Of all the activities I’ve had the gift of taking part in during my year and a half living here in Boothbay Harbor, my favorite has been the Blessing of the Fishing Fleet.
In the last year and half when I heard so many times, “we usually do this…except for this year,” it was the one event that wasn’t cancelled last year and so a gift to take part in it again yesterday.
I don’t know what it is about it. Something about standing there yesterday on a blustery Sunday afternoon at the edge of the dock with my colleagues the Rev. Kate Pinkham from the Congregational Church of Edgecomb and Deacon Bob Curtis from Our Lady Queen of Peace, white robes flapping in the wind, stoles tangled around our necks, pitchers and bottles of water in hand to throw out with wet shouts of blessing to the passing fleet.
This year, we’re joined by Miss Teen Maine who just graduated high school and is taking the year off before school to carry out her new responsibilities, like blessing the passing fleet. There is something so ancient about it, so elemental, this meeting of the little crowd with us on the dock, the boats precariously rocking in the waves, navigating close to the dock or order to receive a splash of water and shout of blessing. As they pass, I think of all the blessings they need and we hope for them, for protection, safety, a bounteous catch, safe voyage and return.
Estelle Appel counts the boats each year. “I’ve been counting the boats for thirty years,” she tells me, and this, her last year of counting. “I have cancer,” she tells me, “have had it for four years.”
Last year the wind was blowing in the right direction and every crew got a good dousing. This year the wind from the south is blowing our water blessings back on us especially when Deacon Bob flung out the remnants of his pitcher of water to cries of surprise and delight as it blew back on us on shore. Perhaps that’s the way it should be. For that’s the thing about blessing. As Bob’s wife explained to me, we come to bless and we end up being blessed in turn.
“How much longer will you be here?,” Kate asks. I’m not so sure. A candidate for the settled pastor position at the church will be voted on by the congregation in the coming weeks. But for this time, the presence of right here, right now. The gift of a few more more months to take in the blessings that have been so many.
“Its not easy to count the boats,” Estelle reminds me. “Every year everyone comes up with a different number. I learned to pick a point, a boat moored near the dock and count each boat only after their stern passes by.” This year Estelle counts 16. The most they’ve had years ago was 85. “A lot has changed,” she reminds me, “We used to have a large commercial fishing fleet – haddock, cod, tuna but now its just the lobster boats.”
Estelle tells me there used to be a party after the blessing and perhaps some year it might come back. But for this day, its the blessing afterwards of an arm around lobsterman Rusty Court as we pose for a picture, head off with him to meet a friend waiting in his truck.
I lose track of the blessings all the time. And far too often in the press of the schedule and duties of the day, do not pause long enough to notice them. But today, I want to commit to count them, as Estelle does, one boat, one blessing at a time.