Blessings AboundFor More Than Half a Century, a Flotilla of Fishing Boats Has Graced Destin’s Annual Blessing of the Fleet
By Christy Kearney
It isn’t hard to realize that Destin has flourished since its early days as a cozy coastal fishing village. Now touted as “the world’s luckiest fishing village,” Destin was built from the beach up, starting with a handful of local fishing families. These families still are active in the community and credit the annual Blessing of the Fleet as an instrumental event in the city’s prosperous path.
On May 30, 1957, Destin’s captains and crews came together at St. Andrew’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church for the inaugural Blessing of the Fleet. After communion and a brief service, the Rev. William Irwin, pastor at St. Andrew’s and founder of the event, guided the anglers across the then-quiet streets of U.S. Highway 98 to the pristine Destin Harbor to bless their vessels one by one for protection and prosperity.
“There were only a few boats, and most of them were part of my family,” recalls Dale Allen, a descendant of the Maltezos and Woodwards – two of the city’s founding families. “The boats were lined up in the harbor ready to come through to receive a blessing for a good harvest of the sea and for safety for the captains, their families and crews.”
After each boat motored up to the dock to be blessed by the church, everybody gathered for a festive fish fry on the docks. That tasty tradition continues today.
Allen, who has attended every Blessing of the Fleet since 1957, believes that the people of Destin, whether they were a part of the church community or not, began to realize
how important the blessing was and did not want to start a season without having their boats blessed.
“It became an integral part of the fishing community,” she says. “We would even have boats call in from offshore who could not make it in on time for the blessing and ask for the clergy to have prayers said for them and their boat.”
Allen’s father, Capt. Nick Maltezo, adhered to the tradition religiously. Allen shares that her father used to say, “You cannot cross that (sand) bar every day unless you know God is with you.” Many Destin captains agree.
Destin has certainly reaped the benefits of the seeds sown by the area’s fishing pioneers. Destin’s fleet is now one of the largest in Florida, and in the past, it has been recognized as the largest in the country. The first blessing was spoken over 20 boats. In 2007, the Blessing of the Fleet celebrated its 50th anniversary, and area pastors blessed nearly 120 vessels.
This year, the event will be celebrated on Thursday, May 1.
While the event has evolved over the years – the service now is conducted at the Destin Community Center, and the blessing takes place in the new HarborWalk Village – the message has remained the same. Captains and crews from all religious backgrounds and walks of life assemble for this one day of blessings. Along with bringing the key players in the fishing industry together, the Blessing of the Fleet has helped unite the entire city. Five years ago, Capt. Mike Parker and former Destin City Councilman Mel Ponders created Destin’s Week of Blessings as a week-long celebration around the Blessing of the Fleet. Destin’s religious leaders from all denominations join forces to bless every facet of the community, including the city, youth, families and local businesses.
The quaint fishing village has matured into a popular tourist destination and bustling marketplace, but Destin has found a way through the annual blessing to retain its small-town feel and cultivate an appreciation for the principles that helped make it strong and prosperous in the first place.