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Catholic Vancouver June 12, 2018

Seafarers grateful for Blessing of the Fleet

By Agnieszka Ruck

Fisherman Don Sananin (left) with Deacon Dileep Athaide during the Blessing of the Fleet at False Creek Fisherman's Wharf May 26. (Photo submitted)

When local fishermen are dealing with 80-tonne boats, large hauls of herring, and stormy weather, they’ll take any help they can get.

That’s why 12 vessels and their crews gratefully accepted a blessing at False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf May 26.

“I was 17 or 18 and some of the old-time fishermen in passing had told me about it. I was quite intrigued and curious about it,” said longtime fisherman Don Sananin.

Sananin has been fishing for over 50 years, and in that span had heard of this mysterious, ancient Blessing of the Fleet many times from fellow seafarers. The tradition – part spiritual, part superstitious – was started by Catholics living in fishing communities centuries ago, and has now become an ecumenical event.

About nine years ago, Sananin decided to host a blessing for seafarers in Vancouver. Every year since, he has found Catholic or Anglican clergy to bless the boats and fishermen in False Creek.

It’s well received. A few years ago, a friend attended the Blessing of the Fleet for the first time. “I asked him the following year if he wanted to participate again. He said: ‘I am definitely coming. I don’t know what it was, but I had one of the best years of fishing!’”

Other fishers, like Sananin, are not particularly spiritual, but are happy that the blessing and annual harbour appreciation events (held on the same day) help inform people about the crews who haul fresh seafood to Vancouver shores.

“We’re trying to get people to know who we are,” said Sananin. “It’s awareness for people to come down and see the boats, see the fishermen. If you want, buy some of the fishermen’s products ... and talk to them. They like to tell stories.”

This year Deacon Dileep Athaide, a chaplain with Apostleship of the Sea, offered the prayer and blessing.

“Blessing of the Fleet is a long-held Catholic practice, in keeping with ancient maritime traditions,” he told those gathered.

“We know that Mother Nature, and the seas in particular, can at times be unforgiving, and despite all the physical preparations and contingencies carefully planned by seafarers, we do faithfully add a prayer for God’s blessing on them and their families, for the safety of their boats, and for a bountiful fishing season.”

He said although most of the fishermen at this year’s blessing were not Catholic, “the religious nature of the ceremony was very well received.”

A large crowd of people (Sananin guessed upwards of 250) also participated in Harbour Appreciation Day events, with grilled salmon and live country music on offer, later that day.

The blessing is held annually at False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf at the end of May.