Not many watermen still work on the rivers around St. Mary's County, and hardly any oysters are out there to catch. But huge crowds gathered Sunday for the Blessing of the Fleet, a tradition started more than 35 years ago to honor the work boats as they began oyster season.
Now the people come to see friends at the Coltons Point event, to take a boat over to St. Clement's Island to the site of the first landing by European colonists in Maryland 370 years ago, to hear bands or watch fireworks. The $5 admission fee raises money for the 7th District Optimist Club, which pumps money into the community, sponsors children's programs and pitches in for emergencies, such as for a little boy who had leukemia this summer.
The festival once was just a simple Mass on the island, but over the years it has grown into a full two days of events. Now there are pony rides, magic shows, line dancing, historical plays, bluegrass bands, a stuffed-ham auction -- and all the exhibits in the St. Clement's Island-Potomac River Museum.
The Optimists moved most of the events to Coltons Point years ago because shipping all the supplies and people to St. Clement's Island had become too expensive.
But there were still plenty of people there Sunday for the boat ride to the island. Some hopped on fishing boats to motor across the Potomac, see where the lighthouse used to be, find the cross that marks the landing site and explore the island.
On Saturday night, crowds gathered along the point to watch fireworks set off from a barge, the light reflected in the water.
On Sunday afternoon Monsignor Leonard Pivonka of Texas celebrated Mass and blessed the boats.
St. Mary's County Commissioners Larry Jarboe and Thomas F. McKay were invited to wear 17th-century costumes, Jarboe said. "It was obvious that people back then were much smaller," he said, laughing about their attempts to button up.
Debra Pence, museum director for St. Mary's County, said the attendance of thousands of people for the weekend's events seemed to be bigger than it has been for several years. Last year the blessing was canceled because Hurricane Isabel had just barreled through.
An early shower Saturday kept some people at home, but the weather Sunday was perfect, with temperatures in the low 70s and lots of sunshine.
"God blessed us down at the Point," said T.V. Long, who lives nearby.