globe and throughout New Zealand, including two charter flights from Auckland and Wellington.
One was 91-year-old Mary-Helen Lum, of Wellington, who was believed to be the oldest person at the festival and won a dozen fresh oysters for the honour.
She said she first ate an oyster at age 3, saying "I was a very spoiled child".
It was not just oysters that were in demand at the various festival food stalls; many other delicacies, including muttonbirds and non-seafood items, also tempted festival-goers.
Mr Beer said tickets to the event had all been sold months ago, and the queues around the block waiting for the gates to open at 10.30am was a testament to the popularity of the annual festival.
Having travelled from Blenheim to compete in the oyster-eating championship, Daryl "Dagwood" MacDonald's hopes for a fourth title were dashed after he was beaten in the heats. The title went to Melanie Cotter, of Brisbane.
- Janette Gellatly