Vancouver's blessing of the fleet enters second year

Nothing like tradition with a twist.

Vancouvers second annual Blessing of the Fleet ceremony is Saturday, high noon, at the False Creek Fishermens Wharf where local seaport chaplain Father John Eason will perform the centuries-old tradition that is said to ensure a safe and fruitful fishing season. Hell sprinkle holy water from the wharf head on the ships below, read two short passages from the Bible and then walk over to his car to blow his prized submarine horn much to the delight of every boat within earshot judging by the honking and hooting in return.

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Ive always been a keen submariner at heart, said Father Eason. When I first heard a submarine horn, I lit up like a Christmas tree. I went to sound heaven.

It was False Creek Harbour Authority board president Donny Sananins idea to start a Blessing of the Fleet tradition at the local dock. Its a gesture thats not only steeped in tradition but also one he hopes will bring fishermen exposure about the fresh seafood theyre selling right off the boat.

I want to get people to realize that these fishermen are selling things year-round, said Sananin. They can actually tell you where their different kinds of product were caught, they can show you on a map. You cant get any more local than that.

Despite the burgeoning shop and eat local trend, Sananin said many people are still unaware of the origin of their seafood. Some assume seafood in fish markets will be fresh and local, he said, but often its supplied via large seafood wholesalers, passing hands two or three times before arriving here from distant countries. Thus Sananin hopes events at Fishermens Wharf such as the Blessing of the Fleet will raise awareness about local seafood.

Blessing of the Fleet is a Catholic practice, in keeping with ancient Mediterranean maritime tradition. Sananin considered making it multi-denominational but decided, for organizations sake, to stick with tradition. And that hasnt kept anybody away. Last year, one of the participating boats had a Catholic captain and a Buddhist crew.

Fisherwoman Soraya Andersen, who is from a long line of women who fish, sells seafood aboard the Viking Maiden at Fishermens Wharf. She isnt Catholic but still enjoys the Blessing of the Fleet ceremony.

Maybe fishermen are a little superstitious, she said. The ceremony is nice to have, it gives us a good feeling as we head out. Its something meaningful.

While Andersen said shed like to see more religions represented in the ceremony, she is fully behind the harbour authoritys push to educate people about their seafood. She is one of a handful who make their living at sea who participate in an online program called This Fish where buyers can trace information about their seafood by entering the code on the products bag on the This Fish website.

The public is welcome to attend Saturdays Blessing of the Fleet ceremony. After Father Eason closes the ceremony with a blast of the submarine horn, some of the fishermen will sail to the now-closed Kitsilano Point Coast Guard base to protest its controversial closure earlier this year.

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