There was no better seat for the once-a-year Blessing of the Fleet in Barnegat Light than in the procession of boats rumbling out past the lighthouse and back, past clergy on a Coast Guard vessel who bestowed a blessing on each one. Last Sunday’s benevolent sun and breeze were opposite of the hazardous conditions for the commercial fishing fleet that raised the idea of the ceremony 40 years ago.
A dockside program took place June 17 starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Barnegat Light Yacht Basin at 18th Street and Bayview Avenue. Then viewers could board either the Miss Barnegat Light or the Carolyn Ann III for a free ride out of the inlet and back. Rugged commercial boats, softened by family and friends on board, joined smaller recreational craft in the line that looped the boats past each other. The on-water version of “hello!” was the loud, festive blast of the Miss Barnegat Light’s horn.
Dramatic as the trek was, so was the dockside ecumenical service of seafaring-themed Bible readings and hymns and songs – “How Great Thou Art,” “God Bless America” and “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.” Instead of “the river is deep and the river is wide,” musicians changed the verse of the folk song to “the ocean is deep and the ocean is wide.”
Coordinator Rick Reynolds summed up the intent of the blessing: “We recognize the inherent dangers of these waters and ask for blessings of safe passage for all the vessels that travel them and bountiful returns for those who make their living on them.” The service also recognizes those lost at sea.
The Blessing of the Fleet was sponsored by Zion Lutheran Church in Barnegat Light, with the participation of St. Peter’s at the Light Episcopal Church in Barnegat Light, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Brant Beach and St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in Brant Beach. Special thanks went to the U.S. Coast Guard of Station Barnegat Light. Mayor Kirk Larson thanked the public for coming and led the pledge of allegiance.
First in the parking lot a half-hour early had been a well-dressed Bridgewater, N.J. visitor, who said it’s both the dockside ceremony and the boat procession that have brought her to the Blessing of the Fleet for “many years.”
“I like that the speakers are from each denomination – I enjoy hearing what they have to say – and then the boat ride is wonderful.”
There was another version of dressed for the occasion, the people wearing official Blessing of the Fleet shirts being sold by Viking Outfitters in the Viking Village Shoppes.
The Blessing of the Fleet is a solemn tradition in Barnegat Light — the Viking Village commercial dock website carries a page announcing the event that also simply quotes the famous passage from Psalm 107 that begins “They that go down to the sea in ships that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.”
— Maria Scandale