Despite the cancellation of this year’s annual Day at the Docks after Hurricane Dorian’s adverse impact, Hatteras village refused to neglect one of its most treasured traditions. Boats of various sizes, purpose, and adornment lined up at Hatteras Harbor on Saturday evening to participate in the Blessing of the Fleet. For fifteen years, the Blessing of the Fleet has both honored fallen watermen and bestowed well-wishes on those planning to alight on the open seas in the upcoming season.
More than thirty boats participated in this year’s ceremony, which is open to the public. Although the tradition began centuries ago in Mediterranean waters, it has since moved to the coasts of the southern United States as well as the Great Lakes, Australia, and Puerto Rico. The tradition began in Hatteras village only a year after Hurricane Isabel, in 2004, as villagers struggled to get back to business. Although Catholic in origin, the Blessing of the Fleet is now embraced by various Christian denominations as a way of asking God to give watermen guidance and protection.
Despite the humidity, lots of locals gathered on the docks for the event or boarded the boats themselves. The ceremony began with a recital of “The Anchor Holds” from the Hatteras United Methodist Church (HUMC) choir. Pastor Toni Wood, of the United Methodist Churches in Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras, led the proceedings with a short prayer and a word on hope. Each captain tuned into Channel One via their boat radio, amplifying her voice across the flanking parking lot. Reading from Hebrews, Wood described how hope can keep us strong despite life’s metaphorical storms.
“Hope is something we all need,” Wood said in her short sermon. “Tomorrow’s promise is today’s power.”
Captain Ernie Foster subsequently led the procession of boats out to the sound to lay the wreath, dedicated by Dan Oden, which honors those watermen who have crossed the bar for the final time. Since the dawn of the event, Ernie and his wife Lynne have organized the proceedings and led the way on the Albatross II.
“We do it to offer support and blessings for our fishing fleet,” Lynne said.
Pastor Toni’s sermon could not have come at a more poignant and uncertain time in the commercial fishing industry.
In August of this year, the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission voted to adopt the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2 which decidedly closed the flounder season both for recreational and commercial fishermen on September 4. Although the season is scheduled to open back up to commercial fishermen on October 1, only trawling nets are permitted for use in harvesting flounder. The shortened season combined with limited options for harvesting will most likely result in financial losses for commercial fishermen on Hatteras Island. Many wonder if commercial fishing as an industry can survive cuts such as these much longer. At a time such as this, hope is especially pertinent.
This year’s Blessing of the Fleet culminated with a community dinner at the Civic Center in Hatteras Village. Community members gathered around tables in fellowship to share not only a meal, but their lives as well. This proves that although the state of the commercial fishing industry is uncertain, the community will always come together to help one another out. This year’s Blessing of the Fleet marked a 15-year tradition of coming together as a community in spite of life’s storms, both the metaphorical and re