Harkers Island , NC Community Leaders

2003 Blessing of the Fleet

Never has it been more difficult for Carteret County’s fishing community to come together for the annual Blessing of the Fleet. And never has it been more important. On the heels of Hurricane Isabel, many commercial fishing families in the down east and South River communities find themselves in one of the most devastating situations of their lives. The lucky ones have lost items in their sheds and garages – the unlucky have lost everything – homes, furnishings, cars, pets. But amidst the worst storm devastation these seasoned Carteret Countians have known, there is a sense of community and love of the water that continues to hold them together, forming a kinship far deeper than blood.

On Sunday, Oct. 5, as part of the 17th annual N.C. Seafood Festival, fishing families will come together to bless the vessels that represent their livelihood while also remembering fishermen of the past. Among them, as he has been since the beginning, will be Harkers Island’s Elbert Gaskill, whose wife Sandra is co-chair of event with Janice Smith, owner of Luther Smith and Sons Seafood and widow of the late Billy Smith.

His face and hands are weathered from extended exposure to the elements and his face is lined by the hard life of the water, but Mr. Gaskill’s eyes hold a warmth and kindness that could only come from a gentle soul.
“It’s in my blood,” Mr. Gaskill said, of fishing. “My father did it and I’ve done it. He had to work hard and so have I. But I like it. It’s all I want to do.” From the time that he was 10 or 12, Mr. Gaskill was on his father’s boat, pulling nets, like so many young boys on Harkers Island. “There were good times and there were bad times, but we always got by,” said the fisherman. “You just have to be ready and you have to be willing to do what you have to do.” Mr. Gaskill is on the water throughout the year in search of a variety of seafood. From shrimp in the summer to sea bass in the winter, he keeps himself busy, even out clamming with his wife.

For the first 11 years of their marriage, the couple fished together in order to build a home and prepare for the family. Once their two boys were born, Mrs. Gaskill had her own full-time job and Mr. Gaskill used hired help.
What was important to them was staying on Harkers Island and raising their children in the same way they had both been raised, keeping their heritage alive for next generation. “It’s hard to rely on fishing, but if you’re willing to give it your all you can do OK,” Mr. Gaskill said. “It’s different every year. Sometimes it’s so bad that you’re ready to quit but then you have a really good month and it keeps your hope alive. It’s all up to the wind and the tide and what other people are going to do. Every day you go out and it’s different. “I’m 59 years old, I feel like most of my life is behind me now, but I can’t stop,” Mr. Gaskill said. “I’ll keep going until I’m disabled or they make me stop.”

Next Sunday, Mr. Gaskill will take his place in the line-up during the Blessing of the Fleet and release a wreath in honor and memory of fishermen. His list of remembrances include his father, Ivey M. Gaskill, Stacy W. “Papa” Davis, Howard Gaskill, Manley Creston Gaskill, David “Buddy” Gaskill, Allen Guthrie, Claude Brown, Guyon Lewis, Harry M. Lewis, Clinton T. Lewis, Telford Rose, Walter Nelson, “Billy” Howard Gaskill Jr., Randy W. Rose and Creston “Snowball” Gaskill. “This is important,” Mr. Gaskill said boarding the Miss Sandy V. “It’s important to remember.”

Definitely one of the most touching moments of the N.C. Seafood Festival, the Blessing is sponsored by the Carteret County Fishermen’s Association, Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative and 107.3 The Talk Station to commemorate the fishing industry. The program offers everyone a chance to remember Carteret County commercial fishermen who have died while also honoring those who continue to make fishing their livelihood.
“The Blessing of the Fleet is a ceremony, a religious service, that honors and remembers the commercial fishing industry through prayer, song, responsive reading, scripture reading, a morning message and a boat processional,” said Pam Morris, of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum. “Our focus is to celebrate the heritage and culture of the local community – of the fishing industry.

The commercial fishing industry has long been an important aspect of the Carteret County economy and culture. But still many residents have limited understanding of fishing families and their way of life. In that respect, the annual event also plays an integral part in introducing the public to the commercial fishing industry.
The service will be broadcast live on WTKF 107.3 for those who aren’t able to get close enough to hear the program. Music begins at 9:30 a.m., with the service set to start at 10. The Rev. Bob Carpenter, the Rev. Tommy Willcockson, the Rev. Michael Fields and the Rev. John Privott will contribute to the ceremony. Music will be provided by Robert Morris, Crystal Coast Community Choir, Bobby Morris, The Down East Chorus, and Four Friends. Boats will line up near the port in Morehead City to parade by spectators at the close of the ceremony.

Announcements will list the name of the vessel, its captain and the names of those it wishes to remember. Each boat has the option of throwing a wreath into the water and the final boat will deposit a large wreath for all other fishermen who have lost their lives. Leading the boat processional, as he’s done many times before, will be Marshall “Skeeter”' Saunders, captain of the William H. Smith, a trawler owned by Luther Smith and Sons, Beaufort. Bringing up the tail will be the Gregory Poole from Beaufort Fisheries with Capt. Bobby “Bob-O” Martin Jr. at the helm.

Written by Amanda Dagnino for the Careret County News-Times

Down East Community Tour
Core Sound Waterfowl Museum