Blessing of the Shrimp Boats
Not having been raised on the bayou, way down here in lower Terrebonne Parish, none of the traditions were familiar to me when I arrived in 1978. Not the least of which was an event called simply “the boat blessing”. Why in the world would folks need their boats blessed?
The first boat blessing I experienced was on a ski boat back in 1980 with The Captain and some of his friends. Still a little confused about why a ski boat would need to be blessed, I went along for the ride.
Once Capt. Maurin picked us up on the bank of Bayou Grand Caillou, we hadn’t traveled very far when I noticed all the huge double-rigger shrimp boats decorated with brightly-colored flags, loaded down with families, and music blaring from their decks.
Some of the families were grilling on the boats, while others were boiling seafood. It was an amazing sight to behold. Along the banks, people were having their own celebrations, cookouts, and seafood boils. Many of them had their chairs lined up along the bayou bank waiting for what was to come.
The “lead boat” carries the local priest, who stands on the bow, ready with the Holy Water with which to bless each shrimp boat as it passes, asking God to bless the family with a bountiful harvest and protection throughout the season.
After the lead boat passes, the other boats fall behind, and the huge boat parade proceeds down the bayou, with the rest of small boats of all kinds, shapes, and sizes, decorated or not, following along, too.
All the boats then head down the bayou to Lake Boudreaux, where everyone anchors and continues to party for the rest of the day.
Folks talk a lot about Cajuns and how they party, but many of these shrimpers are Houma Indians, and sure enough, those festivities would have given any Cajun party goers a run for their money. One doesn’t often associate beer-drinking and such gaiety with a religious event, but down the bayou, it seems the two often go hand in hand.
I was reminded of those first boat blessings I took part in as I watched the Chauvin blessing of the fleet recently. This community would also end their boat parade in Lake Boudreaux, where they would continue their grand celebration.
The annual spring Blessing of the Fleet has been taking place for many years. However, each bayou has put their own personal spin on the event. Some of the bayous, like Bayou Petit Caillou, promote theme decorations and hold a contest for the best-decorated boat. Competition is stiff for prizes like free fuel for the first trip of the shrimp season.
With the “May season” rapidly approaching, the blessing is just the first of many preparations for a good season. Shrimp boats of all sizes, now properly blessed, are being readied for the beginning of the “brown shrimp” season which starts in May. It’s time to mend the nets, patch the cracks, spruce up the paint, and fill the pantry.
The Louisiana brown inshore shrimp season typically runs from May through July, when the shrimpers take about a month off while waiting for the white shrimp season, called the “August season”. This white inshore season runs usually through December.
Adults of both the brown and white shrimp species are available for harvest throughout most of the year in “offshore” Gulf of Mexico waters, which means anything past three miles from the shoreline. Those deep waters are where the big double riggers fish throughout the year. Because the boats are larger, they carry more ice and supplies, thereby allowing the crew to stay out weeks at a time, rather than days at a time like the smaller inshore boats.
So, it’s coming up on shrimp time, my friends. And no one can be happier about that fact than The Captain. Since he doesn’t eat chicken, pork, and only very little beef, shrimp is a staple food at our house. There seemed to be a shortage last year, and I cooked the last pack of shrimp months ago. Even though shrimp from the deep waters of the Gulf can be purchased at local markets year round, it just pains me to do so, because that’s what poor city folks do!
Those of us who live in fishing communities are spoiled by the blessing of being able to purchase fresh shrimp right off our neighbors’ boats. But truth be told, many of them never bounced back from the 2010 post-oil-spill season when they couldn’t pay their boat notes and lost their boats or had to sell out because they couldn’t afford the fuel to even attempt to make a trip once the inshore waters were re-opened.
Others have been duly compensated, and as such, they’ve just quit shrimping because they got paid so much they didn’t need to. So, the boats sit idle with “FOR SALE” signs taped to the cabin windows.
It pains me to write of such sad truths, but it seems one thing after another is eroding away at our culture and way of life. It’s not enough that the coastline is disappearing before our very eyes, but the everyday fisherman cannot control those things any more than he can control the tides.
The tides continue their ebb and flow just as we continue our ebb and flow of life in the Louisiana wetlands. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries announced today that opening day for this area is 6 a.m. May 13th! I can’t wait for the May season and ask you to join me in praying for a bountiful harvest for my neighbors as they prepare for opening day–an event I hope to report on with great alacrity and fantastic photos!
I had the pleasure of attending a boat blessing a few years ago and absolutely loved it. What a great experience for someone from the North! My prayers go out to all the folks as they begin their season.
And I saw you there, remember? I got my big northern hug!!!!!
What a wonderful, descriptive post. I’ve never been to a blessing of the fleet — although I once got to ride in a boat parade in Canada! Thanks for sharing this experience. Judy Christie (up in North Louisiana, where we have to buy our shrimp from the market or the guy on the corner.
Judy, I just returned from a weekend up there but the hours were pre-planned so there was not a minute to check in with you. However, would like to do so on a more laid-back visit in future? Oh, and we have a big connection to Farmer’s Seafood up there! My neighbor, the local commercial gar fisherman whom I nick-named Bayou Fabio, sells his gar to them. They come down about once a week or so to buy all he has cleaned and in his “ice box”!!
Yep you got to grab whatevers available to you. My dogs were blessed by some clergy or another. Both of them cut their own deals while I wasn’t looking too.
My sometime friend Winnie the Harley dealer has a blessing of the bikes at least once a year.
Well late for my beauty nap…..
Okay, go get gorgeous!
BW writes, “One doesn’t often associate beer-drinking and such gaiety with a religious event, but down the bayou, it seems the two often go hand in hand.” You did say priest, not the local Baptist minister. I don’t know of any Catholic events that don’t include gaiety and alcohol. LOL!!!!!!!!!!!
I thought Y’all’s “Blessing” was at the start of the White season like Morgan City’s. I KNOW they hold theirs to start the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival over the Labor Day weekend. I stand corrected. Good post.
The four bayou communities down here always have theirs in April. There might be a tiny obscure blessing on one bayou in August, but it’s not the blowout that the April blessing is!
Mt. Pleasant, SC held their Blessing of the Fleet and Seafood Festival this past Sunday. April 28th.
Sadly, the SC shrimp fleet is much diminished from what it used to be.
Will you share with us what caused the reduction in the size of the shrimp fleet in South Carolina?
I think it’s a number of things. Operating costs have gone up, shrimp prices have gone down. There’s been a few bad seasons. There’s a huge influx of cheaper imported or farmed shrimp. Many of the younger generation in local shrimping families are turning to easier, more profitable careers.
I’m not sure how to do links here on WP, so if you would fix this, I’d appreciate it. It’s a link to an article in the local paper about last weekend’s Blessing of the Fleet. It mentions a bit about the problems the local fleet is having. The Magwoods have been shrimping here for several generations. http://www.charlestonscene.com/article/20130425/CS/130429611&template=mobile_story
With shrimp season starting, it’s time to fix a pot of Frogmore Stew.
LOL.. those delicious John’s Island Frogs?
Hehehehe…. Frogmore Frogs are best!
Thank ye for sharing this, Gué…the more folk learn about the hard working families that share this culture, the more they learn about the oceans/lakes/bayous and how they are an integral part o’ LIFE for us all. I thought it odd that anyone would use the phrase “cussing sailors…raping the ocean” for Shrimpers (or Fishing peoples o’ any sort). While we can all understand occasional cussing, “raping the ocean” is generally the last thing a generational fishing culture has ever done!
Folks forget that this is how we are supposed to get food – FAMILIES who fish, hunt and farm – and share their bounty with those who may have other skills and trades to share.
Part of the problem here is the ‘gentrification’ of the waterfront areas. Shrimpers are being forces to pay ‘rich folks’ docking rates or trying to locate increasingly hard to find affordable docking space. As the areas ‘fancy up’, the owners and residents, while appreciating the picturesque-ness of shrimp boats, they don’t like the smell and mess. NIMBY in full force.
The Magwood family has worked hard at shrimping here. They’ve been very active in trying to increase public awareness of the industry and pushing the residents and visitors to “Buy Local.”
From the History of Shem Creek: http://shemcreeksc.com/History/
“on Nov 9, 1992 – almost 100 years after the Magwood family setup shop on Shem Creek, Mr. Magwood said he was selling his shrimp boats because he can no longer afford to insure them. A proliferation of restaurants has pushed most of the shrimp boats out of Shem Creek, and large pleasure boats are taking up the space in residential developments.”
Gue`, last thoughts first: When I red “time to fix a pot of Frogmore Stew”, I thought “she needs to write a blog, too!” So, I’m sorry if you have a blog and I’ve missed it all these years, but if you do, please share your link here. I know you’re a friend of Shoreacres, and I’m grateful to her for the sharing of friends. I so love your comments, so full of information for me and the other readers. So, I’m going to read that article and I’m very happy you posted. Isn’t it interesting the parallels between SC and South Louisiana? NC and SC are part of the reason I’ve always thought there should also be a North LA and South LA. About those imported shrimp and prawn, they have really taken a toll on our shrimpers, too. Sad truth. Should be outlawed.
I do blog on Wunderground but it’s more of chat blog than anything else. I’ve never done one on Lowcountry receipts or Frogmore Stew. It’s an idea.
We do have a lot of common ground, don’t we? It all comes from living on the coast in the South.
Frogmore Stew was named after a small unincorporated SC community on St. Helena Island, near Beaufort, SC.
Everyone’s version of Frogmore Stew varies a bit. There’s dozens of receipts online. Basically, it’s a boil of shrimp, fresh corn, smoked sausage, potatoes and Old Bay seasoning or whatever seasoning mix you prefer. Probably very similiar to a crawdad boil. Don’t forget to pour in a can of beer to the mix!
Here’s a little background: http://www.beaufortcountylibrary.org/htdocs-sirsi/frogmore.htm
Heck SC has been making Jambalaya as long as Louisiana, they just add blackeye’d peas to it. I like blackeye’d or pinkeye’d purple hulls so hey its all good for me.
I believe that many of the same problem also prevail because both areas are pretty major seaports. Loads and loads and loads of transport vessels in and out all day long. And that the James River requires a 7 hour pilot run to Charleston, (8 on a bad day). Cooper River is not as bad. So its not the Mississippi, but its a long manuvering watch!
They have shown were on the Pacific coast these sea lanes are damaging the fishing industry. AND with the continious increase in shipping you are seeing a loss in numbers due to the geometric proportionate loses in breeding as well as the increasing damage due to increased shipping. Its a double whammie! Sort of like an armadillo trying to cross the highway, the odds are in his favor, but there are still odds.
Only difference I ever saw in a shrimp boil and a Frogmore stew was the music played while eating.
“I’ve always thought there should also be a North LA and South LA.”
I thought there was! I-10 divides it into Louisiana and North Louisiana.
Well, here’s the deal. Places like Ville Platte, Opelousas, Gros Tete, etc would never go for that since they are above I10. Maybe 190 is the unspoken dividing line? When I was growing up, there was no Mardi Gras north of 190, there were no crawfish boils (that was fishing bait), we never saw a fresh shrimp in the grocery store, and saltwater fishing was something rich people paid to do out in the Gulf of Mexico. How in the world did we have Louisiana Studies in 8th grade and still know so very little about our southerly neighbors?
Wonderful pictures and a great description of a lovely tradition. You might like to know that te same tradition exists in slightly varying forms in the fishing villages and islands all around the UK–
Seamen the world over understand!
I do like to know! I followed your link, and how interesting! But not surprising! Thanks for sharing, Kathy.
I enjoyed your presentation very much. My mother’s side of the family lived down there. I haven’t been there in years. But would like one year take my son and wife to see the blessing of the boats. Is there any shrimpers still selling shrimp. We like to buy fresh shrimp, preferably from shrimpers. There is nothing better than fresh caught seafood.
John, the season is opening May 13th, so you could buy from the boats some time after that. Look up a new program called Louisiana Fresh Catch Partner. Their goal is to let people know daily who has shrimp for sale right at the docks from New Orleans to the Houma area.
This is a brilliant idea – we need more o’ these to help folk support local, fresh food o’ all sorts! http://louisianadirectseafood.com/
Thanks for posting the link for all of us. When I posted comment to him, I was mobile and not so savvy about links on smart phone!!!
Hey that’s great!
Tomorrow here we have the Blessing of the Inlet in Murrells Inlet SC, which they call the Seafood Capital of SC.
I have another reader from SC, her name is Gue`. She says shrimping has declined there, too, and I was wondering why.
Murrells Inlet is gorgeous. One of the last unspoiled fishing communities left on our coast. Or it was, the last time I turned off Hwy 17 and drove through town.
Ah, criminy… I’m thinking of McClellanville. But Murrell’s Inlet is nice, too.
Great post Wendy! Makes me miss the bayou..and fresh shrimp. People up here in the north think buying shrimp from the back of a truck is a bad thing-little do they know! Praying for a successful shrimping season.
There’s just nothing like it, is there Monica? So I know you do miss it, having lived a large portion of your life in Houma.
Our Blessing of the Fleet is this weekend! Here’s one pic from a previous event. It looks to me as though your boats are decorated more than ours, and our celebration probably is somewhat different because it takes place in the midst of a huge touristy-clap-trappy environment. When Kemah and Seabrook still were shrimping and fishing villages, it was different. Now we have *Developers* who see everything in sight as another way to make a buck. Pffffftttt…
But, there is good news. One of the best, off the beaten path seafood restaurants around has its own boats. The shrimp and fish that land on the table are fresh as can be, and de-li-cious! I’ll eat raw oysters there, too – not a worry in the world, except that the cost has risen over the past years. The day of the $2 pitcher of beer and 25 cent oysters is long gone!
Would you remember long long ago in Gulfport Miss.There was a pier going out into the gulf. It had an oyster bar on it, nothing else and there was a enough old oyster shells behind it, I assume they just threw ’em out, to sit a crane on a spud barge next to it.
Back then they sold ’em for road beds. I don’t remember how cheap the oysters were, but those plastic cups of draft were .25 cents each. The good old days when no one cared how old you were.
Hilda, Betsy, Camille… seems one of them got that pier.
Never could figure out the dividing line between Gulfport and Boloxi.
Gue` – y’all had me going there for a minute about the frogs in Frogmore stew. I couldn’t imagine a stew made from frogs! Interesting thing about seafood boils down here. It’s quite a common event here, always huge and include lots of folks. Funny story–having come from North Louisiana, I’d never indulged in a shrimp boil until I came down to visit my older sister, who migrated here out of college back in the late sixties. Then, when I migrated here in 1978 and after meeting The Captain, he invited me to a crab boil and then a crawfish boil. Of course there were potatoes, corn, and sausage in each of those pots. (Plus saltine crackers and a sauce to dip in). He told me that the bayou people throw in all the extra stuff for the guests who don’t know any better and can’t peel the seafood so well. That way, the locals/natives get more of the good stuff–the seafood–while the rookies eat the easy stuff–potatoes, corn and sausage!!! Hey, it makes sense! Folks down here have gotten very creative with their boils over the years, and now anything goes. You might see cauliflower, artichokes (tried and not recommende), mushrooms (will absorb all the seasoning if put in too soon), or brussel sprouts. I guess if it can be boiled, then someone down here has stuck it in a seafood boil. Folks down here also add oranges and lemons cut in half, although I don’t know what that adds to the flavor. And we like our seasoning spicy, too!
In case ye wondered how “Frogmore Stew” came to be named, sans frogs or stew…
“Its supposed inventor, Richard Gay, whose family runs a fish company in the community of Frogmore on St. Helena Island, gave it the name, which is weirdly misleading. What you have here is not a conventional stew, in which the cooking liquid becomes a rich sauce. In this case, the seasoned liquid is merely a means of getting flavor into the ingredients and providing a gentle way of cooking. Then it’s all about the newspaper. Traditionally, this dish is served on big steaming platters set down on clean newspaper, which becomes the fish wrap for all your castoffs. Just eat and enjoy, plunking down your shrimp shells and corncobs — it’ll only take a minute to roll up the newspaper and throw everything away. There are even places along the South Carolina coastline where you eat your Frogmore stew at long wooden tables that have a hole in the center, with a trash can underneath: Peel, throw, eat.”
Frogmore Stew Recipe – http://bit.ly/Lt4hSP