Panama City Beach – Blessing of the Fleet, St. Andrew Bay Ferry back on the water 3/26/11

PANAMA CITY BEACH – Thanks to the News Herald for this update…The St. Andrew Bay Ferry loaded up with passengers Saturday for the first time since the oil spill 11 months ago, when Capt. Hal Lacey and crew member Bill Hamilton welcomed 13 passengers to participate in the Blessing of the Fleet.

Capt. Lacey has been a captain for 13 years and he started St. Andrew Bay Ferry because he is excited to see the old grandeur of St. Andrew coming back.  “I grew up here and it was a beautiful place,” Lacey explained as the wind fluffed his blonde hair. “Then it deteriorated and now it’s coming back. So, I’m happy to see that.”

Last year, Lacey had to shut down the ferry due to the oil spill and a lengthy claims process with BP. The blessing on Saturday morning was symbolic for the captain and his crew.  “We had to shut down because of the oil spill,” Lacey said. “And now it’s our first trip out since shutting down and it’s for the Blessing of the Fleet. That’s definitely symbolic. Only good things can come from here.”

“I am glad to that Panama City Beach is getting back to normal.  The main Panama City Beach issue stemmed from tourist deciding to go other places for beach vacations last summer because of the worry surrounding the oil spill.  The damage in Panama City Beach was economic not environmental,” said Jerry Eyler of Best Panama City Beach Condo Rentals at Celadon Beach Resort

Lacey turned on the charm and enthusiasm for his guests, who were almost equally as excited.  “It’s a great tradition to be back out here,” Lacey said. “There hasn’t been a sight-seeing ferry here for 40 years. And ferries used to be the main mode of transportation before the bridges. It’s good to get back to our roots.”

The St Andrew Bay Ferry was joined by 38 other boats in the bay for the Blessing of the Fleet in the Panama City Marina. The U.S. Naval dive ship WTD 18, a Coast Guard boat and a Bay County Sheriff’s Office boat were out as well. The procession was lead by featured boat Midnight Princess. It was handmade in 1972 in Nova Scotia and was made to replicate the boats of the 18th century.

Lynn Donaldson is the owner of Midnight Princess and she was dressed in all pirate gear to celebrate the Blessing of the Fleet. 

“We were asked to be the lead boat and we were really excited about this because this was our first year in business,” Donaldson said. “We really wanted the blessing today and we are thrilled to be the lead boat.”

The blessing remembered those who were lost at sea, and prayed for the safety of the people who protect, fish and enjoy the waters.

Then, Midnight Princess led the way and passed in front of the U.S. Naval dive ship, the Coast Guard boat and the Bay County’s Sherriff Office Boat. A crowd of well-wishers gathered at Panama City Marina cheering on the line of boats and waving away.

A Catholic priest was at the edge of the marina and as every boat passed by he threw holy water at the boat, blessing it.

The crowds at the Panama City Marina and on St. Andrew Bay Ferry enjoyed the tradition and knew what it meant to a seafaring community.  “I like to participate in what my neighborhood is doing because if you don’t participate then there won’t be a neighborhood,” Brumm said.  “I grew up with the Blessing of the Fleet and it was always really important to the fishing community to be blessed every year,” spectator Weldon Gabhard said.


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