Sandy Syfert and the Blessing of the fleet
Fleet Blessed at Conneaut
Conneaut, Ohio, townspeople and crewmen of Pittsburgh Steamship vessels wintering at that port attended the annual ceremony of The Blessing of the Fleet early last month.
Just hours before the Steamer Johnson cast off her lines for the first trip to the head of the lakes, services were conducted on her cargo deck by the Conneaut Ministerial Association, representing 18 local churches. A 70-voice A Cappella Choir from Conneaut High School provided background music for the program.
Representing Pittsburgh crewmen and their families were Second ate Willis Syfert, his wife Dorothy, son Timothy, and daughters Pamela and Joyce.
Mr. Syfert is Second Mate of the Steamer Buffington this season.
The fleet blessing ceremonies which will be held this Sunday at the Lake Erie Boat club will mark the revival of an event which was a springtime tradition for the Conneaut harbor for many years.
According to traditional stories, the blessing ceremonies started in Conneaut in 1954 and was carried out yearly at the opening of the shipping season The date of the blessing ceremony was much earlier in the season than what this year’s will be. For example, in 1964, the blessing was held on April 9. In 1968, the last year the ceremony was observed, it was held on March 29.
The ceremonies were held on the deck of a freighter u sually one of the boats which had wintered in the harbor. In 1968, the ceremony was held on the deck of the Stream Thomas W Lamont, a U.S. Steel Corporation Great Lakes Fleet Boat. In 1967 the ceremony was held on the Steamer Enders M. Voorhees “at Conneaut Harbor under a steady drizzle.”
The blessing was sponsored by the Conneaut Ministerial Association and U.S. Steel, its purpose was given to call down God’s blessing on vessels and men who will sail the Great Lakes this year.”
A highlight of the blessing every year was the naming of a “Fleet Family,” a local family whose father worked on the Great Lakes freighters In 1968m Frank Gritzer’s family was named as the fleet family. Gritzer was a second mate on the Str. Thomas F. Cole.
The blessing ceremonies involved a large number of local clergy. Music was provided over the years by the Conneaut High School Choir and Rowe High School Choir.
In 1963, the tradition of placing a memorial wreath in the waters of the lake was instituted as part of the ceremony. The wreath was cast to honor seamen who had lost their lives sailing the lakes.