From a handful of boats to more than 140 vessels, the Blessing of the Fleet has changed in its 62 years.
But one thing has been constant — William Frank Davis.
On Thursday, the 88-year-old will climb on the bridge of the Anastasia and take the captains chair where he will serve as commodore of the Blessing of the Fleet for the 53rd time.
Davis, along with family friend Dale Allen, will again line up the boats over the radio and make sure they are ready to come through for their blessing from area clergy.
In his more than a half-century of serving as commodore, Davis said the biggest change he’s seen is the number of boats.
“I think there were about 18 boats when I first started and that was counting commercial boats and all,” he said.
Last year, 140 vessels participated in the blessing, including charter boats, sailboats and even pirate ships, taking more than two hours to parade through.
Davis first started serving as commodore while he was attending church at St. Andrew’s by the Sea Episcopal Church.
However, he recalls that Cecil Woodward served in the position before him.
As for Allen, she first got involved when she worked as church secretary for St. Andrew’s, which headed up the event and registered all the boats that wanted to participate.
As church secretary, she would get the names of the boats and their captains on index cards and file them alphabetically so they would be easy to pull as the boats lined up for the blessing. On the day of the event, Davis lines the boats up by radio in the harbor; she then pulls the cards and sends them down to the clergy so they will be able to call the captains and boats by name as they pass by for their blessing.
Although both Davis and Allen have since retired from their jobs, he as a boat captain of more than 30 years and she as secretary, they continue to serve at the blessing event.
“I’m just going to do it as long as I can,” Davis said. “I’m not trying to break no record. Somebody’s got to do it and I’m used to doing it, you know.”
As for Allen she can hardly remember a time when she wasn’t involved with the blessing.
“It’s always been an important part of my life with my dad — Capt. Nick Maltezo. It was an important part of his life as a boat captain and something he always looked forward to. All the fishermen looked forward to it. It meant a lot to start the year off with a blessing,” she said.
She said it started with mostly family boats and a fish fry off her dad’s dock.
“We did the blessing right there and a free fish fry … and it just kept getting larger and larger,” she said.
Today the event is held at Fishing Fleet Marina with a service conducted under a big tent behind Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer with singing, a teaching from clergy and testimonies from fishermen. Then captains, crew, family and friends load up on their vessels for the blessing.
“I like the spiritual part of it and what it means to ask God’s blessing on the captains and crew and their fishing time,” Allen said. “It’s an honor and a blessing to be part of it.”
Will this be the last year for Davis and Allen?
“He says every year it’s the last,” Allen said.
However Davis said, “Not going to give up until my toes go up.”