By Rhonda Parker
St. Augustine – According to organizers, the “Blessing of the Fleet” ceremony to be held this Sunday will be a colorful but solemn occasion, with a procession down Cathedral Street of church dignitaries, the local Knights of Columbus group in full regala and the anually chosen honorees to portray the Spanish royal family and entourage.
The event will continue a Palm Sunday tradition for America’s Oldest City since 1946, and is open to both pleasure and commercial craft at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina Pier.
Bishop Felipe J. Estevez of the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine will officiate following the 11 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.
The actual blessing ceremony will be at noon and follows a procession from the Basilica on Cathedral Street to the city yacht pier after the mass – which should be at around 11:30 a.m. Motorists should be aware that streets will be closed at this time including Cathedral Street, the intersection leading to the Lions Bridge at San Marco, and the stretch of San Marco contigiuous to the marina.
The festive tradition has its roots in the hopes of those who went to sea for a bountiful shrimp season when St. Augustine’s harbor was filled with fleets of commercial trawlers: History of Bless, Call for Boats, Map
According to the Yacht Club Commadore Daniel Floryan, today the tradition continues, “as those who fish, both commercially and for sport, seek blessings on their vessels for an abundant catch and all those who take to the waterways who seek safety upon the water and a safe return home.”
The event is hosted by the St. Augustine Yacht Club on behalf of the City of St. Augustine and sponsored by the St. Johns Tourist Development Council.
Instructions for watercraft who wish to participate are that all boats must be powered. Boats should assemble in organized groups no later than noon in the bay, south of the Bridge of Lions. Boats not affiliated with clubs or organizations should join a group of boats, anchor and wait for radio instructions, according to information provided by the Yacht Club.
Boats equipped with a marine VHF radio will monitor Channel 68 and wait for instructions. There must be no transmissions on this channel except in the case of an emergency. Boats without radios should stand by boats that are equipped to receive verbal information from those skippers.
The group will be led by an official vessel followed by trawlers and commercial fishing craft, all other craft, Yacht Club information says.
Other information if you are a participant:
• Boat speed should be set to maintain a close and safe distance from other boats.
• Boats will proceed north toward the Bridge of Lions and then make a wide turn to port to pass directly abreast the end of the Municipal Marina. No wake rules must be observed during the pass by the Municipal Marina.
• After passing the Municipal Marina, boats will continue south. No boat is permitted to go north or through the Bridge of Lions until the completion of the entire ceremony.
• Traffic control boats will be in the area and will assist if requested.
Participants are reminded that this is a solemn occasion and are asked to:
• Avoid loud engine noise, music, raised voices or unseemly conduct;
• Keep beverage containers out of sight and do not discard any trash into the water; and
• While passing the Municipal Marina and receiving the blessing, men should remove hats and all on board should wear shirts or suitable coverings.
Also see: Blessing Processional Map for Boats
For more information, call The St. Augustine Yacht Club at 824-9725 or go to the St. Augustine Yacht Club website at: http://www.sayc2000.com/BlessingFleet2012
Information is also available at the city’s website at: Annual Blessing the Fleet Staugustinegovernment.com
More information on the event, plus history and photos of the original 1947 event can also be found at the St. Augustine Lighthouse Museum website: blog St. Augustine Lighthouse
This event is permitted and regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard. No reservations or entry forms or fees are required.