'Blessing' tradition remains amid new venue

MT. PLEASANT, SC (WCSC) - By Tracey Amick  bio | email

MOUNT PLEASANT, SC (WCSC) - For most shrimp boat captains on Shem Creek, the last week has been about painting their boats, taking stock of supplies, plotting their courses and readying ship and crew for the 23rd annual Blessing of the Fleet.

"Shrimping is how I make my living, its what I love to do," said Captain Donnie Brown. Brown is a shrimp boat captain on Shem Creek. For 35 years, it's been his life.

"I started running boats when I was 17," said Brown.

Every year, the captains, along with thousands of members along Charleston's coastal community, come together for the Blessing of the Fleet.

"It's a traditional ceremony that dates back to biblical times. It's important for the shrimpers to have the blessing," said Ann Magwood.

 Magwood's family has been shrimping for four generations. She said the first blessings in the area were off the Yorktown and the cruise terminal in downtown Charleston.

In 1988, the event moved to Alhambra Hall in Mount Pleasant. But after 22 years there, it's grown so much, Mt. Pleasant mayor Billy Swails elected to move it to the new Waterfront Park at the base of the Ravenel Bridge. While the location has changed, the tradition will remain the same.

Another thing that has changed is the number of boats leaving port. The economy and increased competition from abroad has forced many shrimpers out of South Carolina's waters.

Magwood says its important to keep supporting this industry. "The shrimpers are having a hard time because they can't compete with the price of the imports," said Magwood.

 Factor in the rising price of fuel, and times are tough.

"When I first started there were 70 boats on this creek now were down to seven," said Brown.

Just last year, two of those boats were destroyed. One sank and Brown's boat, the Miss Karen caught fire, but the shrimping community banded together and raised money to help them buy new boats.

This weekend's Blessing of the Fleet will be his new boat, The Meghan Elaine's, first blessing.

Fire, sinkings, competition from a faceless, international shrimper -- it's all part of preparing for a season that is unpredictable at best.

"Shrimp season runs generally from June first to December. You've got to earn enough in those six or seven months to last you the whole year," said Magwood.

Brown says they need all the blessings they can get. "I hope we have a great year so I can keep this boat going," he said.

Brown says for them to survive, locals need to buy local shrimp.

The festival runs from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Sunday at Waterfront Park. Admission and parking are free. Magwood says there will be a shrimp eating contest, a shagging contest and live music from East Coast Party Band and Permanent Vacation.

The parade of boats will take place at 1 p.m.

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