Biloxi’s 94th annual Blessing of the Fleet blesses over 50 boats ahead of shrimp season

The 94th Blessing of the Fleet happened in Biloxi on Sunday. The long-standing event drew hundreds to the Mississippi Sound.
Published: May. 28, 2023 at 6:59 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The 94th Blessing of the Fleet happened in Biloxi on Sunday. The long-standing event drew hundreds to the Mississippi Sound.

More than 50 boats lined up to receive a blessing off the coast of Biloxi. The event traditionally happens before the start of shrimp season to offer religious wishes to those who make their living in the industry.

“It’s our heritage. Our grandparents, our great-grandparents, this is what they did for a living,” said Blessing of the Fleet chairwoman Wendy Fayard. “From generation to generation, it’s up to us to keep this heritage going.”

The parade of boats pass by the Blessing Boat, which changes from year to year. This time, the title is bestowed on the shrimp boat My Son’s. It’s captained by Biloxi-native Charles Duhon.

“We started doing it probably 15 years ago and never got to experience this part of it,” he said. “Today I was part of it and that was exciting. We hold in touch with tradition and the family.”

Blessing of the Fleet coordinates with St. Michael Catholic Church in Biloxi for the event. The church’s pastor, Father Dominick Fullam, blessed the vessels.

“I grew up waiting in the line to be belssed in a little boat called Noah’s Ark. We were just a small little boat, so we had to get to the end of the line. I never thought I’d be the priest blessing. I never thought I’d be a priest in the first place, but never thought I’d be the priest asking God’s blessing on the boats.”

Standing next to him are the Shrimp Royalty.

“It’s the most awesome feeling. It’s an honor and a privilege to represent the shrimping industry,” said 2023 Shrimp King Wally Gollott. “I own a 95-foot steel hull freezer boat that goes out 30 days at a time. I own a shrimp processing plant. We process shrimp for grocery stores and food services. My father started this in 1952 and I’m just carrying on the legacy.”

The 2023 Shrimp Queen is Elizabeth Wetzel, who attended the event since she was a child.

“I’m so excited to be here and it’s such a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “My great-great grandfather came over from Croatia and he opened Sea Coast packing company. On my mother’s side, my great-great grandfather came over from the Canary islands. His legacy is now carried on by his great-grandson at M and M Processing.”

Along with the royalty, two decorated boats are awarded for their efforts. This year, the boats Captain Justin and Gunsmoke took the top spots.

Plans for the 95th Blessing of the Fleet are underway. Chairwoman Wendy Fayard says they hope to bring back the Shrimp Festival for next year’s monumental event.

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