Fishing fleet sets out with blessing

Sacrifice and losses remembered during annual event

Posted: Sunday, May 07, 2006

With hope for the future and tears for the past, people found Saturday's drizzle fitting weather for the annual blessing of the fleet at the Alaska Commercial Fishermen's Memorial.

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"I'm actually honored that it's cold," Jennifer Nebert said under the morning drizzle. The name of her husband, Rick Nebert, was added to the memorial after he was lost at sea March 10 with a crewman aboard the Slayer near Point Gardner on Admiralty Island.

"It was cold for him," she said, with her young children Derick and Ericka at her side.

State Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch of Juneau and the Memorial Committee, opened the event by noting the rain was appropriate.

Tears also were shed by people who didn't come to put flowers at the base of the channel-facing memorial or toss them into the water for loved ones lost. "My father was killed by a drunken driver," said Amy Jo Meiners. "He did a lot to help the fishermen here."

Nebert, along with her husband's brother, Greg Nebert, said it was a sad day, although she said she was happy to meet face to face people who continued to look for her husband after the Coast Guard suspended their search.

"Fishing in Alaska is a dangerous job," said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. James Olson during the ceremony, held each year on the first Saturday in May. "We have to be prepared for the unexpected."

In the last year, the Coast Guard in Alaska rescued 43 fishermen but 15 lost their lives, Olson said. He urged people to take advantage of the resources the Coast Guard and community offer to ensure the boats go out with the right equipment and proper maintenance.

"The Coast Guard is clearly there to assist our boaters," Olson said.

In the channel, Jim and Mary Becker aboard the Kristine placed a wreath in the water as bagpipers from Stroller White Pipes and Drums played Amazing Grace. Jesse Perry, pastor of Northern Light United Church, blessed boats as they passed by the memorial. For boats floating in the harbor, including the Loyal Lady, the Providence and the Lucky J's, he blessed the captain and the crew, wishing them a bountiful year, wisdom in the face of storms and safe passage home.

For the Standy, Perry even blessed the pets he could see onboard.

"May every blessing given each individual vessel be received by all," he said, his words being broadcast to the fleet on VHF radio channel 10.

David Katzeek, speaking first in Tlingit and then in English, blessed the people going out on the seas for a safe and bountiful season, blessed their return home and blessed the fish to continue to provide for the people.

Before the nearby Twisted Fish restaurant hosted a reception with hot drinks, Jo Anne Bell-Graves read the 15 new names engraved on the wall of the memorial. She next read all of the names on the wall, pausing as people came to leave flowers. As she was reading the sun broke through the clouds.

Elena Delmoral said she liked that. The Juneau woman smiled as she explained that she came to pay her respects to Bob Storrs, a cod fisherman from Unalaska who lost his life on boat, the Flying Oosick.

"He was an awesome guy," she said. He also was a great spokesman for his industry, she `added. "I miss him terribly."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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