From a small fleet of 12 boats more than six decades ago, the annual Blessing of the Fleet is now overflowing with vessels, with local clergy blessing everything from charter boats to pirate ships.
On Thursday, Ascension Day, 140 vessels participated in the 61st annual Blessing of the Fleet in Destin as members of the local clergy spoke words of blessing over the boats, captains, crews and families as they paraded through Destin harbor.
For some it was their first time to have their boat blessed, while others have participated for many years.
For Capt. Harold Staples of the Al-Lin it was his 45th and is something he looks forward to each year.
“When you go out there you are at the mercy of the elements, without (God's) leadership and guidance and protective hand a lot of us wouldn’t make it every day,” Staples said. “So it’s a blessing just to be here.”
Capt. John Gibson of the Gulf Breeze said he also looks forward to the gathering.
“We’re at God’s mercy every day … and the thing about this is, it’s for the fishermen,” Gibson said.
This was Gibson’s eighth year in a row to participate, however, he attended many blessings as a young man with his father, who fished out of Destin for a number of years.
Not only is the Blessing of the Fleet for the captains, but for the families and their crew.
Dale Allen, who has served alongside Capt. William Frank Davis as the Commodore for the event for 50 years, was in attendance on Thursday like always.
“I’ve participated in 60 out of 61,” Allen said. “It means a lot because I worked with my dad, Capt. Nick Maltezo. … It was a special day for him on the Capt. Nick. He was one of the first that went in the blessing. It meant a lot to us because we were a fishing family.”
Today, Allen’s son, Capt. Todd Allen still fishes out of Destin aboard the charter boat Big John.
Prior to the actual blessing of the boats, more than 100 folks gathered under the tent at Fishing Fleet Marina for a worship service led by Immanuel Anglican Church and the Rev. Caleb Miller.
Miller recognized Davis and Allen who have served as the Commodore’s for the Blessing of the Fleet for the past 50 years.
After a few worship songs and scripture readings, Miller spoke on Psalm 93.
“It is God that reigns,” Miller said. “God is more powerful than the waves or seas."
Miller went on to say that “God’s kingdom never fails.”
Although Thursday was about blessing the fleet, Miller said the biggest blessing is “knowing Jesus as savior.”
After a few songs, members of the local clergy spoke blessings over individual captains and families as they so desired.
Then they proceeded down to the docks for the blessing of the boats. Following the blessing a feast and fellowship took place under the tent.