The Blessing of the Fleet is a longstanding Montauk tradition. In this story, originally published in the June 23, 1977 issue of The East Hampton Summer Sun, Dan talks about his family attending the annual summer event.
“Are you going to get blessed?”
This was the question heard all around Montauk last Sunday, and if tourists were puzzled by it, it was completely understandable.
The truth was that at five o’clock, the Reverends Thomas Holmes and John Traynor would be standing out at the end of Town Dock in Lake Montauk, and, as they did every year, sprinkle holy water and verbally bless any craft that appeared before them. The idea was to give religious blessings to the fishing boats, sailboats, powerboats and charter boats of Montauk, thus bestowing upon them good luck for the coming year. It had been done traditionally every spring for about the last ten years in Montauk. Just as it had been done every spring for the past thousand years in some fishing villages in Europe—“The Blessing of the Fleet.”
The day was dark and threatening. And for awhile, it seemed that the event might be cancelled or curtailed on account of the weather. But by four o’clock the sky brightened a bit. And as some of the captains began to start up their boats, it became apparent that the event was going to he a huge success.
At one end of the harbor, a charter boat was getting ready by tying a bunch of party balloons to the mast. At the other end. at Pier One. and at the Viking Dock, hundreds of people who are the family and friends of the boat captains, had filled the Viking open boat and the Peconic Queen open boat to capacity. The ships, each over 120 feet long, were still tied to their docks. But the people were already having a wonderful time.
They were all going to get blessed.
This reporter, together with the rest of his family, set sail aboard the GEMINI, a 28-foot fishing boat piloted by Captain Al Rattiner. Al Rattiner is the owner of White’s Montauk Pharmacy. He is also this reporter’s father.
We chugged slowly up the channel from the Montauk Marine Basin, past the Peconic Queen and the Viking, both of which looked like small cities on the water, and out toward Lake Montauk. Behind us. Back at the Marina, the John O’Connor family were rapidly lowering their Little Marlin fishing boat into the water on a hydraulic lift. It had been freshly caulked and painted. Now it was joining in the “Blessing of the Fleet” with just minutes to spare.
The scene in Lake Montauk that afternoon was quite remarkable. At one end of the Lake, as many as a hundred fishing boats were milling in the water, waiting for the “Blessing” to begin. Some of these were decked out in bunting and flags. Others were freshly painted and scrubbed. Everywhere, people were waving and hailing one another with big shouts and grins. It was not every day that virtually half of the Montauk boating and fishing fleet were sailing around in these close quarters.
At the other end of the lake was Town Dock, laden with religious figures, flags and several hundred spectators. A PA system had been set up, and the popular song MONTAUK, sung by Bonnie Sanders, was playing over it.
We scooted over to the south end of the Lake and began boating around in the water with everyone else. Perry Duryea was out there, standing in the wheelhouse of his fishing trawler SATELLITE, a small orange sail fully set up by the bow. Under this sail, on a deck chair, sat Perry’s wife Betty, holding a brand-new grandchild. Chip Duryea, the child’s father, and his wife, sat nearby.
There was a fifteen foot sailfish waiting for the blessing. And there was a small outboard, dangerously overloaded with about eight people on board. They all chugged this way and that, in and out of the charter boats, sportfishing boats and Coast Guard boats.
And then, the “Blessing” was underway. In single file, the boats passed slowly in front of Town Dock, just ten feet or so off shore from the dock. The Priests used a chalice to sprinkle the holy water on the boats as they passed before them. And they said the following blessing to each one:
“God Bless your boat in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.”
Our boat, the GEMINI, passed slowly before Town Dock to receive the blessing. We were two men, two women, two children and one dog. I wondered briefly how our dog, a large sheepdog, would react to having holy water sprinkled on him. As we went by, however, he sat happily, almost at attention, and didn’t seem to pay the whole thing much mind whatever.
I do believe though, because he was on the boat, he got included in the blessing.
We glided past Town Dock and up past Gosman’s Restaurant toward the Jetty and Block Island Sound. Dozens of ships were outside the Jetty, turning around, then heading back in. The scene, from the point of view of the cafe tables at Gosman’s, must have been quite remarkable.
And then, after the last boat had been blessed and many of the ships were still outside the Harbor in Block Island Sound, the Priests placed a beautiful wreath on the stern of a Coast Guard vessel which then took it through the channel out into the Sound and cast it upon the waters. This was in memory of those who had died since the last fishing season.