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A Montauk tradition: Blessing of the Fleet

Boats file past the "Marlin VI Princess" ,

Boats file past the "Marlin VI Princess" , in Lake Montauk for the annual Blessing of The Fleet in Montauk. (June 10, 2012) Credit: Doug Kuntz

For 57 years, the Montauk Blessing of the Fleet has been a combination of joy and grieving -- a celebration of the new fishing season and for the remembrance of the fishermen who have died in the past year.

Sunday's sunny day was a doubly hard occasion for Ed Hammer, of Jonesville, Va. He threw two wreaths into the water to honor his brother, Capt. Frank Hammer, 75, of East Hampton, who died in August of lung cancer, and his son, Josiah Hammer, 36, of East Hampton, who died unexpectedly in April of a heart attack.

"It's been a tough year for me and my family, but being here with the other fishermen helps," he said, fighting back tears.

Frank Hammer had captained many private boats, where he won records for giant tuna, swordfish and striped bass, his brother said. Josiah Hammer was a lobsterman out of Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton.

The Hammers were one of five families aboard the Marlin VI Princess Sunday, along with local clergy members, at the annual event.

The other fishing-related people who were honored with wreaths were: Bob Huser, a longtime Montauk lobsterman; Cathy Kronuch, who owned Johnny's Tackle Shop of Montauk with her husband, John Kronuch; and Paul Sposato, a longtime mate from Montauk.

This event has traditionally been held aboard the S.S. Ridley Coast Guard cutter; but for the first time, the boat was being serviced and was not available.

"I didn't want them to cancel the blessing, so I offered my fishing boat, since it is 85 feet and holds 140 people," said owner Capt. Ed Beneducci, of Montauk.

Among the charter boats, commercial trawlers, sailboats, dinghies and yachts, was singer Billy Joel's down-easter boat from Maine, the Alexa, named after his daughter, Alexa Ray.

As his boat passed the clergy, Joel came out of the cabin and waved to fans on the dock.

After all the boats were blessed, they sailed in a procession out of the Montauk jetties to the bell buoy in the harbor.

A sixth wreath was thrown for all the fishermen who have died over the years.

Kristi-Leigh Lyon, 42, of Naples hugged mother Sandy Huser, as they tossed a wreath for father Bobby Huser, 69, of Montauk.

"I grew up helping my dad in the lobster business," Lyon said. "He was such a strong, tough character, and we're sure gonna miss him."

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