The Alabama Blessing of the Fleet

close up blessing No matter the part of the country, commercial fishing is a hazardous and back-breaking profession, with people’s livelihoods completely dependent on natural forces aligning in such a way as to provide a bounty of fish and shellfish for harvest. In addition, fishers are at the mercy of weather that can be notoriously severe in the Gulf of Mexico. For these reasons the start of fishing seasons has had religious ties for centuries. Fleet blessings are  predominantly Catholic ceremonies that can be traced back to the Mediterranean Sea. Despite thousands of miles and hundreds of years, kicking off the fishing season with a Blessing of the Fleet has not lost its importance, especially on the Gulf Coast. Each state has its own Blessing, and while there is unity in the prayers, festivities are unique to each community. On May 2 and 3, Laura and Ashford attended the Blessing of the Fleet in Bayou La Batre, Alabama.

 

2014-05-03 07.54.14In Bayou La Batre, the fleet blessing is a two day event at St. Margaret’s Catholic Church. The first day consisted of the second annual Blessing of the Feet, a 4 mile race. The route was unique as racers ran down Shell Rd,  the main artery of seafood processors in Bayou La Batre which, despite its small size, is the biggest processing town in Alabama and one of the largest on the Gulf Coast. After recovering from our race, we hit the festival.

The main event on day one was the Gumbo Cook-off. Four contestants prepared massive pots of the signature Gulf Coast dish and attendees of the festival got the pleasure of judging each unique recipe. Contestants did not go light on the samples either, and we ended up with 2 cups of each gumbo to sample. Despite the common ingredients of shrimp, okra, and sausage, each gumbo was delectably different, ranging from incredibly spicy to sweet and mild.

 

2014-05-03 11.20.342014-05-04 11.48.21Day two was the official blessing and the boat parade. Boat owners take pride elaborately decorating their boats as they float down the bayou. The Archbishop of Mobile came and conducted the blessing. Before boarding a boat, he stood over the crowd and spoke of the rich heritage of the seafood industry in Bayou La Batre, then prayed for the safety of the fishermen, and for a bountiful harvest this season.

He then boarded a vessel and began the ride down the bayou, with the extravagant boat parade behind him. Not only did commercial vessels take part in the parade, but smaller personal crafts also participated.

 

2014-05-04 15.10.39 2014-05-04 15.14.012014-05-04 15.17.38

At the end of May we will be at the Mississippi Blessing of the Fleet and cannot wait to see the similarities and differences between the two events. We are also excited to see the creativity displayed by the Mississippi fishers decorating their boats. Can they be more elaborate than the vessels of Bayou La Batre?  Stay tuned to find out!


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