Boats Line Up for D.C. Waterfront's Annual Talisman for Smooth Sailing

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 18, 2009

They lined up single file, each patiently waiting for a turn before the clergy yesterday: Lulu, My Mistress, Midnight Rider, The Raven, Kitty, Temptress, Devil Juice and even La Otra.

The sky darkened, and the pastor's white vestments flapped in the cold wind. The priest held his hat with one hand and raised the other to issue his blessing:

"May God bless Temptress and all who sail upon her."

The sailors at Gangplank Marina in Southwest Washington stifled their laughter.

In the business of boat blessing, the names can be a problem.

"I learned years ago, when I blessed 'The Other Woman and all those who sail upon her,' to change it a little when you have, shall we say, colorful boat names," said the Rev. Fay Lundin, who was blessing boats alongside the Rev. Peter Weiss yesterday. "You say, 'May God bless the vessel known as The Other Woman.' That can save you some embarrassment."

Apparently, Weiss and Lundin forgot that when Temptress came chugging by.

More than 70 trawlers, cabin cruisers, sloops and ketches, among other vessels, plied the choppy waters of the Washington Channel to take part in a maritime ritual that continues annually in the shadow of the Capitol dome.

The blessing of the fleet is a salty, ancient tradition that began when boats were made of reeds or wood and mariners could be at sea for months or years.

But today, when even a relatively humble pleasure craft can be outfitted with a GPS device, satellite weather data, autopilot, radar, night vision technology and sonar, the blessing of the fleet remains important to modern seafarers, said Roger Thiel, who has lived aboard a boat at Gangplank Marina for 20 years and yesterday announced each boat as it came down the channel and slowed for the blessing. "This is an appeal for safety," he said.

Although not open sea, the Potomac River is a deceivingly wicked body of water that claims lives every year with its hidden currents and frigid waters.

"People think this is a tame river. It isn't. We've had 50-knot winds here," said Erick Lundin, who sailed his 39-foot boat to Washington from Los Angeles through the Panama Canal.

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