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Blessing of the Fleet

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The Blessing of the Fleet is a tradition that began centuries ago in Mediterranean fishing communities. The practice is predominantly Catholic and a blessing from the local priest was meant to ensure a safe and bountiful season. However, there are numerous instances where the "Blessing" was initiated by an Episcopalian minister.[1][2][3]

In most United States ports, the event was brought by immigrants who held strongly to their Catholic religious beliefs. Three of the most well known Gulf ports are Biloxi, Mississippi & Bayou La Batre, Alabama (French) and Tarpon Springs, Florida (Greek). The events that are part of the ritual vary by community and range from a simple ceremony to a multi-day festival including a Catholic mass, Parades, Pageantry, Dancing, Feasting and Contests. The Blessing of the Fleet is held at coastal fishing communities throughout much of the world. The two bible verses most used in Blessing of the Fleet are: Psalm 104, verses 24-41 & Psalm 107, verses 23-32. The actual blessing used at Destin, Florida, is as follows:

“Most gracious Lord, who numbered among your apostles the fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John, we pray you to consecrate this boat to righteous work in your name. Guide the captain at her helm. So prosper her voyages that an honest living may be made. Watch over her passengers and crew and bring them to a safe return. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon this vessel and all who come aboard, this day and forever. Amen”

Jacksonville

The celebration in Jacksonville, Florida is a simple ceremony that was first held in 1985. While it is held on Palm Sunday, and an Orthodox priest does the blessings, it is a fun, festive boat parade. Some of the participants go overboard with their decorations. Typically, more than 150 vessels participate in the Blessing, ranging from ships to kayaks.[4] [5] [6]

Darien

Darien, Georgia has held an annual blessing since 1970. The blessing is held on the Darien River on a Sunday afternoon each spring, but the date varies. It is scheduled to coincide with a falling tide because a rising tide could drive the boats into the bridge—a reminder that they are always at the mercy of the weather. The celebration in Darien begins early in the week with activities that include an evening prayer service, a fishermen's fish fry, and a street parade. Local clerics of various denominations stand ready on the bridge to the bless the boats which then turnaround and move down the Altamaha River and back into the Atlantic to begin the Spring shrimping season.

Brunswick

Portuguese immigrants introduced the event to their new home in Brunswick, Georgia around the time of World War II, more than sixty years ago. The blessing is held on Mother's Day to honor Our Lady of Fatima, the patron saint of Portugal, and mothers in the parish. The event begins with a morning mass and the ceremonial "May crowning" of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, followed by a parishioners parade around Hanover Square, adjacent to the church. The procession is led by a Knights of Columbus honor guard and 8 men carrying the statue. The statue’s base is decorated with ferns and fresh red (for living mothers) and white (for deceased mothers) flowers. An anchor made of red and white flowers is also placed at the statue’s base. The celebration then moves to the waterfront, where shrimp trawlers, freshly painted and decorated, circle the waterfront. The "working" boats are usually matched by an equal number of recreational watercraft.

The priest from St. Francis and the Knights of Columbus honor guard board one of the boats and the priest sprinkles Holy water and blesses each boat as it passes by. During the procession the boats are judged on their decorations, with prizes awarded to the best. After the last boat has been blessed, the boats move up the East River to St. Simons Sound, where the flower anchor is laid upon the water in memory of the local fishermen who perished at sea. [7]

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