With a spray of holy water flung from a plastic bottle, former auxiliary Bishop of Washington Edward J. Herrmann pronounced his blessing today on about 100 boats nestled in the anchorage of this tiny Potomac River island.
Applause rippled through the crowd of 2,500 to 3,000 local residents and visitors as Herrmann asked the "Lord's protection and safety," as well as "a good catch for this year."
It was the 16th annual "Blessing of the Fleet," a now-regular feature of this remote but historic island in Southern Maryland's St. Mary's County, about 75 miles from Washington.
It was here that the first permanent European settlers in Maryland decided to land in 1634--about 200 men and a handful of women who came sailing up the Potomac in the Ark and the Dove with Leonard Calvert, brother of George Calvert, Lord Baltimore.
The 40-acre island a half mile off Coltons Point is uninhabited, but today it was teeming with people.
A pleasantly cool autumn sun brought visitors from as far as Baltimore.
Besides the formal blessing of both commercial fishing boats and pleasure craft, there was music, Polish dancing, horseshoe pitching, a drafthorse pulling contests and no end of food and drink.
A flotilla of local charter boats brought a steady stream of people to the island.
Tractor-drawn wagons then carried the visitors from the north pier across the low-lying island to the south anchorage.
A huge Navy helicopter sat in a field, being examined by children of all sizes.
"There's something here for everybody," said Biggie Goode, a functionary of the local Optimist Club, sponsor of the annual blessing.
At 2:45 p.m., Herrmann mounted a flatbed trailer on a rise overlooking the anchorage and intoned the blessing.
It was really two blessings, he explained later--"one for the work boats--the oyster boats--and one for the pleasure boats."
The blessing, usually done by the archbishop of Washington or his stand-in, is a Roman Catholic event in this largely Catholic part of Maryland.
But sponsors noted that this year an Episcopalian minister from nearby Oakley, Md., was included in the observances.
Edwin Beitzell, 78, a retired telephone company employe and long-time historian hereabouts, was on the island today. He noted that while the 20 or so "gentlemen adventurers" who led the 1634 landing at St. Clements Island were mostly Catholic, fully three quarters of the laborers brought to toil for them were Anglicans.