Yes, the fleet will be blessed Friday

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They did not summon a queen and they did not call for a king, because the contagion had wafted across the land.

The Florida Seafood Festival, which would usually be flooding the county with visitors this upcoming weekend, instead had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But the board of directors has made sure that one important aspect of the festival, the blessing of the fleet, will not be abandoned, and leading it will be an honorary King Retsyo.

“Everybody needs a blessing at some point,” said board member Tress Dameron. “We can social distance this activity, with all the restrictions and guidelines.”

So this Friday, Nov. 6, at 4 p.m. at Apalachicola’s Riverfront Park, the men and women of the cloth will offer their blessings over a queue of boats, both commercial and recreational, all setting out from the Mill Pond and passing by on their way to the Gorrie Bridge.

They’ll be bagpipes, and a shrimp boat from 13 Mile, with John Solomon, the seafood festival president, high astride the bow.

“We have decided as a group to make John an honorary king,” said Dameron. “You really want a King Retsyo on a boat, they are part of the community.

“John I think depicts that,” she said. “He tries to help so many people, with his commitment to the festival. His commitment to the community is kind of how we really look at it.”

As president of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, which administers the Tourist Development Council, Solomon has navigated choppy waters dating back to the late winter origination of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its sudden and severe impact on tourism, the life blood of Franklin County.

After posting in February a 43 percent increase in monthly revenues from the two-cent tax on overnight lodging, over the year before, the pandemic sank revenues dramatically for the next three months,  a drop of 44, 76 and 25 percent, respectively, over what had been the red-hot months of March, April and May.

But after a slowing of the decline to a mere 5 percent drop-off in June, traditionally one of the top months of the year, the tourist economy roared back in July, posting a 21 percent increase, as it rose by more than $44,000, to a little better than $253,000, its second best month on record.

As it stands now, with a year-to-date drop-off of only about $75,000, the TDC revenues are expected to meet, or even exceed, last year’s total of $1.4 million, the best on record.

Solomon said many visitors did cancel their reservations, especially over the festival weekend, but those vacancies were swiftly rebooked.

He said advertising has been targeted “smartly and fun heavy” urging visitors to “come fishing, come hiking, come kayaking, come off the beach.

“Not to pack the house at every great restaurant,” Solomon said. “We have something a lot of people don’t have. We have wide open spaces.”

As anyone who has observed Solomon’s dedication to the seafood festival, it is understandable that he led a volunteer board of directors that was reluctant to cancel the festival, but had no choice, given the impact the pandemic was having on other events, on the availability of vendors, and on the absence of inmates, who have traditionally helped set up the event at Battery Park and Ten Foot Hole.

“We had only three vendors who applied. We waited to be the last one to cancel,” Solomon said.

Dameron said charter captain John Layne, husband of board member Danielle Layne, has been busy rounding up captains, boaters and fishers to take part in the Blessing of the Fleet.

“It’s a tradition, and of the captains like that fact,” she said. “It’s a small hometown thing.”

Following the blessing, medallions for participation will be available at the chamber of commerce office, at Commerce Street and Avenue E.

This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Yes, the fleet will be blessed Friday

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