BLESSING OF THE FLEET
Where: Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse
When: Thursday, Nov. 28 at 10 a.m.
Mad River Union
TRINIDAD – “Twenty-one years ago, we lost our last fisherman,” said Marge O’Brien, one of the founders of the Trinidad annual Blessing of the Fleet.
The blessing is in its 20th year and, since it started, no lives have been lost.
This is in a small town where the names of those Lost at Sea are inscribed on the wall behind the Memorial Lighthouse and read aloud every year in a solemn ceremony. None is the best list to read.
“Marge came up with the idea,” said Greta Daniels, who described herself and O’Brien as the last two of the founders of the blessing. “She called in all the ladies of the town. The ladies who I thought for sure would do it, never came back. It was the people who just loved the fishermen, not just girlfriends or wives.”
Daniels had just started her relationship with a fisherman and O’Brien was married to Jim Gullett, a well-known Trinidad captain, who died last year after undergoing treatment for cancer.
Last year’s blessing was dedicated to Gullett and this year’s poster has a painting of his boat on it. “I used to worry about him before we did the blessing,” O’Brien said.
The blessing was slow to get off the ground. “The first year, only three fishermen came,” O’Brien said. “I’m sure they thought it was hokum.”
But some “unusual occurrences” may have influenced the other fishermen to attend.
“After the blessing, a boat went out when there was white water in the Hole.”
The Hole is what locals call the area between Trinidad Head and Pilot Rock.
“The boat rolled three times,” O’Brien continued. “The cabin was ripped off but all three fishermen were standing on the boat when it was over.”
O’Brien recalled reaction to the first blessing. “I worked as a nurse at Mad River Hospital and was attending a seminar in Seattle. There were 2,000 people there and I was talking with a young woman in line. She told me she had been visiting her mother and had attended the Blessing of the Fleet. She didn’t know I had anything to do with it. ‘Those people didn’t know what they were doing,’ she said, ‘but I saw these angels come in and they blessed every boat and every fisherman.’ I thought, well, we must be doing something right.”
“Now all the fishermen come and they want their little talisman,” O’Brien said.
A group of fishermen’s wives and girlfriends made the talismans for the first year.
“We put a little brass crab in a styrofoam coffee cup. And we painted each cup with the colors of each boat’s buoys,” O’Brien explained.
Look on the fridge in any fisherman’s house and you’ll find a chart of boat names, captain’s names and buoy colors prominently posted. Buoy colors are all important.
The talismans are different every year but the ceremony remains traditional. It has always included a religious blessing given by a pastor and a Native American blessing given by Axel Lindgren with help from members of his family. This year will feature the new minister at the Church of the Joyful Healer, Pastor Alison Berry.
Both blessings involve the townspeople with active participation.
Children are part of the event, too, with the artwork for the poster chosen from drawings by students in the fourth grade at Trinidad School.
“It’s wonderful to involve the school. All these kids get to know the boats,” said Daniels.
Both O’Brien and Daniels have worked on the event for 20 years, along with many others. “Some have moved away; some have died,” Daniels said.
“Marge is an amazing woman with a lot of healing energy and I’m so grateful for her in our community,” Daniels said.
The blessing is traditionally on Thanksgiving because the fishermen are all in town but can’t fish until Dec. 1, O'Brien explained.
Danny Cox is the captain of The Express. “They do a great job on it every year,” he said. “We enjoy it and look forward to it. It’s a stepping stone into the crab season.”
Cox also appreciates Lindgren’s part in the blessing. “Axel’s health is always in question,” he said. “The day he doesn’t get to do it will be a sad day.”
Cox is looking to fish until Christmas and then turn the boat over to the crew. “My youngest son will be the captain,” boasted Cox, although the current problems with crab toxicity may affect that plan.