The commercial fishermen of Montauk are hard-working men. Like all professions there are risks and dangers. For these men and their families, calamities at sea are a fearful reality. Bad sudden storms and dangerous seas do occur. Every late spring, for the last sixty years, there has been a pure Montauk tradition called the Blessing of the Fleet. It is both a memorial for lost local fisherman and boaters and the celebration on a new fishing season and a blessing from the almighty that it be a safe one. There are five representatives from different religious sects who pray and bless the commercial and charter boat fleet of Montauk as they circle the boat with the clergymen in the harbor. It is quite an emotional and colorful ordeal.
Showing up at 4:30 at the Montauk Town Commercial Dock one could see all the boats and crews along with their families excited for this ritual. Billy Joel was spotted standing there perhaps to attend on his friend’s commercial vessel instead of one his own custom fishing boats. The men are strong sea-faring men who know of huge nets, hooks, gaffs and the toils of working the rolling waves of the ocean for days and nights many miles from shore. My very first trip to this dock was in 2005 to interview Montauk commercial fishing legend Jeff Bline, who made me “sew by hand” a fishing net with him to get the interview. Jeff said many things but I remember two to this day; First, “There are no atheists in a storm” and second, “When you are out fishing on a clear night and you see the stars like only you can miles offshore at night, and you stop and look at those stars and it’s then you know there is a God or some other kind of authority or power.”
Anthony Sosinski and Johhny “Loads” Aldridge make up the crew of the Anna Mary. The Anna Mary is a 45′ Stanley lobster boat made in Maine. Johnny “Loads” Aldridge is in fact the Montauk fisherman who fell in the sea late at night a few years back and used his big rubber boots to stay afloat for over 24 hours until a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew spotted a “spec in the sea,” many miles at sea in the Atlantic Ocean and rescued him. One of the happy ending stories that is a now a book (Spec in the Sea) and perhaps one day a motion picture. Johnny’s sister, Kathy Aldridge Patterson, teared up as she recalled those too many horrific hours he was missing. Then her son Jake and husband Tom passed and she smiled, all was good in her world. I was glad I joined Anthony and Johnny with their friends and family to take part in the 2019 Montauk Blessing of the Fleet.
A few women brought bouquets of flowers to throw into the sea for lost friends or relatives. There were children with their proud dads who were so happy having the family day on their work vessels. Most of all there was a closely-knit community of commercial fishermen with friends and family who compete to make a living but who always have each other’s back at sea. They talk by ship to shore radio in a language only they know and understand and it was over those ship radios that the 2019 blessing was heard. Everyone on every boat was quiet as the prayer was broadcasted live.
The boats circled and the horns buzzed the sun-kissed sea as the crews joyfully greeted each other’s boat as they passed proudly waving and saluting and saying a few inside jokes that made the fishermen twinkle with laughter. Then, slowly one by one, the boats peeled off to go out the famous Montauk jetty into the Block Island Sound for one more get together and happening. Then, almost all at once, the whole fleet came together listing in the sea under the brilliant sun with full flags and riggings triumphantly on display.
When it was time to go back in the boats piously dipped back through the jetty to their docks in Montauk Harbor. The whole ordeal was an authentic Montauk moment. I am glad to have witnessed it from being right in the middle of a boat crew that knows the meaning of being both blessed and saved. In the Catholic faith Jesus Christ’s Apostles were fishermen. When you are among fishermen you understand perhaps why Christ chose these men to save the souls of the world. Fishermen are men with huge souls.