The Blessing of the Fleet is a three-day festival in Darien, Georgia each Spring that begins on a Friday evening with live entertainment and ends on Sunday with a blessing and sprinkling with holy water of the area’s fleet of Shrimp Boats. I decided to attend this event on the final day, Sunday, in order to take my three year old daughter to see the shrimp boat blessing ceremony. I remember first attending a similar event as a child and wanted my daughter to have the same memories of growing up on the Georgia coast.
The first task was to find parking. The small town of Darien was literally overflowing with cars and trucks and finding a place to park was no easy task. Once we found a free parking spot we walked to Vernon Square where the arts and crafts booths were set up by local and regional artists selling their artwork. Referred to as Art-in-the-Park, a wide variety of art could be found here from traditional oil paintings of coastal scenes to wood carvings and glass art…and everything in between.
Darien was founded and laid out by General James Oglethorpe, the same man responsible for founding Savannah and laying out the city around a series of beautiful squares. He also designed Darien with a series of squares of which Vernon Square is one of the prettier ones with a central fountain, magnificent oak trees with hanging Spanish moss, and green grass. A picturesque old wooden church that predates the Civil War sits on this square.
My daughter was more interested in the golf-cart pulled “train” that continuously circled the park with little ones in tow. We walked over to where the “train” stopped and unloaded its previous little passengers, paid five dollars, and my daughter climbed into her own personal car and awaited for the ride to begin. After a few more kids climbed on board the “train” was off on its journey around Vernon Square. It circled twice before pulling over to unload its passengers. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed her ride!
We next walked over to the festival entrance. Since we were there on Sunday there was no entrance fee. (On Friday and Saturday the entrance fee was $5 per person over 13.) As we walked in we walked past many booths selling various things (including authors selling their books) or offering information. From balloons to hats to toys to hanging plants and everything in between, the vendors had something for everyone. It was pretty standard offerings for local festivals such as this.
We next turned a corner and immediately smelled the scents of all types of delicious food being cooked. From barbecue ribs to fried local shrimp to typical carnival-type foods, the smells were just amazing and enough to make your mouth water. But my daughter wasn’t yet interested in eating and pulled me along past all these temptations.
We next found the carnival area of the festival where many children’s activities and amusements were located. The carnival area included a bounce house, giant slide, bungee trampoline, water bubble ball and more. We first had to purchase tickets for each individual amusement. My daughter wanted to jump in the bounce house so we puchased the three required tickets for a total of $3 and she proceeded to take her shoes off and jump away with a couple other small kids.
Afterwards she wanted to go on the giant inflatable slide. We purchased one more ticket ($1) and she again took off her shoes, climbed to the top, and slid down. She immediately ran back up and slid down a second time but the attendant didn’t seem to mind. The bungee trampoline and water bubble balls were each $7 each but my daughter didn’t seem too interested in them. These seemed more appropriate for older kids anyway, so it was just as well.
The amazing smells were too much for me to take and so we headed back to the food vendors area to look for a bite to eat. We finally settled on a pork barbecue sandwich which was enormous and plenty of food for both of us. The sandwich was overflowing with meat that was perfectly smoked with just enough barbecue sauce added to perfectly compliment the smokey flavor.
After we finished our barbecue we headed down to the waterfront to see the Blessing of the Fleet. We got there just in time as the first shrimp boat was on its way to be blessed. We looked up to see probably a hundred people lined up on the bridge above us to watch the blessing. This was also where the Catholic priest stood with his container of Holy Water. As the first boat slowly approached, an announcer informed the crowd over a loud speaker as to the owner and history of the boat. Next a local black minister got on the loudspeaker and gave the boat and its crew an enthusiastic blessing while the priest on the bridge above flung Holy Water at the vessel.
My daughter soon became restless after this first blessing and wanted to return to the festival area. She had seen a playground earlier and so we returned there and as I took a seat on a park bench she proceeded to make friends with one of the little girls in the park and played until she was exhausted. She only took a break when I asked if she wanted ice cream. We walked over to a homemade ice cream vendor and ordered a bowl of chocolate ice cream. It was the perfect ending to a perfect outing with my little girl.