Great weather greets Blessing of the Fleet ceremony
MORGAN CITY, La. — Bountiful sunshine accompanied the Rev. Gregory Fratt as he led the 78th Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival Blessing of the Fleet Sunday morning.
“This was wonderful and we were blessed with such beautiful weather,” Fratt said after dozens of vessels had been blessed on Berwick Bay.
This was the fourth year the pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church had blessed the vessels large and small at the festival.
Fratt said his role is “to give blessings to people who ask for God’s blessing, especially for a bountiful shrimp season and protection.”
He added, “A lot of the work they do is very dangerous.”
Nathalie Weber, president of the festival board of directors, said, “We always think this is the traditional part of the festival. This is how it began. It began with shrimp boats coming in for a blessing from the priest of the Catholic church.”
Weber, who served as festival queen in 1968, said, “We added in 1967, the year before I was queen, the petroleum industry. At that time the petroleum industry was very important.”
Among the 65 vessels registered for the Blessing the Fleet were seven tugboats and eight shrimp vessels.
Rodney Grow, vice president of the festival board, said there were more boats on the Atchafalaya River this year than in the recent past.
“There are definitely more boats this year,” he said. “The weather is good.”
Grow said the number of boats participating in the festival dropped in the 1980s when the oil and gas industry was hit with a bust.
The shrimp industry had previously declined and especially after the ice house closed in Morgan City about 10 to 15 years ago, he said.
“Shrimp boats used to be 10 deep in the river here,” he said.
“This is the granddaddy,” he said of blessing. “This is what it is all about. Blessing the fleet so they can go out and be secure in the oil field, transferring people out to the Gulf, fishermen catching shrimp and being out there. This is what it has revolved around for 78 years. This is what it is all about.”
Weber said, “The crowd has been really great because of the fact we have good weather. Whenever you have good weather, you have good crowds.”
The ceremony and parade of the boats lasts about 90 minutes.
The festivities includes the festival king and queen meeting on the river for a toast.
In a near picture perfect river rendezvous, King Burt Adams aboard the Miss Erin and Queen Paige Johnson on the Miss Dixie lifted their glasses in a toast.
Keeley Brannon of Atlanta, a first time festival-goer, said she had enjoyed the festival and cited the Blessing of the Fleet, shopping at the arts and craft show, listening to bands and anticipating a shrimp boil later Sunday.
Capt. Dave McClellan, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City, served as chairman of the judging committee for the boat parade Sunday and was a festival first-timer.
“It was a challenge,” he said. “There were some really good entries out there.”
McClellan said he had no negative reports about water traffic during the festival.