EVERGLADES CITY — “I’ve been crabbing all my life,” said Ivan Kibodeaux, captain of the Kristin Anne, sitting in his wheelhouse. “I need all the help I can get.”
He brought his 45-foot crab boat to the Rod & Gun Club in Everglades City on Sunday afternoon, one of nine boats to assemble for the Third Annual Blessing of the Stone Crab Fleet. “I hope we get a good crab season, and the octopus don’t eat us up,” said Kibodeaux. Last year, he said, he saw more octopi than he ever had, and figures they ate 60,000 lbs. of stone crabs out of his traps alone. The stone crab season opens on October 15, and crabbers are allowed to set their traps in the water for ten days ahead, starting on Oct. 5.
Three local pastors blessed all the crab boats and their crews, and the community made a party of it. Children strewed thousands of flower petals along the dock prior to the boats showing up, and competed in a frog-jumping contest. Church groups and the nine-person graduating class of the Everglades City School held a bake sale. The Wholetones, a four-piece band playing original music, entertained on guitars, banjo, cello, string bass and drums.
The main event, though, was the blessing of the fleet. People sitting on the broad outside porch at the Rod & Gun Club, or hanging out along the Barron River, kept looking upstream for a sign the boats were on the move. Finally, the flotilla got underway, and maneuvered downstream in a rigid line astern that would have done the Royal Navy’s Channel Fleet proud.
Boats with names like Serious Addiction, Slim Pickins, Flirtin with Disaster, and Strictly Business tied up along with more traditionally-named vessels like Little Liza, Kristin Anne and Miss Holly II. The ministers from three local churches went down the line of boats, blessing each vessel and its crew in turn.
Rev. Morris Dantin of the Chokoloskee Church of God, Rev. Jim Fross of the First Baptist Church of Everglades City, and Rev. John Gilmore of the Copeland Baptist Church took turns offering benedictions.
“Lord, we ask you to give them a bountiful harvest. Extend your blessings upon this vessel and crew,” intoned Dantin alongside the Little Liza. Photographers and camera crews trailed the ministers, along with family and visitors snapping away.
Aboard Serious Addiction, William Peabody, who owned the boat until he sold it last year, said he welcomed the prospect of divine intervention. “It ain’t gonna hurt,” he said. Once the blessings were completed, coolers were opened on board and beer bottles came out, while the landsmen headed back indoors.
Stepping inside the Rod & Gun Club feels like going back in time. The building fairly oozes history, with uneven plank floors, pecky cypress walls covered with gator hides, the mounted heads of bears, boars, and bucks, and portraits of those who came here, including President Calvin Coolidge. The building rambles on in various directions, testimony to having been built small and repeatedly added onto. In one room, the judging for the guava cake bakeoff was held, with ladies differing interpretations of the classic local delicacy. First prize went to Joan Griffin, owner of Joanie’s Blue Crab, for her white layer cake layered with guava paste and topped with coconut frosting. One local delicacy not in evidence, of course, was stone crabs, but with good luck and diving blessing, the catch will be coming onshore soon. Mark your calendars for October 15, the opening of the season.