Crowd braves cold for fleet blessing

Archdeacon Andy Joseph, Bishop Richard Ellena and Reverend Jeff Cotton watched by Mike Smith during the service at Blessing of the Fleet.
Archdeacon Andy Joseph, Bishop Richard Ellena and Reverend Jeff Cotton watched by Mike Smith during the service at Blessing of the Fleet.

A bitterly cold winter's day cut into the crowd size but the annual blessing of Nelson's fishing fleet proved it's a firm fixture on Nelson's calendar of events.

It was the 12th Blessing of the Fleet in front of the Sunderland Pier on Wakefield Quay and a couple of dozen inshore fishing boats, pleasure boats and commercial craft massed in front of the pier on Saturday to be blessed by clergymen and honoured by the crowd, which contained many people who have lost family members at sea or served on boats themselves.

Fish and chip meals for $3 - two scallops, a piece of fish and chips - were popular, made possible by donations from the seafood industry and used as a fundraiser for Nelson Rotary, with about 40 volunteers on hand to cook and serve. Professional fish filleters were on hand to amaze the public with their seemingly effortless skill and there was a catch of the day auction after the ceremony.

As in past years the occasion was a blend of festivity and solemnity, with Nelson City Brass and the Nelson Male Voice Choir providing jaunty pre-blessing music, and lone piper Perry Smith adding a more sombre tone before the minute's silence to remember those lost and think of those still working at sea.

Jude Wells,whose husband Barry was lost at sea in June 1999, cast a wreath into the ocean on behalf of all bereaved fishing families.

Event chairman Mike Smith said afterwards the event had been highlighted by "a magnificent display out on the water" and a big attendance for the fireworks display the night before. Talley's deepsea fleet is usually represented but this year the boats were already at work on the hoki grounds off the West Coast, he said.

The day is used as a fundraiser for the Seafarers Memorial Trust and chairman Buzz Falconer said the trust took satisfaction from what the event had grown into over the years.

"I've already had numerous ladies come up and say what a marvellous thing it is, so they can come down and remember their loved ones."

This year he had been especially pleased by the attendance at the fireworks display.

"The crowd were really fantastic and the one thing that really tickled the boys on the [fireworks] boat was that when it finished, they all stood up and clapped. It means so much to those guys who do a lot of voluntary work."

One regular attendee at Saturday's event was Pat Pask of Atawhai, whose uncle was lost at sea during World War II.

"It's the highlight of the year in Nelson, I think," she said.

"We're a naval family. My father was in the navy and I was in the navy."

She said the Blessing of the Fleet was "a great community gathering" which also raised the profile of the fishing industry.

"It makes people realise what an immense industry it is, and how many people are involved in it."

Nelson