A 76-year-old sailing enthusiast won the men's division of the 51st annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest in Key West, Florida, on Saturday. Bill Ochse of Ocean City, Maryland, 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 harbour, and at sunset you blow the conch horn to salute the setting sun."
"They all sound differently," Ochse 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.
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.