Article published Mar 24, 2008
Blessing of fleet signals crab season
Traditional send-off for fishing vessels to be held in Northampton County
By Ceri Larson Danes
CAPE CHARLES -- It could be the opening of lobster season in Cape Cod, Mass., the first day commercial boats head out for halibut in Seattle, Wash., or the start of shrimp season anywhere from Texas to the Carolinas.
But on the docks of Cape Charles' deepwater harbor, the Blessing of the Fleet this year will signal the opening of crab season.
The event, sponsored by the town and the Northampton County Chamber of Commerce, will be held April 4, beginning at 5 p.m. when about 40 commercial fishing boats from all over the Chesapeake Bay will enter Cape Charles harbor for the official opening.
Whether the first, the 80th, or older, Blessings of the Fleet pre-date Christianity, but since the first recorded event in Italy in A.D. 1000, the tradition has spread along with Christian belief.
"The Chamber recognizes the role that working watermen have played historically on the Eastern Shore and especially in Northampton," said Deborah Christie, executive director of the county's Chamber of Commerce.
While other locales might crown a Miss Blessing, sponsor seafood cook-offs and organize mariner parades, carnivals and firework displays, the first annual Cape Charles Blessing of the Fleet will include equal parts God and good times, all in the making of what likely will become a regional tradition.
Admission is free at the harbor and everyone is invited to attend the sober ceremony and subsequent celebration -- which will continue "until all the food is gone," Christie said.
Five local clergy will kick off activities by boarding a U.S. Coast Guard vessel for the formal blessing of the fishing boats.
A ship's bell will toll in memory of those lost at sea and a wreath will be thrown in their honor; a cannon will fire a salute to the fleet from the Schooner Alliance.
Councilman Chris Bannon is master of ceremonies for the inaugural event and said this week that the blessing asks for protection of fishermen, pleasure boaters and their catch.
"Like the farmer toils in his field, they toil on the water," he said. "The whole thing is about giving it back to God."
If you go
WHAT. Blessing of the Fleet
WHERE. Cape Charles Harbor, Northampton County
WHEN. April 4 at 5 p.m. (Rain date is April 11)
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