BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - For 80 years now, the boats have come to be blessed.
"Even in 2009, we're reaping the harvest out of the Gulf. It's family, tradition and faith being passed on," said Father Gregory Barras of St. Michael Catholic Church.
Twenty-four shrimp boats and 57 small pleasure boats came out for this year's Blessing of the Fleet. They came praying for a bountiful fishing season and for safe travel on the water.
Accompanying Father Greg Barras was this year's Biloxi Shrimp King, Nicholas "Corky" Hire. He remembers the very first Blessing of the Fleet.
"I'm the king of the party this year," Hire said.
It took nearly 20 years before the king would agree to take his place among Biloxi's shrimping royalty.
"He always told my sister Lisa and I that he wasn't old enough and there were fisherman older than him and more deserving. This year when they asked him, we finally told him, 'You're 87 daddy, and there's no one else older than you,'" Rita Bailey said with a smile. "But we could burst, we're so proud of him for doing it."
Also waving the boats in was 17-year-old Stevie Cantrell, this year's shrimp queen.
"I was born shrimping. I know how to pick a shrimp and head a shrimp and do all that. The shrimping and seafood industry has built Biloxi, and I take pride in being a part of something that made us who we are and who we've become," Cantrell said.
Though the event isn't quite back to the days when more than 200 boats filled the channel, there's still a strong desire to keep the fleet in formation and the blessings coming.
"I hope it never quits," Hire said.
Some of those who decorated their boats also received a monetary blessing during the event. The "Richard and Melonie" took home first place and a $1,000 prize. The "Lucy F." took home second, winning $500. The "Barbara Faye" also took home $500 as this year's participation winner.