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The Narragansett Lions Club celebrated the 50th Blessing of the Fleet this weekend. A tradition that began centuries ago in Mediterranean fishing communities. This weekend’s three-day celebration included a festival, scenic 10-mile road race and the traditional blessing from a local priest for a safe boating season. Pictured above, Fr. Kayatta of St. Mary Star of the Sea church in Narragansett blesses boats as they pass by in the parade last Saturday.

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. —  The Narragansett Lions Club marked a milestone this week with its 50th annual Blessing of the Fleet Festival.

The celebration culminated in Saturday’s traditional blessing of a multitude of fishing trawlers, pleasure yachts, Coast Guard vessels and even the Block Island ferries in a parade through the Galilee breachway.

“It’s the most dangerous occupation, and these men and women put their lives at risk to bring you the bounty of the sea,” Mark Deresienski, the blessing’s master of ceremonies and a past Lions president, said after reciting the names of members of the Galilee fishing community.

The Blessing of the Fleet Festival is actually three days of activities that also serve as a fundraiser for the Lions several charities, such as the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, South County Museum and local food pantries.

“That’s always been our motto, ‘We serve,’” Deresienski said.

It begins Thursday night and attracts some 30,000 people to Narragansett in typical years, according to organizers. The main events take place at Memorial Square, where the Narragansett Lions and various vendors offered food, games, rides and a beer tent.

On Friday evening, about 3,000 runners, walkers and wheelchair entrants competed in the road race, a scenic 10-mile course through historic Narragansett.

The next day, attendees set up chairs along the walkway between the Salty Brine State Beach parking lot and the breachway rocks to view the fleet parade. Many others simply sat on the rocks to get a view of the activity. Most come every year and have friends and family in the fishing fleet.

In this election year, several office-seekers showed up. They included Gov. Dan McKee and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, as well as Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who’s challenging McKee in the primary.

Later Saturday evening, Steve Smith and the Nakeds put on a live show back at Memorial Square.

Participating in the blessing and parade is free. Draggers, lobster vessels, sport fishing and charters and recreational boats all have a place in the parade, if they get there on time for the start.

From the lead fishing boat Virginia Marise, two wreaths were dropped into the water at about noon in honor of the fishermen who have died at sea, and Lions Club members who have died.

As he’s done in previous years, including the COVID-limited blessing of 2021, the Rev. Francis Kayatta, pastor at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Narragansett, intoned while making the sign of the cross as each vessel, from the largest ferry to the smallest kayak, passed by.

Boats sounded their horns or in some cases, sirens, while passengers waved American flags and shouted greetings to the observers on land.

Organized by the Narragansett Lions Club, the event began in 1972, when radio host and Lions Club member Walter “Salty” Brine invited members of the state’s clergy to bless the Point Judith fishing boat fleet. At that time, it was a one-day event, but over the years, it has grown into the three-day festival.

The state’s Department of Environmental Management and local organizations such as the South County Museum set up tents in the parking lot to provide information about the fishing industry.

The Lions also provided a trolley shuttle to and from the Salty Brine Beach parking, running in a loop from the Escape Road.

The blessing is not just a solemn commemoration, but also a fun parade with a boat decorating contest that allows owners and passengers to get creative. This year’s themed entries included nods to pirates, tropical paradise, and “Finding Nemo.”

  • Grand prize winner: True Story - Finding Nemo theme
  • 1st Prize winner: Ofishal Business - Tropical theme
  • 2nd Prize winner: Sea Jem - Pirates theme
  • 3rd Prize Winner: Six Pak - Tropical theme

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