Traditions in Launching Spring Sailing Season

Sailors are a superstitious lot. We don’t just hop on a boat and cast off–certain rituals must be observed. Most of these are simple: Don’t leave on a Friday for a long passage, don’t whistle on board, always wear a certain lucky garment, etc. Some of them are practical. For example, a boat needs to be thoroughly inspected and maintained before it is sailed, and of course the people handling the boat need to have quality sailing training.

And then, once in a while we go in for something a little more elaborate. At the launch of a new sailing season, many people take some time to mark the occasion in a special way. One tradition that goes back centuries is the Blessing of the Fleet. This practice began in the predominantly Catholic fishing villages of the Mediterranean Sea, where a priest would say a blessing over the town’s fishing fleet in hopes of a prosperous season. Immigrants from Europe brought this idea to America, and over time it has grown to be a less denominational ritual and more of a festival or pageant, featuring  a number of odd and interesting performers.

Some notable annual “Blessing of the Fleet” events in the U.S. are:

  • Darien, Georgia. This small town near the Atlantic coast throws a 3 day festival complete with a 5k River Run and country singer Rhett Akins performing his hit song “I Brake for Brunettes.”
  • St. Mary’s County, Maryland, where they’ll have a reptile house and a “comedy magician.”
  • On March 13, sailors in both Detroit, MI gathered at Mariner’s Church, built in 1842 and formerly a mission for sailors, stop on the Underground Railroad, post office, bank and grocery store.

I asked some of our members what they did to celebrate the start of spring sailing, and “margaritas on the waterfront” was a popular answer, while others had small lucky rituals. Did you, or are you planning to, attend a Blessing of the Fleet or some other kind of celebration? Do you have your own way of getting ready for spring sailing? Leave us a comment.

Also, make sure to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. This month’s social media photo contest theme is going to be “Spring Launch.” You could submit a snapshot of your first sail of the season, getting together with some friend to see the boats off, or (if you’re unlucky) shoveling snow off of your boat. However the start of sailing season looks to you, we want to see it.

Online Sailing Course