Twenty five vessels great and small, among them a refitted tugboat named Tuggin' Aweigh, assembled Sunday morning in Mount Sinai Harbor for the blessing of the fleet.
The ritual is centuries old, intended to invoke divine protection on the high and not so high seas. At Mount Sinai Yacht Club, where a deacon and a minister on the bobbing dock took turns blessing with a bullhorn, it has been going on for a decade.
It's an excuse for dock neighbors who don't see much of each other during the winter months to renew old friendships. It's also, some say, simply smart boating practice.
Event organizer Janet Rossi, 56, of Brookhaven, said she had a boater friend who didn't make the blessing last year and had "all kinds of problems" in the summer season. "Sure, I believe in it," said Jerry Varvaro, 49, of East Setauket, a Coast Guard Auxiliary officer. "The sea is full of lore and boaters tend to be pretty superstitious. It gives good peace of mind."
The Coast Guard Auxiliary led off aboard the Serendipity II, cutting engines and floating up silently to the dock. Waiting there with a cross and sweating slightly in their vestments were the Rev. Jerome Nedelka, rector emeritus at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Islip, and Deacon Gary Swane of St. Louis de Montfort Roman Catholic Church in Sound Beach.
"May the Lord bless you, captain, first mate, crew and guests, with a wonderful, happy, safe summer," Nedelka shouted, and crossed himself. He and the deacon took turns invoking amplified prayer as each boat in the convoy floated past. Sometimes, in return, they got a shouted "Thanks!" Sometimes the crew saluted. Sometimes they crossed themselves, as they headed out into the Long Island Sound.
Few boaters relied on blessings alone. Dennis Brennan, 60, of Shoreham, captain of Second Wind, said the blessing had worked "so far," but he admitted to also having a Sea Tow membership, "just in case." Varvaro said enrollment at boating safety classes has increased sharply since the July 4, 2012, accident in Oyster Bay that drowned three.
As for Nedelka, he is a boater himself, captain of the Altar Ego. He believes that blessing works, but for him it is more than insurance. "I do it to put a thought of God in people's lives," he said, "not just in boating, but whatever they do with themselves."