NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Fishing trawlers, pleasure yachts, Coast Guard vessels and even the Block Island ferries all received a benediction as they passed through the Galilee breachway Saturday afternoon for the annual Blessing of the Fleet.
Attendees, many who come every year and have friends and family in the fishing fleet, set up chairs along the walkway between the Salty Brine State Beach parking lot and the breachway rocks. Many others simply sat on the rocks to get a view of the activity.
“Lady Frances, may almighty God bless you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and all those who sail upon you,” the Rev. Francis Kayatta, pastor at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Narragansett, intoned while making the sign of the cross as the Lady Frances passed by.
Kayatta did likewise for each of the dozens of boats that sailed by his viewing area at the walkway.
“Proud Mary, may almighty God bless you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and all those who sail upon you,” he repeated. “And your little dog too,” he added to a passenger holding a small dog.
The passengers yelled back, “Thank you, reverend.”
It was a busy day for the priest, who blessed more than 80 passing ships and watercraft of various makes and sizes.
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 a three-day festival that includes a certified road race on Friday, the festive parade of both commercial and recreational boats, food and live music.
This is the 49th year the nonprofit Lions Club has held the blessing festivities, organizer Sheila Sweeney, a Lions member and past president, said.
“We start off with the fishing fleet, then the lobster boats, the draggers, ferries, day boats. Anybody that comes by gets blessed,” she said.
Last year, the Lions dropped wreaths in the water to remember deceased fishermen but did nothing else because of COVID. Next year, the club will celebrate the 50th blessing.
“It’s a great event. Very Americana,” Mark Deresienski, the blessing’s master of ceremonies and a past Lions president, said.
Deresienski said jokingly that for the blessing’s 50th year, he has big plans.
“I think we’re going to raise the Titanic and have her blessed. We’re going big,” he said.
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.
Two wreaths were dropped into the water in honor of the fishermen who have died at sea, and the Newport Ancient Order of Hibernian Division1 Pipes and Drums played “Amazing Grace.”
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. Visitors could also take walking tours of the port of Galilee and watch demonstrations such as how to tie rope.
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 a “Star Wars” boat with a likeness of Yoda atop its wheel house. Another had as a passenger the famed Big Blue Bug, along with decorations of Rhode Island icons such as the Olneyville N.Y. System sign, Del’s Lemonade and Narragansett’s Towers.