A solemn ceremony at Brookings Harbor on Friday marked the third-annual Blessing of the Fleet, a memorial to those who have been lost at sea.
A small bell was rung as the names of each of the local victims lost at sea were read.
Father Bernie Lindley of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings, who conducted the blessing, said that since 1962, 33 people have died in ocean mishaps in the Brookings-Harbor area.
Lindley said the last recorded death from a mishap involving a local mariner was 22 years ago. “And we are praying that it will be the last death,” he said.
Lindley himself is a third-generation commercial fisherman from Brookings. “And I knew several of the people who died at sea,” he said.
Howard Rigel attended the ceremony holding a photo of their son, Richard Rigel, who perished at sea in December 1996 near Crescent City. “I just keep trying to remember him,” Howard Rigel said. “He was a good boy.”
Lindley said it’s important to remember the lives of the people who have been lost at sea “so we can hopefully not have that happen anymore.
“When we do a service like this, it makes it real that people have lost their lives in pursuit of a pretty dangerous occupation. If we’ll keep mindful of that, maybe we’ll think twice before we make choices that are dangerous.”
Lindley said it’s important to ask for God’s protection for those who will be fishing this winter and to watch over the U.S. Coast Guard as well, “because the Coast Guard members are the ones who will rescue us if something bad happens,” he said.
Dave Pierias, the Coast Guard officer in charge of Station Chetco River, said the Blessing of the Fleet was significant not only to the maritime community, but also to the Brookings-Harbor community as a whole.
“It’s an opportunity to bless the fleet prior to the season,” Piers said, “and, as well, to pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice doing their job out there.”
Pierias said the most dangerous conditions facing commercial and sportfishing vessels are having to cross the river bars, where the river’s current dissipates into the Pacific Ocean.
“It is the deep water coming in off the Pacific Ocean” he said. “The waves to the shallow shelf break off these bars and the force of those waves building up, along with winds and rain and other elements, make that a perfectly treacherous area up and down the coast.”
Pierias said the Coast Guard has a robust training program to prepare its members for such hazardous conditions. “Safety is paramount,” he said.
“(Coast Guard members) prep for it as best they can and take measures for their safety, so that they and the people they have to rescue are brought home safely to their families.”
According to Pierias, the Coast Guard is ever watchful. “We stand a vigilant watch here, to make mariners aware when the conditions are deteriorating and to urge them to pay close attention to weather reports and the conditions,” he said.
“We do have the ability to close the bar when the conditions exceed our limitations. So, when there’s a 20-foot breaking surf, we have to close the bar.”
The Blessing of the Fleet also included a flag presentation by the U.S. Coast Guard Color Guard.
See the list of the names of local victims lost at sea read at the Blessing of the Fleet attached to this story.