There are hazards unique to dockside living. Cell phones flying overboard. Walking into anchors. Piloting a heavy dock cart down a steep gangplank. Slipping on icy docks while filling up a tank with winter water. Bilges filling and circuits tripping. And that is just what can happen when tied up at the marina.
Out on the water there are different challenges. Sails rip. Anchors dislodge. You run aground. Coolers and dogs and guests — and occasionally an engine — fall overboard and are retrieved. Engines fail while coming in and it takes all your neighbors pitching in to safely dock. With the pleasure of living and working and running the river comes a certain exposure to the elements and chance that can leave us feeling vulnerable. So it is entirely understandable that for many years, through the ritual known as the Blessing of the Fleet, the Potomac Fleet has looked to a higher power to help protect and guide its vessels, captains and crews. With flag-raising ceremonies and boat parades, fleet blessings mark the traditional opening of the boating season. Unlike the events held in traditional fishing ports from the Mediterranean to Massachusetts, we may not ask for help filling our nets but for support that keeps our unique boating community out of harm’s way.
On May 19, Gangplank’s own Port of Washington Yacht Club hosted the 37th Annual Blessing of the Fleet, with boats from up and down the Washington Channel, Anacostia and the Potomac. With help from three chaplains — hailing from College Park (Rev. Fay Ludin), Highland Heights, Texas (Rev. Jack Mulligan) and the Southeast’s Navy Yard (Capt. Gary Clore) — boats from more than six yacht clubs and many independent boaters lined the channel waiting their turn to receive a traditional or nontraditional blessing for their vessels and crews. The astonishing diversity of boats and boaters demonstrated the universal call to the sea felt by people everywhere.
The District’s annual Fleet Blessing is part of a chain that stretches at least as far back as 1933, when the first annual Marine Parade was held on the Washington Channel with five yacht clubs and more than 200 boats participating. The Blessing of the Potomac Fleet has been held on the Washington Channel since 1979, a collaborative celebration among many groups who love our waterway.
This year’s event may have been a little smaller than some of the the older parades but was no less enthusiastic. It remains one of the traditions that binds together the boating community and asks the support of those on land — and above — to help us navigate the shoals of difficult times and weather. Joining the Maine Lobsterman statue and the Titanic Memorial, the Blessing of the Potomac Fleet is a reminder of the maritime heritage that is unique to Southwest Washington and a testament to the very special people who are called to spend time upon and at the waterfront.
God bless your going out and coming in….