Blessing may happen with no boats there

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THE BLESSING of the Boats annual ceremony is set to go ahead this year, but doubt remains as to how many vessels will actually attend.

The ceremony takes place on Sunday 10 July at the Fish Pier and has been a harbour-side attraction since the 1950s, when it was introduced by canon Norman Vesey, largely for the visiting Scottish herring fleet.

“It’s a very significant ceremony”, said county councillor Dorothy Clegg, “It brings together the two traditions on which Whitby is founded - the religious and the seafaring.

“Although we have seen changes in the seagoing traffic we may be on the threshold of seeing many more vessels going in and out of Whitby if the offshore wind energy site takes shape.”

With the delicate economy of running a fishing vessel out of Whitby, many commercial vessels simply can’t afford to forfeit a day’s income to attend the ceremony.

If they were also to decline guard duty for the oil rigs this would put at risk the contracts which many rely on to supplement their income from fishing.

Richard Brewer, skipper of the Copious, said he can not afford to take the day off to attend.

He added: “The boats used to look forward to the blessing of the fleet but we can’t even do that now.

“It’s a thing that’s happened for generations and now they will be lucky if there’s one boat there.”

The rector of Whitby, the reverend Canon David Smith, has organised the ceremony and said that even if no boats can make it, the ceremony will still go ahead.

He added: “It has to take place then because that’s the day designated for remembering those that use the sea to ply their trade.

“It wouldn’t be the first time we have done it in front of just a man in his rowing boat.”

Skippers of Whitby pleasure craft such as the Esk Belle and the Mary Ann Hepworth said they would have liked to attend, but they also can not afford to take the time off during what is their busiest period.

“It’s 30 per cent of our daily income”, said Barry Sneddon, skipper of the Mary Ann Hepworth, “We used to go but we lose two trips when we attend and we just can’t afford to do it these days.”

With commercial vessels unable to attend the ceremony, it’s success may rely on the attendance of leisure craft that use Whitby marina.

However, the ceremony takes place at 2.30pm, and with swing bridge openings this year taking place at 2pm and then not until 5pm, the leisure fleet are unwilling to sit and wait in the lower harbour following the blessing.

Neil Williamson, commodore of Whitby Yacht Club, said: “We have got two people from the club representing us, but the problem we’ve got is the bridge, it’s never open enough.

“If the bridge is closed we are stuck at one side or the other.

“We could attend if there was an opening at three, but it’s £60 to open the bridge.

“If the opportunity arose I would certainly get my boat there and encourage other people to do the same, to keep the tradition going.”