Fishers, families and friends are set to gather Sunday morning for the 25th Blessing of the Fleet in Morehead City, a time set aside to honor and remember those who work and have worked in the commercial fishing industry.
The Blessing of the Fleet is a nondenominational religious service that begins at 10 a.m. at the Morehead City state port and will include the “Throwing of the Wreath for Fishermen Everywhere” and a procession of fishing vessels. The service takes places during the North Carolina Seafood Festival this weekend in downtown Morehead City.
The port main gate will open at 9 a.m. Because limited seating will be available, organizers recommend bringing a chair to assure a seat. WTKF 107.3 FM will broadcast the event live, starting at around 9:30 a.m. Sunday. In the event of inclement weather, the blessing will not take place. The Blessing of the Fleet Facebook page will have updates.
Organizers of the Swansboro Mullet Festival also have a Blessing of the Fleet planned as part of their event scheduled for Oct. 7-9 downtown. The processional will leave from Casper’s Marina at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 7 and be visible from the Church Street Town Dock.
The Carteret County ceremony Oct. 2 is coordinated by the Carteret County Fisherman’s Association, the State Port of Morehead City and the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Marine Patrol.
Zack Davis, of Marshallberg, is to give the Blessing of the Fleet message. A parishioner of Marshallberg United Methodist Church, Davis is a commercial fisherman and marine vocations teacher at East Carteret High School. He also plans to share a few words in remembrance of the four adults and four East Carteret High School students killed in the February plane crash.
Davis said he’s been involved in Blessing of the Fleet in some form or fashion since the first was held 25 years ago but this is his first year delivering the sermon.
His family comes from a boatbuilding and fishing background, Davis said, adding he’s been in the business for about 27 years. “I started when I was 12 on my own boat.”
The Blessing of the Fleet is a way “to remember those that’s passed on that laid the foundation for us as families and as an industry.”
For Davis, the service is a “real good time to give God the credit for what he’s done as far as blessing the fishing communities and blessing us individually, keeping us safe throughout the year, and getting us through another year. I think if you give credit to the Almighty, I think he’ll look out for you in the long run.”
Davis noted that there had been struggles for the industry.
“Between hurricanes and political storms and regulation storms, it’s been a struggle here the last seven or eight years for the industry as a whole,” he said. “But I think as an industry, it’s good to come together and worship God and give him the credit for everything that he’s blessed us with, and remember those that have laid the foundation that were faithful Christians, and believed in the future.”
The boat processional is limited to captains holding a current Standard Commercial Fishing license and commercially licensed vessels. To enter the boat parade, contact Sandra Gaskill at 252-728-2089 or 252-342-4089 no later than Friday.
The Blessing of the Fleet in Morehead City first took place in 1997, a vision of Janice Smith, who died in 2015 at 84. A former treasurer of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, she and her late husband William Ellis Smith owned Luther L. Smith & Son Inc. Fish House.
Smith was joined on stage that Sunday 25 years ago by the late Jonathan Robinson, a commercial fisherman from Atlantic who served as a Carteret County commissioner and former N.C. House member. He died in 2020 at 68.
Robinson began the first Blessing of the Fleet with these words:
“Welcome each and every one of you on behalf of some of the most creative and ingenious people … the North Carolina Commercial Fishermen. Thank you for sharing with us this special time when we pause to ask for God’s continued blessing on our fishing industry … A time when we stop to give thanks for the abundant natural resources that God, the Creator, has provided us.
“This is also a time of remembrance, a time to remember those fishermen, fathers, grandfathers, brothers who have gone before. They were the ones who built the courthouses, built the schools, built the churches along the coast.
“The North Carolina fishing industry has played an important role in North Carolina’s history … and will settle for nothing less than the same role in the future. We thank you for being here and being part of this service today. We are all going to be richly blessed.”
His welcome address is part of the 2022 Blessing of the Fleet yearbook, which not only includes details about the service but also lists the names of commercial fishermen, fish house workers, and others who have died the last century.
A founding member of the Blessing of the Fleet, Karen Willis Amspacher said that the ceremony has become more than a day on the calendar. She is executive director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island.
“Over the past 25 years, this gathering has deepened to become that reminder that Janice Smith and Jonathan Robinson — two of the blessing’s most faithful visionaries — worked for,” she said. “It is the reaffirmation of this industry’s role in our communities for a new generation.”
Commercial fishing is the thread that is shared by the working people of our coastal communities, from Wanchese to Varnumtown, she continued, referring to the Dare County and Brunswick County communities, respectively. “North Carolina’s coastal heritage is grounded in the commercial fishing families. The values of hard work and independence, the innate knowledge of the tides and ways of the water, the shared commitment to family and faith, that is the foundation of the industry that continues to be the bond that causes young fishermen to invest their lives in this way of life.”
During the Blessing of the Fleet, there will be generations – grandparents, parents and children — on the decks of these workboats, serving as a reminder that this processional is a blend of thanksgiving and family, pride and determination.
“The hand waves from the dock to the boats, the wreaths that are thrown and the names that are called, all of this has become a ritual that strengthens those bonds and also gives others a unique opportunity to realize the value of these traditions, not only for the seafood product it brings to consumers everywhere, but even more important the values of fishing families who have worked these waters for generations,” she said.
Swansboro Festivals Coordinator Debra Pylypiw said the small, coastal town has been holding a Blessing of the Fleet since 2017.
The goal is to connect to the history of Swansboro’s association with the water for food, livelihood and pleasure, she explained.
During the Swansboro service, the pastor from One Harbor is expected to read scripture and lead a prayer, Swansboro Mayor John Davis is expected to read a list of Swansboro fishermen who have passed away, and a Swansboro High School band member is to perform “Taps” on trumpet. An eco-friendly wreath will then be placed in the water in remembrance of all boaters.
In years past, they’ve had about a dozen boats in the procession. Organizers are welcoming all boats to join. Email Pylypiw at email@example.com to register. Boats are to assemble in front of Casper’s Marina at 5 p.m. Oct. 7.