Fisherman's Birthday Celebration in Grenada

Blessing of the fishing fleet at Gouyave

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Fisherman's Birthday Celebration
Gouyave, Grenada

The Fisherman's Birthday festival in Grenada (June 29) honors St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, and it's held in Grenada's fishing capital, the town of Gouyave. Gouyave is also popular for its weekly Fish Friday.

The Fisherman's Birthday festival includes a host of events including a sailboat race and mini-carnival of soca music and fireworks.

The most important element is the blessing of the local fishing fleet by town's Roman Catholic priest.

By the time the celebration finally ends, Gouyave once again will have proved its reputation as “Action City, the town that never sleeps.” (See Gouyave's history as a party town.)

Prior to the blessing of the fleet, a mass is held inside the local cathedral. Mixed in with the prayers are lots of singing and even speech making by island politicians.

The mass starts on Caribbean time, an hour late. Few fishermen are interested in going inside the church but would rather sit together on the beach talking and drinking Carib beers.

They're more interested in the blessing of their boats than themselves.

When the mass ends, about two hours later than scheduled, the priest leads a procession through the streets that ends at a large tent on Gouyave's beach.

He is accompanied by altar boys, trumpet players, bass drummers and most of the church goers.

It's well into the rainy season and showers have threatened all morning but they never materialize. It's late in the morning and the sun is intense.

From the church everyone walks to the beach, including church-goers in their finest. Regardless of attire, we're all sweating.

The fishing boats are lined up on Gouyave's beach, ready for the ceremony. Which is delayed a little longer for a short prayer service inside a small tent.

Finally it is time for the priest to bless the boats--a large number of boats, perhaps as many as a hundred. The container of holy water doesn't seem nearly large enough to douse them all.

Nevertheless, with godspeed pushing at his leather shoes, the priest quickly walks the beach, almost at a semi-sprint. An altar boy holding the vessel of holy water struggles to stay beside him.

Seemingly determined that each and every boat will share in the globules of holy water, Father Anselm keeps his arm in continuous motion as he dips the aspergillum (sprinkler) into the container of holy water and flings it as hard as he can.

Holy water sprays to his right, to his left and in front of him. The speed, force and accuracy of his aim are impressive.

If the priest had decided to become a boxer instead, he would have an impressive right hook.

It seems impossible that the modest container of holy water will last the length of the football field-long beach, but as in the instance of the blessing of loaves and fishes, there is ample left over.

As soon as slightly exhausted priest leaves the beach, loudspeakers begin warning sailors the sailboat race will start promptly at noon, or about two hours later than scheduled.

As the competitors slide their boat hulls across the sand into the water, many bystanders head for the bars and restaurants beside the beach. Loud recorded music comes from many stores.

Whatever its true religious significance, the Fisherman's Birthday is really a preview of Grenada's annual Carnival celebration, just three weeks away.

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