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Blessings Go On
1996 —  A typical Blessing of the Fleet

     It was one of those late spring days when worrying about the weather was inescapable. The Sunday of this year's Blessing of the Fleet, May 26, dawned hot, humid and overcast, with low clouds that scudded across the sky dropping occasional showers overthe harbor. The rain was minimal, thankfully, and the clouds kept the sailors, watchers, cooks, judges and entertainers from overheating.
     The festivities officially began at noon, but long before then the musicians were warming up, as were the grills to cook lunch.  Boat owners feverishly ran up banners and otherwise decked their vessels in their Blessing finery. Some decorated minimally or not at all, participating for either a lark or for the priest's blessing for a safe shrimp season; others were serious about wanting to take home one of the beautiful plaques or trophies on display close to the big tent that dominated the harbor parking lot.
     Participating boats began lining up single file in mostly numerical order and waited, as the traditional wreath which memorialized lost fishermen, was reverently tossed into the water before beginning their procession past the priest and judges and into the harbor.
     Boat names are always interesting, and this day provided a lot of chuckles in addition to the oohs and ahs that spectacular decorations evoke.  Some of the more memorable appellations include: 190 Proof, James Bond (a Vietnamese vessel), HydroTherapy and M. T. Pockets.
After entering the harbor, most of the boats cruised around so that spectators could get a closer look.  After tying up in their own or borrowed slips, entrants made their wait to the trophy table, where Mayor Billy McDonald announced the winners as follows:
35 to 50 feet Class:
First, Lil Dancer;  second, Lisa Wes;  third, Lucky Strike.
Under 35 feet Class:
First, Naughty Kitten;  second, Captain Gene;  third, MarthaE,
Pleasure Craft Category:
First, Corsair;  second, Miss Elaine;  third, Winki-Up.
“Best Overall” went to Naughty Kitten, and the “Mayor's Cup” to Captain Gene.
Bookie and Barbara Scarborough were crowned King Fisherman and Queen Fisherette.

1997 Blessing of the Fleet
Canceled at last minute
by Bonnie Hogan for the Pass Christian Review

     Tradition is the adhesive that holds a community together as a special and unique place.  It is comprised of pride, loyalty, shared memories, enthusiam and participation in the citywide events that set it apart from other communities.
     Our coastal region is especially rich in tradition.  Customs, food, speech and the cycle of annual fests and festivals make ourlives and the lives of those who visit livelier and somehow special.  Some traditions have roots in history, agriculture, architecture, religion or industry. Others are begun by citIzens who want to contribute to the city and its economy by working hard to begin something new that will become established as a yearly event.  We all love Christmas in the Pass and the St. Paul's Seafood Festival. Most of us love the Blessing of the Fleet.
     The Blessing, scheduled for May 25, was canceled just over a month prior to that date. Advertisements had appeared in several publications, including Southern Living, and a portion of the advertising and promotions budget either spent or committed.  Response was beginning, both by1etter and telephone, as people from states near and far began to plan vacations that would place them in the Pass for this special event.  Fortunately, the time frame for the production of souvenir items such as tee shirts and caps is short, so there are no "Pass Christian 1997 Blessing of the Fleet" shirts staked about.
     The reasons behind the cancellation seems a bit foggy.  The Chamber of Commerce has traditionally sponsored the event, and its board cited apparent lack of interest for the abrupt cancellation.  Mayor Billy McDonald promised that the city will assume sponsorship of the Blessing of the Fleet next year, and has further stated that some sort of blessing will be held in June, even it it entails a priest's walking the piers to bless the boats in their slips.  It has fallen the unpleasant lot of Chamber Director Laura Clark to field questions and requests for information about the Blessing.  The last month has brought well over 100 inquires, many from out of state.   An Indiana family had scheduled their annual reunion for a coast location to coincide with the Pass Christian Blessing of the Fleet, and a Texas group had made similar plans.  Mrs. Clark has been understandably embarrased to have to tell them that the event would not be held.  Many of the callers have been those who would have been most involved with the ceremonies, the fishermen and their wives.  They bedeck their vessels, load friends and family aboard and have the boats and crews blessed to ensure a good shrimp season and a safe one.  It's a tradition.
     There are many reasons to be sad about this cancellation.  It's fun, and it gives boaters, residents and visitors a good feeling about our community.  Proceeds from souvenirs are used to award a college scholarship to a deserving student of Pass Christian High School.  This, of course, cannot be done in 1997.  Lastly, an annual event is much easier to cancel than to reestablish.  How many of the disappointed potential visitors will notice 1998 advertisements and not give any consideration to trying again?
     Pass Christian's fleet blessing had difficulties establishing real continuity.  It was begun in 1937, when 75 trawlers were blessed, and celebrated erratically until the Chamber of Commerce assumed sponsorship in 1977.  The awarding of trophies for King Fisherman and Queen Fisherette was begun in 1985.  The celebration has grown over the years to become a family event that is a great asset to the entire coast.
     The crowd last year was not as large as projected.  It rained — remember?

Editorial by Dan Ellis – this date.

     Baxter Jones had taken the helm for the Chamber of Commerce in leading the Blessing of the Fleet activities for the years of 1993 through 1996.  He initiated the ceremony of tossing a wreath into the waters in bereavement for all souls lost at sea.  As a retired Navy man, this was not only a natural custom, but an essential Naval courtesy and has been continued through the years.  Unfortunately, due to illness, he was not able to carry through for the 1997 year and lacking someone to step forward — the Blessing was cancelled.
     However, due to the high number of Vietnamese fishers in Pass Christian, and because of their deep Catholic religious beliefs, they called upon Father Ron Herzog at St. Paul and appealed to him for the annual Blessing.  As a result, Father Ron kept the appointed date and went to the harbor where he blessed each and every boat that was there — and he even blessed the vacant slips in confirmations for the absent boats.
     Thereafter, Chipper McDermott took charge in assuring an active Blessing each year — even though, for those who know, it can be a thankless task.  
     Without a local newspaper for communicating to residents, event organizers in the Pass have great difficulties in reaching out to the populace — and a call for participants, sponsors, volunteers, and even spectators — can produce untold anxieties.  Nevertheless, the community continues to be served by more than a dozen public annual events as supported by relentless volunteers.

1999 -- Blessing of the Fleet
     The 23rd Annual Fleet Blessing was held on Sunday, April 25, 1999.  Chairman Chip McDermott announced that boat judging would be under the auspices of Supervisor David LaRosa, State House Speaker Tim Ford, Justice Court Judge Diane Ladner, State Representative Charlie Williams of Senatobia, MS, Sun Herald Reporter Keith Burton, and WLOX's TV Presenter Tran Pham Bui.
     The boat blessings that year were administered by a host of clerics including Monsignor Jim Russell, St. Paul Catholic Church;  Rev. Chris Colby, Trinity Episcopal Church;  Rev. Kyle Bennett, St. Patrick's Episcopal Church of Long Beach;  and Father Bob Shay of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Pineville.
     The customary "Flower Wreath" was tossed from John Dane's motor vessel, the SHOWDOWN as a cast of VIPs heralded the boats in review.
     In a change from the traditional King Fisher and Queen Fisherette, the committee spread the joy of new royalty upon Melissa Malley as she reigned as "1999 Queen of the Blessing."

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