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 lucky.”
“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 docks.
“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.