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Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Festival celebrates its working waterfront

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In a tradition that stretches back nearly 60 years, local fishermen gathered their fleet off Doran Spit on Sunday to receive a blessing for bountiful catches and safe returns.

Skippers, aboard boats sporting colorful maritime decorations in their rigging, tuned their VHF radios to channel 09 and cranked up the volume so their crews, friends and family aboard could hear local clergy pray for them in the annual blessing of the fleet.

“We praise you for the vast abundance of the sea,” said Pastor Neal Miller of the Fisherman’s Chapel in prayer. Miller was joined aboard the New Sea Angler by Pastor Jerry Lites of Bodega Bay Church and Father Gary Moore of the Diocese of Santa Rosa.

After a few lean years, the Bodega Bay fleet is praying the Lord will manifest that abundance onto their hooks and into their crab pots. The blessing of the fleet, which has taken place every year since 1958, is appreciated by both captains and crew.

“I really like hearing the priest give his speech,” said Ernie Rodriguez, 31, of Sonoma, who has worked as a deckhand out of Bodega Bay for the better part of a decade. “When you’re out there you need a blessing — I feel more relaxed.”

The blessing is a part of the volunteer-run Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Festival, the largest fundraiser of the year for the small coastal community.

Last year, the festival raised nearly $60,000 for community groups, said Laurie Ogg, who has volunteered for the festival for the past eight years. More than $10,000 went to help fishermen who lost months of paychecks during the long-delayed 2015-16 Dungeness crab season.

On Saturday, between 1,800 and 2,000 attendees braved the rain and blustery wind for live music, arts and crafts along with local beer and wine with locally harvested seafood, said Ogg while standing on her husband Dick’s 54-foot fishing boat, the Karen Jeanne. The festivities typically bring more than 4,000 people annually to the coastal hamlet.

Before the boats bounced on the small swell for the blessing — causing a few guests mild seasickness — the nearly two dozen vessels paraded through the inner harbor.

The Regina Marie had multicolored cutout cardboard fish in the style of Dr. Seuss along the starboard rail and a sign hanging of the stern that declared “Make American Seafood Great Again.” Other boats were festooned with Dungeness crab and fish windsocks.

When the prayers were over, Father Moore stood on the bow of the New Sea Angler and anointed boats with holy water as they re-entered the harbor.

On the Karen Jeanne, Dick Ogg was satisfied with what he believed to be his 25th blessing.

“The blessing, and the whole festival, is tremendously important the fishermen,” he said. “Even though fishing has been rough the past few years, it goes to show we’re still a fishing town.”

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.

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