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Blessing of the Fleet: Baileys Harbor Debuts Maritime Fest

Baileys Harbor will host the very first Blessing of the Fleet Festival this weekend, May 21-22. The town seeks to celebrate its maritime heritage with festivities located at or near the marina, including a traditional blessing ceremony, maritime tours, historic programs, music and food.

The maritime industry has played a crucial role in the establishment of Baileys Harbor. The town has been a major fishing port, particularly for trout and salmon, since the late 1800s. With its commercial and sport fishing fleets as well as private ship holders, Baileys Harbor remains a town with close ties to its Lake Michigan roots.

“We wanted to highlight the marina and the fact that we have a very intact fishing industry, which a lot of the other communities don’t really have anymore,” said Brynn Swanson, the community coordinator of the Baileys Harbor Community Association.

The Blessing of the Fleet Festival will include a traditional blessing ceremony. The blessing consists of the reading of a verse from the Bible and vocalizes the community’s hope for a prosperous season. Father Ruby, pastor of the Stella Maris Catholic Parish, will read the blessing, which will then be transmitted over CB radio to all vessels wishing to receive it, regardless of denomination, vessel type, or homeport.

While this is the first time this type of blessing will be given in Baileys Harbor, it is modeled on blessings given to maritime vessels on the east and west coasts. While blessings are usually read over the radio, the Blessing of the Fleet Ceremony varies from typical blessings in its scope. Traditional blessings usually cover only a specific fleet of ships. “Think of Deadliest Catch,” Swanson clarified. “All of the crab fishing vessels would be one fleet.” Instead of maintaining this narrow focus, the festival blessing is intended to be inclusive of all ships and boats in the harbor that wish to receive it, whether local or visiting.

The festival offers a combination of celebratory events and educational programs so that attendees can become more knowledgeable about this important local industry. Presentations on maritime history, safety and legislature will be conducted in the Town Hall, and festivalgoers will have the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts from local captains at the marina.

“They say there is a three generation gap between the farm and today’s people,” Swanson said. “For example, my grandfather had a farm. It’s become a big thing where people really want to see where their food comes from. They want to know how it’s caught. They want high quality stuff so this is the perfect way to showcase that.”

With the inclusion of the culinary event Lake-to-Table: A Taste of Baileys Harbor, those attending the festival will be able to learn about and experience the town’s fishing industry from start to finish: The Baileys Harbor Fish Market, Top Deck at Gordon Lodge, and Chives will all feature a locally sourced fish entrée Saturday evening.

Swanson says she is particularly excited to have the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary at the Town Marina on Sunday. They will be conducting complimentary vessel checks to any and all vessels so that boaters and captains can make sure they are up to safety regulations. Additionally, “Coastie,” the Coast Guard’s mechanical mascot, will assist in boaters’ safety demonstrations for kids. Sunday will also have a farmers’ market and live music to wrap up the festival.

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