Mother Nature kicked sand -- and some chilly surf -- in the face of would-be sand sculptors Saturday at Compo Beach, as the day's damp and blustery weather cast a chill over the annual "Castles in the Sand" contest benefiting Homes with Hope.
Plagued by gray skies, cool temperatures and a forecast that called for a "washout," Jeff Wieser, president of the agency that tackles homelessness and hunger, made an executive decision to extend the event to Sunday.
He encouraged those who wanted to build sand sculptures Saturday to head to Compo Beach, but other were welcome to craft their sand creations Sunday.
And the tide, indeed, did turn Sunday, as the sun emerged to reveal a beach full of creativity with the sand sculpted into creatures of all shapes and sizes.
"This is our 12th annual event, and the first time we've been sort of rained out," said Wieser. "The mission of the effort is to raise funds for our agency in Westport, consisting of the Gillespie Homeless Center in downtown, an emergency shelter for families, and supportive housing. At present, we're accommodating about 87 people per night through our facilities."
The agency also operates a soup kitchen and food center, with operations supported by the community and government funding.
"We had 34 advance sign-ups. We usually have 40 to 45 given nice weather," Wieser said. "The forecast was certainly disappointing as this is a key event in terms of raising awareness."
Wieser said the upside was that the event has a loyal following. "Folks like the Epstein family have been here every year supporting us. We sent everyone involved an email to inform them about the changed schedule. The weather and Mother's Day are both challenges. We will photo capture today's installations and make the photos part of the judging."
Despite Saturday's gloomy weather, he added, "This is a fun way for the community to come together and a kickoff to the beach season."
As it turned out, a short window of dry conditions Saturday afternoon gave several groups time to tackle sand sculptures, including Michael Ferry and his team from Builders Beyond Borders. "We've been tracking the weather and an online report indicated we had a clear window until 4 p.m.," he said. "Our sand project will be themed around Guyana, where we just recently completed a community service project, building a village center."
Another group, led by Westporter Jennifer Brockman, said, "I was hoping to get an email saying this would be postponed to a warm sunny day. Unfortunately, that email didn't come. We've got our families and friends here to help create our sea life oriented sculpture."
Rob Lockhart, the Gillespie Center's program manager, was grateful for the turnout despite the inclement weather. "This type of support, whether building sand castles on a dreary day or helping out in our soup kitchen, really brings the community together. We've got our own crew out here today to create a lobster. We've got some stiff competition but hope to get honors."