Fishersremembered in ceremony

Published on Thu, May 6, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Fishers remembered in ceremony

By Jack Kintner

The 30th annual Blessing of the Fleet was held on the sawtooth dock in Blaine’s commercial marina last Sunday, a day when Blaine’s little piece of the Pacific Ocean looked as pleasant and inviting as a small town front yard on a sunny day, as if nothing could be more enjoyable than going out fishing for a few days.

It’s not always that way, of course, but while there are fish to catch there will be fishers to catch them, people who cannot be stopped by a turn in the weather. Because of this, they sometimes don’t come back. Well over a hundred people gathered to remember them, and as each of 48 names was read by Mike Dodd, who’s one-time fisher father Bud died last March, a flower was placed in a memorial wreath by a family member or friend.

Music was provided by the Blaine high school instrumental ensemble along with Blaine high student David Williams’s singing “America the Beautiful.”

“Blaine’s half water, which is maybe why fishing’s in our blood,” said realtor and former fisher Chuck Green, referring to the parts of Drayton Harbor and Semiahmoo Bay that lie within the city limits. Blaine has been primarily a fishing town almost since its inception in 1884.

“It would be hard to find a family here who wasn’t somehow involved with fishing,” agreed Theo Hull, who for many years helped host the service when she worked for the chamber of commerce.

Even though Blaine’s fishing fleet that once numbered well into the hundreds has dwindled to about 25 active local commercial fishing boats, the connections are still evident. Hull, whose maiden name is Gudmundson, is Icelandic and is married to former fisher, school board member and fellow Blaine native Barrie Hull.

The Hulls attend the Free Church Unitarian, founded 75 years ago primarily by Icelandic fishing families.

“In this congregation,” said their minister, the Reverend Nan Geer, “there’s hardly a family who hasn’t lost someone, and over the years there have been several Blaine families who lost every man in a fishing disaster.” Geer was one of three participating clergy, along with Father Matthew O’Leary of St. Anne Catholic Church and the Reverend Brent Brentnall of Christ Episcopal.

That’s when the community gathers around itself for solace, comfort and the strength to go on. The service on Sunday was begun during Blaine’s centennial year by the Blaine Chamber of Commerce, which still hosts it. “Does it seem strange to call it a blessing, to remember our loved ones who haven’t come back? You’d think it would be called a memorial of some kind,” Geer said.

The fishing fleet is blessed, however, not to pit God’s strength against the hazards of the job so much as it is to remind us all of the context in which fishers and the rest of us all live and work, Geer emphasized. “Memorials should be about having had a terrible sorrow then we go on to live in the peace and the wonder that comes, even after death.”
Reverend Brentnall has been involved with the blessing of the fleet for the last three years. “I was shanghaied,” he laughed when asked about his role in the service, adding “I’m the kind of guy they think of when this sort of thing rolls around, I guess.”

When asked why the service is called a blessing of the fleet even though it’s really a memorial, Brentnall, whose wife Kay died unexpectedly last winter, said that “for people in a grieving process, part of the healing of it is to remember. With Kay’s death I’ve been encouraged to go through old photographs, and at the service, when the names are called out and a flower’s placed on the wreath for each one, it’s like going through the old pictures. The remembering helps you come to closure with the loss of the person.”

Geer said she likes doing the benediction in the service “because I like to get the last word in,” she grinned. Among other things, she said “We are reminded to care for and about one another in times of joy and sorrow, to look out to the glistening sea as does the fisher as the boat rises to the wave – a thrill of life and an understanding of the depths of the sea as we turn our face toward wonder and everlasting peace.”

Following the service, as piper Rory McLeod played Amazing Grace, the wreath was gently lowered onto the deck of Gary McGee’s 87-year-old F/V Arctic. It was taken out beyond the harbor entrance and was cast into the water by Green, who once fished on McGee’s boat, and his son Jason.