By Sarah Amador
Almost anywhere there are fishermen, you can find a four-hundred-year-old tradition that occurs each year when fishing season begins. Whether in Sicily, Australia, South Carolina, or California—as long as you are in a coastal town, you’ll have a chance to witness it. It’s the Blessing of the Fleet, and last weekend it occurred in Bodega Bay.
Twenty years ago, I witnessed the Sagra del Pesce in Camogli, Italy. I joined thousands in making a prayer not only for the boats and fishermen but also for personal wishes. I lit a floating candle, placed it in the water and watched it join hundreds of others, slowly pulled from the harbor to the sea. The wish was for my son; I was pregnant at the time. It might have done some good—my son is a young man now, happy, healthy and pursuing his goals.
Last Sunday, I attended in the 43rd celebration of the Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Festival (April 9th and 10th). A celebration of the start of the salmon fishing season, the festival includes a blessing of the fleet and the fishermen, a wooden boat race, wine tasting from 25 Sonoma County wineries, delicious seafood, live music and much more. The festival is packed with fun for all ages, with a Touch Tank Tide Pool, Jubilee Jumps, face painting, and the CHP Helicopter Rescue and Display. Craft booths offer excellent and eclectic art—I bought a beautiful blue agate pendant. Nonprofit and environmental organizations were also present to educate, like Stewards of the Coast & Redwoods, Russian Riverkeeper and the Bodega Bay Marine Laboratory.
Like many Sonoma County events, well-behaved dogs are welcome. There was even a pet parade, with llamas no less. Sipping an award-winning Sonoma County Pinot Noir, I relished the atmosphere. This was the Sonoma County I love—people sitting on hay bales, listening to live local music while feeding each other oysters, snuggled up comfortably with their dogs. Within 30 minutes of being there, my husband and I bumped into four people we knew. The festival is a place of community, a place to reconnect with friends.
My husband and I tasted nearly all the food, and it was excellent. Starting with garlic and buttered oysters, we proceeded to sample the fish and chips, along with the clam chowder from Fisheterian. Then we sampled more oysters, barbecued this time. After a while of walking and listening to music, we decided it was time for dessert. Three Twins Ice Cream hit the spot with the chocolate brownie fudge.
Run entirely by volunteers from the community, the festival supports Bodega Bay Area community services, from schools to fire departments to nonprofit groups. This year, due to the economic hardships suffered by fishermen’s families from the crab “hold,” the festival donated $10,00 from reserve funds to fishermen and their families.
For more information, visit http://www.bbfishfest.org. Make sure to mark your calendars for next April and be part of a blessed event!