MARCO ISLAND — As pleasure boating cruises go, this one was short in terms of distance, but long on pomp and circumstance.
Saturday morning, the Marco Island Yacht Club held their annual Presentation and Blessing of the Fleet ceremony, with a baker’s dozen of the club’s vessels passing in review before their officers, and receiving the blessing of the chaplain. The MIYC bridge, those of them in attendance, broke out their dress whites and snappy nautical caps, and saluted as the boats passed, carrying on a centuries-old tradition.
The yachts, power and sailboats of various sizes, cruisers and trawlers, mono and trihulls, motored out into the Marco River, circled slowly about, and one by one, glided back into harbor to be blessed.
MIYC Chaplain Ed Sellers, an Anglican pastor, august in black cassock, white surplice, and long tasseled stole splashed droplets of water in the direction of each vessel from his asperges, and waved his beretta, a square black cap besides. Commodore Bob DeFeo saluted the passing boats, many of them bedecked with strings of nautical flags, which might have spelled out messages, if anyone wanted to pull out the flag book and decode them.
The more Bristol-fashion captains running tight ships had their guests assembled on the foredeck or in the cockpit in matching outfits, and honored protocol by announcing them as they passed, in a generously spaced line astern, from the Marco River into the yacht basin. Some of the crews saluted back, some waved, and some just took in the scene. A few random craft, including a rental pontoon boat, passed through the cut during the blessing, with their occupants looking bemused by the goings on of the yachtsmen.
On shore, some of the ladies sipping iced tea or Bloody Marys also got into the spirit and fashion of the occasion. Caitlin Robinson’s shoes managed to strike both a patriotic and a nautical note.
Luwayne Arnold and Don Andretta from the Marco Island Strummers, playing keyboard and guitar, respectively, played the appropriate service anthem for captains who were military veterans as they ghosted past the club’s dock.
The ceremony was conducted over marine radio, VHF channel 78, including the Pledge of Allegiance, the overall blessing from Chaplain Sellers, and the singing of the National Anthem by Frank LaFerrara. Singing into the radio microphone as the musicians played from the balcony, that meant his radio audience couldn’t hear the band, and his rendition was essentially a capella for the boaters out on the river.
Everybody, though, could hear the ceremonial cannon, which fired off a blast worthy of a much larger artillery piece.
Fleet Captain Lee Harkness, scheduled to lead the parade in his ‘Zephyr V,’ encountered engine trouble and had to give up his place heading the fleet. His commodore reported he got into port without mishap, so it’s fair to say that, along with the rest of the fleet, he was blessed.