Peter P. Smith emerged from a group of 43 teenage boys in Spring Bayou today with the blessed cross, the coveted prize of the 108th annual Epiphany festival in Tarpon Springs.
Smith, 18, is a member of the St. Barbara Church in Sarasota. Smith’s uncle was the late Peter T. Assimack, a popular Tarpon accountant and fisherman who died from cancer in 1996 at age 35.
In contrast to some recent years, the cross was retrieved quickly and without controversy Monday.
A large crowd of spectators bundled in coats and blankets against a cold, 22 mph wind watched from the banks of the bayou as Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, tossed the cross into the 62-degree waters and the 43 divers jumped from anchored dinghies to retrieve it.
“The weather is always a concern, but when it comes time for the dive the skies always seem to clear and there’s a sparkle in the air,” said Johanna Kossifidis, co-chairman for the city’s annual Epiphany festival
“We’ve had years where it was freezing, where there was pouring rain right before or after, but no matter what the weather, our boys are prepared and honored to do this.”
While organizers had estimated that as many as 25,000 spectators would be in Tarpon for the Epiphany celebration, the forecast for high winds and plummeting temperatures appeared to have reduced turnout.