On a bright and crisp Saturday evening, a line of
local vessels made a slow procession along the Hatteras waterfront
before heading out into the open water for a somber but uplifting
moment of gratitude, prayer, and remembrance. The on-the-water
gathering was due to the annual Blessing of the Fleet, an event that
has deep roots for local watermen, and which is traditionally a
favorite part of the annual Day at the Docks festival.
Though Day at the Docks was cancelled in
September due to the arrival of Hurricane Florence, event organizers
still wanted to hold the annual Blessing of the Fleet, which carries a
wave of significance for commercial and recreational fishermen alike.
“The event is integral to the heart of the
village,” said organizer Lynne Foster. “We can do without a festival,
but we cannot do without the Blessing of the Fleet.”
The first parade of boats and ensuing Blessing of
the Fleet was held on a similar Saturday evening on September 18, 2004.
Orchestrated a year after Hurricane Isabel devastated Hatteras village,
cutting a new inlet that separated the village from the rest of the
island, the original event was held as a celebration of the spirit of
the villagers, and their efforts to recover after the historic storm.
This first Blessing of the Fleet was so well
received that the following year the celebration was expanded to
include the Day at the Docks festival – an event that has become a
highlight of Hatteras village in the years that followed.
This year’s Blessing of the Fleet was distinctive
in more ways than one. Not only was the Blessing its own separate
event, without the tie-in to Day at the Docks, but the prayer and
procession also honored the watermen in southern North Carolina who
were hit hard by Hurricane Florence.
“We’re making a special point to talk about the
watermen who took a big hit during the storm,” said organizer and
Captain of the Albatross Fleet, Ernie Foster. “We managed to avoid the
worst of Florence, but other watermen to the south of us weren’t as
“We’ve had a lot of practice here recovering from
storms,” said Lynne. “We were so blessed [during Florence], but our
hearts hurt for the people south of us. We are very familiar with how
hard it is to recover.”
The parade of boats was led by Ernie Foster into
the harbor just as the sun began to set, where the vessels paused in
boat slips bordering the Breakwater and Village Marinas for the
community blessing and prayer.
Pastor Toni Wood of the United Methodist churches
in Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras, led the prayer to honor local fishermen
who had passed away, and to pay tribute to watermen affected by
Florence. 2018’s event was Pastor Wood’s third year leading the
blessing, and she said it’s an event she looks forward to every year.
“The first year, it just blew me away – it is
such a wonderful thing to do, and it’s meaningful for everyone
involved,” said Wood. “I love that there is a priority on prayer, and
that the [villagers] understand the value of the blessing.”
After the hymn and prayer on the docks, the
vessels made a slow cruise out to the open water, where family members
of watermen who had recently passed away laid a wreath into the calm
waters from the deck of the Albatross. The weather cooperated
beautifully throughout the procession, with clear skies and a light
breeze that made the trek an easy endeavor.
Though the event was quickly planned in the wake
of Florence and the Day at the Docks cancellation, organizers were
thrilled with the turnout, which included approximately 45 vessels of
all varieties, as well as a crowd of spectators along the local
“This is one of the larger [Blessing of the Fleet
events] we’ve had, for sure, and it really came together in the last
few days” said Lynne. “Everyone comes out for the Blessing, because that’s who we are – at our heart, we are a fishing community.
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