THE COMMODORE’S ‘SIDEKICK’: Dale Allen serves 40-plus years at Blessing of the Fleet

Tina Harbuck
Dale Allen did her thing Thursday, pulling cards on captains and boats and then sent them down to clergy for the 58th Blessing of the Fleet.

Out of 58, Dale Allen has only missed one, and Thursday’s  58th annual Blessing of the Fleet was not it.

“The only one I’ve missed was the first one,” said Allen, whose grandfather John Maltezo built the historical seine boat the Primrose, which was recently restored and now displayed at the Destin History and Fishing Musuem.

However, for the last 40-plus years, Allen hasn’t just attended the blessed event, but has worked to help keep the boats in line.

Allen, 76, along with Capt. William Frank Davis who serves as Commodore for the event, sits in the wheelhouse of a command boat and makes sure all the boats are lined up and ready to come through for their blessing from area clergy.

She first got involved with the Blessing of the Fleet when she worked as church secretary at St. Andrew’s By-The-Sea Episcopal Church. At that time, St. Andrew’s headed up the event and registered all those boats that wanted to participate.

As secretary, she would get the names of the boats and their captains on the index cards and file them alphabetically, so they would be easy to pull as the boat lined up for the blessing.

Although she has since retired from the church secretary job, she is still very much involved and continues to work with Capt. Davis to get the boats through the line.

“William Frank lines them up by radio in the harbor, and then I pull the cards and send them down to the clergy,” she said, so they will be able to call captains and boats by name as they pass by for their blessing.

“They call William Frank the commodore … I’m his sidekick,” she laughed and said.

When the blessing started more than half a century ago, it was just the clergy from St. Andrews who participated and blessed the boats and crew.

“But now it’s grown into the whole community which is great. It’s turned into a big thing now … and to see all the clergy gathered together is just wonderful,” she said.

Not only has the clergy grown but so has the number of boats participating.

“When we first started it was mostly family boats that were in it, my daddy and uncle and all of them,” she said.

“It was mostly the old families that were here then,” she said mentioning a few such as the Maltezos, Destins, Marlers and Melvins.

“It was a lot smaller then and we used to do fish fries right there on the beach,” Allen said.

The early blessings took place across U.S. Hwy. 98 from St. Andrews down on the docks.

Today the Blessing of the Fleet has grown to more than 100 boats with about a dozen clergy gathering to bestow blessings on the fishermen for the upcoming season.

“It’s for those who go out and make their living by the sea,” Allen said.

“My dad was a fisherman (Nick Maltezo) and I’ve got a son that’s still fishing,” she said. Her son Capt. Todd Allen runs the Big John.

“It just means a lot because that was the life I was raised in,” Allen said.

“And asking God to bless them and keep them safe always meant a lot to my dad. And it always meant a lot to me because I was part of that fishing community growing up.

“Even now with Todd, it’s just part of our lives,” she said.

“To me it’s just  one of the greatest blessings that happens during the year. It’s what this whole city was built on, the fishing community and their belief and God’s protection,” she said.