Blessing of the Fleet a community tradition, for fishermen and clergy

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

It was a great day on the waterfront for one of Destin’s oldest traditions — the Blessing of the Fleet. 

Sailboats, fishing boats and even pirate ships made their way through the harbor on May 13 for the 64th annual Blessing of the Fleet. 

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What started out with about a dozen fishing boats asking for blessing for a safe and prosperous year 64 years ago in the small fishing village of Destin, has grown just as the city. On Thursday, about 140 vessels made their way through the harbor for the event. 

Boats filled the Destin harbor Thursday evening during the 64th annual Blessing of the Fleet, one of Destin's oldest traditions.

Capt. Jim Green of the New Florida Girl’s American Spirit, a 75-plus passenger vessel, said they would not miss the event and the chance to be blessed. 

"When you are in the Gulf of Mexico and you realize how tiny you are, a blessing is always a blessing,” Green said. 

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Capt. Ben O’Connor on the 100 Proof charter boat said the blessing is a must for them as well.  

“As long as I can remember, we’ve been having the blessing. It’s always been fun, it’s just part of the history of Destin,” O’Connor said. “Oh no … we would not miss it,” he added. 

Pastor John Skiles, president of  the Church of Destin, was one of about a dozen members of the clergy who blessed the 140 boats that participated in the 64th annual Blessing of the Fleet in the Destin Harbor on Thursday evening.

Not only does the event mean a lot to the captains but to the pastoral staff who prays for the vessels as they pass by. 

"It’s an honor because I know how important it is to our fishermen,” said Matt Metcalfe, youth pastor of Shoreline Church.

Metcalfe was one of about dozen members of the local clergy who prayed for the boats and those who were aboard as they passed by. 

“I’ve been overwhelmed and nervous all day,” Metcalfe said, noting this was his first time to participate in offering the blessing. 

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“I can’t wait until next year … and for the butterflies to go away so I can feel a little bit more myself. But I’m so grateful for what God's doing through this, what it does for the captains and mates and for our community,” he said. 

Boats filled the Destin Harbor Thursday evening during the 64th annual Blessing of the Fleet.

The 64th annual Blessing also was a first for Graeme Cowgill, associate pastor of Shoreline Church.  

“I’ve never seen anything like it, I’ve never seen unity in a city like this,” Cowgill said. 

He said the boats technically are in competition with one another during the year for catches, but not on blessing day. 

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“It just seems like there’s so much unity on a day like today,” Cowgill said. 

And before the captains and passengers boarded their vessels for the blessing, many gathered under the big tent behind Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer for a worship service. Last year, locals had to forgo the meeting under the tent because of the pandemic.  

Capt. Alex Hare of the Silver King, along with family and friends, participated in the 64th annual Blessing of the Fleet. This was Hare's first time to pass through as owner of his new boat.

But not this year, more than 150 filled the tent for singing and personal testimonies. 

Capt. Pat Meyers of the Only Way shared his testimony and said he was glad that God was offered second chances.

“I’m on my 112th second chance. I don’t think he ever runs out of them. That's why Jesus came and died for us," Meyers said.

“Truth is I’m a crack head with a drinking problem and yet I can find strength in God when I surrender to his will,” he said. “To be quite frank … God has totally ruined my drinking and drugging.”

Capt. Ricky Bennington of the Lucky Dog also gave a testimony. 

He shared how the fishermen’s Bible study helped draw him back to God. 

“And the more I read (the Bible) the more life lessons I learned,” Bennington said. 

Following the personal testimonies of the local fishermen, Bishop Phillip Jones of All Saints Dallas, gave a short sermon on what Ascension Day is all about, before the clergy headed down the docks to bless the boats. 

While boats were being blessed, others shared in a fish fry under the tent. 

The blessing of the vessels took almost three hours.