PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio - The Rev. Allen LaMontagne wasn't going to let the brisk winds and steady rainfall dampen his spirits.
A crowd of about 60 South Bass Island residents watched yesterday as the pastor of St. Paul's Episcopal Church and the Rev. Jeff Nordhaus of Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church prayed over a procession of boats and aircraft during Put-in-Bay's 19th annual Blessing of the Fleet.
Clutching a blue and white umbrella, the Rev. LaMontagne was ready for the rainy weather that's more typical of spring in northwest Ohio than the freak snowstorm this past weekend.
"It's a tradition," he said as his black and white vestments flapped in the chilly breeze on the Jet Express dock. "We've come to expect it. I don't think we could do this without it."
"This is holy water," Father Nordhaus, a former Navy chaplain, said with a smile as the rain dripped onto his captain's cap.
Islanders also took the wet, blustery conditions in stride.
"This always happens," Sue Seaberg said. "It rains or it's windy. Must be good luck."
Not content to rely just on luck, Father Nordhaus asked for God's protection for the fleet of ferries and rescue boats chugging across Lake Erie toward the Jet Express dock at this South Bass Island community.
"Today, we gather to bless these boats and those who will use them for business and for pleasure," he prayed.
The Rev. LaMontagne read from Matthew's gospel, reciting the passage in which Christ calmed the agitated waters of the Sea of Galilee that were tossing his disciples' fishing boat.
After blessing two ambulances from the island's Emergency Medical Services, the two clergymen proceeded to the end of the dock, serenaded by a choir from the Put-in-Bay School.
As the Miller Boat Line's ferry Put-in-Bay approached the dock, the Rev. LaMontagne prayed into a hand-held transmitter so the craft's skipper, company president Bill Market IV, could hear the blessing.
"Lord our God, we pray you bless this boat, the Put-in-Bay, and all who will use it," the pastor said. "Protect them from the dangers of wind and rain and the perils of the waters. May Christ, who calmed the storm, always guide you home to a harbor of light and peace."
As he prayed, Father Nordhaus shook an aspergillum, sprinkling holy water in the direction of the craft.
After the line of boats had passed, the two pastors blessed a Life Flight helicopter, which sprayed water out in a giant circle as it hovered above the lake, and a small plane from Dairy Air, an island flying service.
At the end of the service, the watercraft gathered in the harbor for the traditional mariners' salute of two long horn blasts, followed by three long ones.
Maggie Beckford, director of the Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event, said the annual blessing signals the impending influx of summertime visitors.
"A lot of the islanders think this is the unofficial start of the season," she said. "Our lives revolve around the water."
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