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Blessing of the Fleet lifts captains during COVID-19

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log
The Destin Log

The coronavirus may have stopped the worship service under the big tent and even the fish fry afterwards, but it didn’t stop 131 vessels in participating in the 63rd annual Blessing of the Fleet Thursday afternoon under a beautiful blue sky on Destin harbor.

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“What better way to kick off the season,” said Capt. Justin Destin of the Un Reel as he got ready to board his boat for the blessing.

Joking around, Destin said he may go through the blessing line two or three times. Destin, like other captains in the fleet, was ready and excited to be blessed after having gone through a tough couple of months with folks not fishing much due to the coronavirus that has swept across the country.

But the boats showed up, including pirate ships, pontoons, dive boats and the charter boats. The Blessing of the Fleet is for all those who make their living on the water.

"This is something my family has been doing since before I was born,“ said Capt. Chris Schofield of the No Alibi. “I haven’t missed one yet.

“It’s a day of blessing, a day to rejoice,” Schofield said. “It’s a day that we hope we have an awesome season and hope this virus passes and hope we get a double whammy this year,” he said, noting he has hopes for double the business in the months to come.

He also said he hopes to “get on about our lives and get back to fishing like our village is suppose to be doing right now.”

The Blessing of the Fleet is always a special time for the captains, but this year it seemed extra special for those participating.

"I think this year, with especially everything that is going on, we really need a double whammy ... if there is such a thing,“ said Capt. Cliff Cox of the Sweet Jody as he prepared to get in line for the blessing. “All the guys are just now starting to get to fishing ... as long as we get people coming down and wanting to go, things are going to be OK.

“We’re hoping for the best and prepared for the worst,” Cox added.

For Capt. Steve Brown of the Lock N Load, the Blessing of the Fleet “means everything.”

“Without the Blessing of the Fleet I wouldn’t feel comfortable going out. I just feel blessed, I feel secure for departure and return and the Lord is going to bless our season,” Brown said.

“I’m so thankful for the Blessing of the Fleet ... and for whoever started it all those years ago,” he added, noting the 63 years it’s been going on.

The Blessing of the Fleet started in May of 1957 when a group of fishermen congregated at St. Andrew’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church for communion and services.

The actual blessing of the boats followed the church service where members of the clergy prayed over the vessels for a bountiful and safe season. In the early days, Destin’s fleet had only about 20 boats.

Today the tradition continues with pastors from the Church of Destin, which includes all denominations, still praying over the vessels.

And the captains still love the idea of being blessed.

“It’s a good feeling going into a season, getting the boat blessed,” said Capt. Curt Gwin of the Only Way. “It’s all out of our hands anyway.”

Gwin said he takes comfort in being blessed.

“When you’re diving through the middle of a lightning storm and you’re out there and you’re the only thing sticking up out of the water, it’s a good feeling that you are blessed,” Gwin said. “And to have that cross in the front of my bow, you are always looking forward and it reminds me what to really look forward to.”

Each vessel that participates in the Blessing of the Fleet receives a blue flag that bears a cross and a dove.