Reverend Bill Hoffmann of Montauk Community Church blesses the Viking Starship

Story & Photos by Debbie Tuma

On a rainy, windy day on Sunday, June 9, people were wondering if the annual Blessing of the Montauk Fleet would be cancelled. But as sailor’s luck would have it, the sun came out, wind died down, and it became the most glorious weather right about 4:30 pm when the boats were leaving the dock!

Patricia and Capt Paul Forsberg of the Viking Fleet

Captain Frank Braddick, of the charter boat Hurry Up, organized this annual Blessing of the Fleet as he has been doing for 40 years. This event is put on by the Montauk Boatmen and Captain’s Association, and it draws thousands of people from all over Long Island, NYC, New Jersey, Connectitcut and Rhode Island.

As we left the Viking Dock, Captain Paul Forsberg, who owns the Viking Fleet, had come up from Florida for the occasion, and was greeting people on the stern of the boat.

“This Blessing of the Fleet is a great tradition in Montauk, and it’s grown so much over the years,” he said. “We take the The Viking Starship, because at 140 feet long it’s our biggest boat and is able to carry up to 150 people.”

Cantor Debra Stein, Father Liam McDonald, Reverend Bill Hoffmann and Reverend Benjamin Shambaugh

As usual, the parade of boats—every kind from large to small, sailed over to the East Hampton Town Dock to get blessed by the local clergy—Father Liam McDonald of St. Therese Roman Catholic Church in Montauk, Reverend Bill Hoffmann of the Montauk Community Church, Cantor Debra Stein of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, and Reverend Benjamin Shambaugh, of St. Luke’s Epicopal Church in East Hampton. They stood on the Viking Starship,  and raised their hands to bless about 150 boats going by. Faith Mullaly sang the National Anthem in her beautiful voice.

These boats included charter boats, commercial trawlers, sailboats, skiffs and dingies, Coast Guard boats, catamarans, Cigarettes, private yachts, and even a few raft-type boats. And this year, as usual, Capt. Billy Joel’s boat, Alexa Ray, was in the event, but he was unfortunately not aboard.

Father McDonald was also throwing holy water at each boat, and some of the comments from the crews were pretty funny.

“Father—we need all the blessing we can get—don’t run out of water!” yelled one man from a big sailboat.

“Father Liam—see the name of our boat?” one woman quipped as her charter boat went by. “It’s called Redemption!”

At this event, everyone is in a good mood, it seems, partying on their boats with their friends and relatives, and looking forward to another fishing season in Montauk.

The Blessing of the Fleet is always a fun and also bittersweet occasion, as although it’s for good luck each summer, it’s also a time to commemorate all those working on the water who have died in the past year, from captains to mates, deck hands, and marina workers.

Also aboard the Viking Starship were beautiful flowered wreaths for the 11 people who died this past year, plus one which is thrown in to remember all the past deceased. This year wreaths would be thrown in for Joseph McDonald, Jane Bowman, Paul Derek, Grace McTurk, Paul Darenberg, Capt. Bob Sztorc, Christopher Alexander Good, John Lycke, Scott Leonard, Larry Keller and Johnny Angel Simons.

After all the boats were blessed, the Viking Starship steamed out of the Montauk Harbor to the Bell Buoy, and all the other boats circled around it. It’s a beautiful sight, as all the boats and crews wait for the families of the deceased to throw their wreaths overboard in the beautiful pre-sunset lighting. Taps was played during this somber and meaningful ceremony.

Two little great-granddaughters of Grace McTurk threw a yellow flowered wreath into the sea. Grace died recently at the age of 104, and she was a fixture at the Montauk Marine Basin front counter for many decades, next to her friend Vivian Darenberg. Her husband, George McTurk, was a longtime Montauk charter boat captain. T Paul Darenberg was also related to the Darenberg family who owns the Montauk Marine Basin. John Lycke was also a longtime Montauk resident, who owned the Montauk Laudromat, had a house watching business, and was once a mate for the renowned Captain Frank Mundus of the Crickett II. Jane Bowman, former owner of the Marlin IV, and Larry Keller, a boat captain and owner of two fish markets, were also longtime Montauk residents.

For a few minutes, we watched the wreaths bob up and down in the tide, as we remembered all these people, and I thought about all my family who spent their lives here at sea. And how I was once like these young girls, riding on my Dad’s charter boat at all these Blessings growing up, all the while knowing deep inside that one day, sadly, I’d be throwing a wreath in for him.

Suddenly all the boats blew their horns, and we sailed in a majestic procession back to the Montauk Docks to celebrate another year in this great and famous fishing town!


2024 Blessing of the Fleet from the Easy Breeze
by Lorrine Salvato