Rich blessing for Nelson's fleet

Crowds gather at Nelson quay for the annual Blessing of the Fleet.

Sally Kidson for the Nelson Mail   |  30 Oct 2011

First there was silence, then the sound of a ship's bell tolling 10 times ringing out across the water.

The end of the formal part of the annual Blessing of the Fleet provided a touching reminder that the colourful festival on Nelson Harbour is also about remembering those who have lost their lives at sea.

Crowds gathered for the 11th annual festival on Saturday, this year lining the new Sunderland Marine Pier at Wakefield Quay.

The event – a collective effort by Nelson fishing companies – is usually held in July.

However it was held later this year, to allow for the beautification work on the pier to be completed.

A flotilla of boats of all sizes, from small inflatables to inshore fishing vessels, a yacht with two small dogs in lifejackets onboard, to the larger Amaltal Enterprise, gathered for the event.

Master of ceremonies Kent Robertson said during the service that 26 per cent of Nelson's workforce was involved in the fishing industry, and for every worker at sea, there were seven land-based jobs in the industry.

This year the Nelson Mail watched the ceremony from the Sealord Rescue, which is run by the Nelson Volunteer Coastguard.

It is the last time Sealord Rescue will attend the blessing ceremony because, after 17 years of service in Nelson, the vessel will be replaced by a new 8.5metre vessel, due to arrive in Nelson next weekend.

Watching from the sea provided a chance to see the ceremony from the perspective of a sea-goer, looking back to land.

For those on the water, Bishop Richard Ellena provided a special moment in the emotional part of the ceremony when he asked the crowd to hold their hands out and join in the blessing of the boats and those who go to sea.

Blessing of the Fleet chairman Mike Smith said the event had gone well and he was blessed with the nice environment the new pier provided.

The crowd was more spread out towards Nelson Yacht Club this year, so it was difficult to tell how many people were there, but he estimated the crowd was between 4000 and 5000.

He had heard that people in the crowd were saying it was their first time at the ceremony, which was positive.

"I was very pleased with how it went. It was a great day for everybody who was there and brought home the message of how important the industry is to Nelson and the fact that people do lose their lives out there."

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