69th Blessing of the Fleet to be held in Manhasset Bay

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Town officials at last year's Blessing of the Fleet in Port Washington. (Courtesy of the Town of North Hempstead)

The blessing of boats and seagoing vessels is a tradition that goes back centuries.

“In Europe, they used to bless the fisherman at the start of the season,” said Bob Dixon of the Manhasset Bay Sportsmen’s Club. “It’s a tradition that goes way back.”

The blessing of the fleet in Port Washington hasn’t been going on for quite that long, but the event has been held almost continuously since 1945. The Sportsmen’s Club will hold the 69th edition of the event on Saturday.

Doing the blessings will be the Rev. Dr. Charles R. Vogeley of the Lutheran Church of Our Savior and the Rev. Gary Parker of St. Stephen’s Church.

The ceremony will begin at noon on the Town Dock in Port Washington. At 12:15, the fleet captain will make his way past the dock, followed by the rest of the vessels taking part.

In addition to the blessing, there will be a presentation of colors by veteran members of the Marine Corps League. Aaron Prindle, a music teacher at Paul D. Schreiber High School, will lead in the playing of the National Anthem with assistance from a couple of his students.

“Last year we had 52 boats, but in years past it’s been as high as 110,” Dixon said. “The number goes with the state of the economy, and also with the weather.”

The blessing of the fleet was one of the first events organized by the Sportsmen’s Club, as the first event was held in 1945, the year of the club’s founding. It was held again in 1946 but did not become an annual event until 1951. Since then, more than 30,500 men, women and children have passed in review.

When the event started in 1945, one of the main reasons for holding the blessing was to remember those who had perished at sea, particularly the men and women who had lost their lives fighting in World War II. Dixon, who has been a member of the Sportsmen’s Club since 1978 and who has organized the blessing of the fleet since 2002, said that the event continues that tradition of remembrance.

“We’re gathering to bless those who died in peace and war at sea so that those who have served will not be forgotten,” he said. “The Army, the Navy, first responders … this is what we’re trying to emphasize and these are the people that we are honoring.”

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at ltorrance@theislandnow.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.

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