Pandemic doesn’t stop 91st annual Blessing of the Fleet in Biloxi

Updated: Jun. 14, 2020 at 8:57 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s going to take more than a tropical storm and a worldwide pandemic to stop the Blessing of the Fleet in Biloxi.

On Sunday, the 91st annual event took place with a few changes, including one that brought back a tradition to the tradition.

Normally, the holy water comes from a much bigger boat, but this year because of COVID-19 concerns, it was launched from the stern of the Terri Lynn - the shrimp boat of this year’s Shrimp King Eddie Rhodes.

“It’s a big honor to have everybody on it,” he said. “This doesn’t usually happen.”

It offered a nostalgic reminder of the way things used to be.

“I think it’s kind of back to the older times when that was the blessing boat,” said parade coordinator Wendy Fayard. “So, it has a lot of meaning to it.”

In fact, Rhodes took seriously the job of decorating the workhorse that helps him make a living.

“Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I spent from last night - 1:30 I got up, and I put these ribbons on the cables. My wife came down here early in the morning and put the rest of the stuff on here. So, we were both wore out already.”

The extra work was worth it for him as well as Shrimp Queen Erin Schreck.

“Just like last year with the spillways being open, the industry has shown a resiliency since then, since the oil spill,” she said. “And this is just another step that we’ll all overcome.”

Regardless, the blessings came at a necessary time after a delay by a tropical storm and a threat from COVID-19.

Some participants of the 91st annual Blessing of the Fleet used the situation as inspiration...
Some participants of the 91st annual Blessing of the Fleet used the situation as inspiration for decoration.(WLOX)

The event still brought out 11 working boats and 81 pleasure boats. Fayard was confident the event would go on.

“We knew that the blessing would take place,” she said. “This community is very resilient. We always come back stronger. We said that if there was just the king and the queen and monsignor on the boat to have these boats blessed for the season, it would happen.”

Why was it necessary?

“It means a lot to everyone to have this for their boats to get their blessings,” she said. “There’s the dropping of the wreath – we’re here to honor the deceased fishermen, and the blessing is for them to go out, return back safe and to catch plenty of shrimp and have a good season.”

The boat - Gun Smoke - won the best-decorated boat contest with a prize of $1,000.

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