Blackwater Pyrates to provide boater safety, blessings on May 29

By Jody Conrad | Special to the Press Gazette

In keeping with the three core missions of the Blackwater Pyrates, this year’s annual boater safety and Blessing of the Fleet events will be held on Saturday, May 29.

Blessing of the Fleet leader Scallawag, and Boater Safety leaders Leatherneck and Wayward Teach conduct an impromptu boater inspection.

Event crew leader Will Wilson said that every year, in conjunction with National Safe Boating Week, the Blackwater Pyrates partner with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 1-7 of Pensacola to offer free boat inspections. 

Pam Kottler helps fit her granddaughter with the right lifejacket.

The free inspections will be performed by Flotilla members from 9 a.m. until noon at Carpenter’s Park at the boat docks. In the event that any vessel lacks necessary safety items such as PFD’s, whistles, fire extinguishers, or registration numbers, the Blackwater Pyrates will provide these items free of charge.

This free inspection is a public service; it is not a law enforcement inspection. No citations for violations will be issued, but participating vessels will be given a valid inspection sticker.

Monsignor Reed blesses local boats as they pass by.

At 1 p.m. that same afternoon, the Blackwater Pyrates will again sponsor their annual Blessing of the Fleet ceremony at the Memorial Park Boardwalk. Monsignor Michael Reed from St. Rose of Lima will perform the blessings on attending watercraft.

According to event crew leader Chris Christopher, the Blackwater Pyrates “acknowledge that unforeseen hazards exist for vessels while on the water. Thus, the Pyrates carry on the tradition of invoking divine intervention from hazards while on the water.”

The Blessing of the Fleet ceremony is scheduled for May 29.

“While the Blackwater Pyrates are not a religious organization nor do we endorse any particular denomination, we recognize that Milton’s location on the Blackwater River is the focal point of many types of watercraft activities,” Christopher said. “Boaters are keenly aware of the dangers of sudden storms, hidden water hazards, and other unforeseen perils, and they realize they are not in absolute control of their destinies while on the water. Hence the tradition of petitioning the divine for protection while on the water.”

Monsignor Michael Reed from St. Rose of Lima will perform the blessings on attending watercraft this year.

The custom of Blessing of the Fleet can be traced back to Old World European fishing communities where God was publicly acknowledged as the only divine protector.

Christopher said that all boats, whether motorized, sailboats, personal watercraft, or man-powered may join the event. Vessels should circle in front of the boardwalk, and accompanied by the Knights of Columbus honor guard, bag pipers, and drum corps, Monsignor Reed will begin blessing vessels at 1 p.m.

Spectators are welcome as well.