2018-06-07 / Front Page

Blessing of the fleet slated for Saturday

BY TIM RIEL


The Rev. Kevin Lloyd, right, from St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church tosses holy water on a boat during the 2017 blessing of the fleet at East Ferry. With him is the Rev. Kurt Satherlie from Central Baptist Church. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN The Rev. Kevin Lloyd, right, from St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church tosses holy water on a boat during the 2017 blessing of the fleet at East Ferry. With him is the Rev. Kurt Satherlie from Central Baptist Church. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Since the days of trawling feluccas on the Mediterranean, Catholic fishermen have relied on water above the hull as much as water below it.

Historians are not quite sure when priests began blessing fleets with holy water, but legend points to Sicilian fishermen in the early 18th century. According to lore, their boat was trapped in a fierce storm, with dark clouds and thick fog shrouding any navigational light. As the threat of death rose with the sea, a radiant glimmer shone down from a cave high atop a cliff. The reflection came from a medallion depicting the Madonna del Lume, which allowed the fishermen to follow the mother of light safely to land. Priests, from that day forward, have asked God to watch over mariners at sea.

Centuries later, that tradition now enters its third year in Jamestown.

The blessing of the fleet begins at 11 a.m. Saturday from the East Ferry docks. Conanicut Marine owner Bill Munger is encouraging all boaters, whether their vessels are powered by sails, motors or paddles, to join the procession. It will be led by harbormaster Mark Campbell, a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain with more than 120,000 nautical miles at sea. The town clergy, Kurt Satherlie, Kevin Lloyd and Stephen Amaral, will offer a prayer from the fuel dock at the northernmost pier. They will then consecrate each boat with a splash of holy water while reciting the Holy Trinity.

“It’s a blessing of safety and protection,” said Satherlie, pastor at Central Baptist Church.

Until Anthem Street resident Pam Carr, a Central Baptist parishioner, reintroduced the idea in 2016, a blessing of the fleet hadn’t been celebrated since the town’s 1968 tercentennial. Munger and Ryan Miller, owner of Latitude Yacht Brokerage at Ferry Wharf, have co-sponsored the ceremony since its return.

“A lot of communities are forced to have the blessing in the harbor from a boat,” said Miller, a Newport waterfront commissioner. “We have the luxury of a pier that juts out so the boats can safely maneuver past without getting into trouble.”

Added Munger, “The water is deep there so you can come pretty close.”

After the blessing, boaters are encouraged to cruise the bay. The organizers have scheduled the event to coincide with the Quonset air show, which will allow boaters to watch the Blue Angels from the water before returning to the docks at 5 p.m. for a free cookout. There will be hot dogs, hamburgers and live music. Next door, Spinnakers Cafe will host a handful of beer vendors offering seasonal selections.

Although the blessing is a boating ceremony, landlubbers are encouraged to observe from Veterans Memorial Square and then attend the barbecue. A highlight for spectators will be Tree of Life, a tall ship captained by Jamestowner Paul Morse.

During the 2017 ceremony, the 91-foot schooner, with 4,800 square feet of sail, fired its cannon. That resonated with Amaral during the first waterfront blessing of his 40-year career.

“I loved that cannon going off,” said the St. Mark priest. “It was very cool.”

Fifteen boats participated in the inaugural blessing, but that number plummeted dramatically in 2017. In efforts to expand the ceremony, which coincides with National Marina Day, Miller has invited the fire department to sail its rescue craft behind Campbell. Munger also has reached out to maritime groups across the bay.

“Our goal is to get as many private boats as we can,” he said.

While prayers are more prolific in busier ports for commercial traffic, Miller said dangers still lurk in the idyllic East Passage.

“We have the harbormaster boats and ferries that should be blessed for a safe season,” he said.

While the blessing is sincere, Satherlie and Amaral said it is an informal ceremony.

“Every once in a while, as they sail past for their blessing, we’ll get invited onboard,” Satherlie said. “I tell them to turn around and pick us up.”

Amaral is excited for his second blessing of the fleet. Whether his responsibilities are amplified, however, is yet to be determined.

“I brought the bucket of holy water last year,” he quipped. “That was my only function.”

Dress ship is encouraged, Munger said. Boaters can tune into VHF channel 71 for instructions. Rain or shine, the clergy plans to be there.

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