The annual Blessing of the Fleet became part of Montauk culture after Vinny Grimes witnessed a similar ceremony during his tenure with the U.S. Navy. In 1955, the Montauk community supported Grimes’ idea of creating a blessing ceremony for fishermen’s vessels.
On June 7, 1956, the East Hampton Star ran a notice alerting the public to a new event, the “First Solemn Blessing of the Boats,” scheduled for 6 pm on June 10th. “About 50 boats will take part in the process and will receive blessings as they pass the dock…. Any fishing boat that has not been listed may contact Captains Ralph Pitts, Gus Pitts, or Wilfred Paon for details… It is hoped to make this an annual affair.”
A week later, two paragraphs in the Star reported on the success of the Blessing, assuring its place on the calendar every June. “The first solemn boat blessing was held at Montauk on June 10th, at 6:00 pm. The ceremony was conducted by the Rev. Father Jeremiah McLaughlin, who was assisted by the Rev. Martin Wenzell and four altar boys. Hymns were sung by the Saint Teresa’s Choir, led by Mrs. Pauline Craft; the organ was played by Miss Phyllis Wells. A regatta of 62 fishing boats, yachts, and other small craft received the blessing as they paraded past the Town Dock at Lake Montauk, led by three U.S. Coast Guard vessels. At the closing of the ceremony the “Star Spangled Banner” was sung by John Craft while a wreath of flowers was blessed and thrown overboard in memory of the sailors lost at sea from this port.”
This week’s image of the Blessing of the Fleet comes from the Peg Joyce collection, taken in the early- to mid-1960s, we think. Joyce was a teacher in the Montauk School and a President of the Montauk Historical Society. In 1993, Montauk’s Friends of Erin “crowned” Peg Joyce as Grand Marshal in recognition of all she had done for Montauk. Vinny Grimes had received the same honor seven years earlier, in 1986.
Enormous crowds, lots of boats (many of them decorated), and benedictional encouragement from chaplains, reverends, and rabbis now define the ceremony. The Montauk Sun wrote a nice article recently (May 25, 2021) about the upcoming Blessing, happening this Sunday, June 13th. Read it here, and enjoy: