RARELY do you see Newcastle’s Bogey Hole empty on a searing hot day.
But on Sunday sweet relief momentarily made way for a frenzied race as crowds lined the rock platforms and stairs to observe the Greek Orthodox tradition of the Blessing of the Waters.
Flashback: The Blessing of the Waters in 2017
Yioti Binos, 17, of Hamilton, was anointed the winner after outclassing a field of eight others to pluck the metal crucifix from the blue-green water.
Yioti, who was wearing a black armband along with fellow competitor Jeordie Gilbertson, paid emotional tribute to his friend who died on Friday in a tragic boating accident on the Williams River at Raymond Terrace.
“This is for him,” he said. “It means a lot, it means everything … to me, my family, the church.”
Moments before, Yioti was in tears as he was embraced by his family by the water’s edge.
His mother, Voula, said she was proud of her son and predicted he would get there first.
“He wanted it enough,” she said. “He wanted it enough for the blessing, in honour of his friend.”
Greek Orthodox Parish of Newcastle rector Father Nicholas Scordilis blessed the scenic ocean pool before dropping the cross from the cliff face, sparking cheers from the Greek community and the swimmers who had politely exited the pool for the ceremony to take place.
The nine competitors raced to retrieve it before Yioti emerged from the water in less than 30 seconds with the cross held high above his head.
It is the second time the Blessing of the Waters has taken place in the spiritual home of the Bogey Hole since the completion of safety upgrades in late 2016.
The tradition temporarily took place in the Newcastle Ocean Baths while the state government stabilised the cliff face with $490,000 worth of bolting works.
The ceremony is partly held to mark the Feast of Theophany, which symbolises the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.
Participants in the blessing pray for prosperity and the safe return of those at sea.
The winner is thought to receive good fortune for 40 days.
Meanwhile, detectives are calling for anyone who may have witnessed the boating accident at Raymond Terrace to come forward.
The 17-year-old, who police have not named, died after he fell from the water-skiing boat near the Fitzgerald Bridge shortly before 7pm on Friday.
The teenager is understood to have hit his head.
The skipper of the boat, a 34-year-old man, and the man skiing behind the boat, were uninjured.
The boy died at the scene.