On Saturday, at the request of a past commodore of Kingsville’s Cedar Island Yacht Club, I took part in their annual Sail Past and Blessing of the Fleet.
The last time I went sailing, it was to watch the Canada Day fireworks at Bronte Harbour in Oakville. The captain who hosted us had to have his boat towed back to the dock at the end of the night, because his motor failed. That event was more humorous than dangerous (although Captain John wasn’t laughing!) but it did give us a taste of the vulnerability inherent any time we venture out on open water.
There is a famous verse, known as the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer:
Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.
This little prayer was engraved on a brass plaque presented to President John F. Kennedy by US Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover. The admiral made it a practice to give the same gift to all new commanders of Polaris submarines.
Even the largest vessel can feel not quite enough, in a storm, or when any of the many things that can go wrong, do.
When we go out on the water there are opportunities to glory in creation, to witness sights and sounds, and smells, and sensations in real life, in real time. This is incredibly important, in our age of electronic screens that provide, and mediate so much of our daily experience of the world.
The tradition of blessing the fleet is traced back to European fishing villages, in which the local priest would lead ritual prayers in a communal effort to ensure a bountiful season, safety for those who braved the waters, and peace of mind for those waiting at home. These prayers would have notes of gratitude and awe for the power of God and the beauty of the created world, as well as a chilling acknowledgment of the precariousness of life.
Awareness of both the sweetness, and possible shortness of our lives is at the heart of most prayers, I think. We stand in awe, and we stand with trepidation. Look what there is! Look what could happen!
The sailors I met on Saturday do not depend on their boats, or their time on the water to make a living. They do not brave dangerous wind and waves to catch fish, or transport cargo. They do not pilot ferry boats or operate patrol or rescue vessels. Even so, I have the sense their sailing adds much to their lives, and helps them stay in touch with the beauty, and the precious fragility of life itself.
After the formal ceremony, I was asked by members of the club to bless their boats individually. This is the prayer I used:
God of Creation, God of Love, God of Wind and Waters, bless this boat. Guide the captain at her helm. Watch over all passengers and crew and bring them to a safe return. We pray with gratitude and trust. Amen
At more than one of these moments of blessing, I could see this simple action of asking God to be with them, was important and meaningful to those with whom I stood.