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Blessing of the Fleet set for Saturday

Organizers are hopeful the festival will ease tension between fishermen and property owners.

Hernando Beach residents will count their blessings this weekend at the Hernando Beach Blessing of the Fleet and Seafood Festival.

Organizer Steve Giese said the event started when members of the Hernando County Marine Industry Council decided to have a fleet blessing ceremony for shrimping boats, a tradition honored by the Hernando Beach Yacht Club for about 15 years.

"Every year, yacht club has a blessing ceremony for pleasure boats, so we decided to combine efforts," Giese said.

Red, white and blue pennants flying, vessels of all types will gather at 3 p.m. Saturday by the Port Authority building, organizer Joan Lentini said.

"Anybody who wants to come can," said Lentini, who expects about 60 commercial vessels and half a dozen pleasure boats at the ceremony. "Bring a rowboat or a canoe, just come and be a part of it."

To be included in the procession and ceremony, boats must be registered at the yacht club by noon Saturday. To register, call 596-0538.

Organizers say the festival's claim to fame will be its fresh seafood.

Fresh seafood will include shrimp creole, jambalaya, kebobs, peel-and-eat shrimp, fried grouper, fried oysters, crab cakes and seafood chowder. Platters are priced between $3 and $8.

"For anybody who is thinking about seafood, this is the place to be," Giese said. "You aren't going to find anything fresher anywhere around."

For landlubbers, barbecue, hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream and popcorn also will be available. The day will start with a pancake breakfast at the Hernando Beach Yacht club from 9 a.m. to noon.

Scheduled events include a Ms. Hernando Beach Beauty Contest, a tae kwon do demonstration and more.

Pennants along Shoal Line Boulevard will designate free parking. Complimentary shuttles will run continuously between parking lots and the festival, Lentini said.

The festival will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Hernando Beach Yacht Club on Shoal Line Boulevard. Admission, parking and tram service are free. For information, call 597-7347.

Organizers strongly hope the festival can help heal the Hernando Beach community after strife between property owners and commercial fishermen over water access, Giese said.

"We saw this as an opportunity to get together with our neighbors," he said. "We've done all this to help create more community interaction."