Blessing of the Stone Crab Fleet: A Florida Delicacy Brings Everglades City TogetherJan 27, 2022 01:03PM ● By CAPT. BRIAN HOLAWAY
Many ideas have emerged from barroom talks, but few see the light of day. This is one story that did emerge and develop into a worthy idea. What started out as a conversation in the Rock Bottom Bar in Everglades City has turned into an annual event: the blessing of the stone crab fleet.
Everglades City is an outpost along the Southwest Florida coast that can’t be comfortably found. It has been home to rum runners, pot smugglers, outlaws, fishermen, and their families for more than a century. If you look hard enough, however, you can find this city where the mangroves meet the Gulf of Mexico and the road comes to an end at the mouth of the Barron River on Chokoloskee Bay. Population 425.
It should come as no surprise that stone crabbing originated in this enterprising part of the world, and today Everglades City can claim to be the stone crab capital of the world. The crabbers there bring in more than 300,000 pounds of the delicacy during the season, which runs from October 15 to May 1 every year.
Before the season gets underway, the community gathers to bless the fleet. Where else in the United States can you have a frog-jumping competition and a coconut guava cake contest? All this happens the first week in October in Everglades City.
Tod Dahlke, proprietor of Hole in the Wall Pizza in Everglades City, came up with the idea while talking to friends at the bar. “What are you up to?” he asked. Their reply, “We are going to the seawall of the Barron River tonight to watch the stone crab fleet pass by on their way to put their traps out.” Dahlke was intrigued. It was then and there that the idea of the blessing of the fleet was born.
Since that night, Dahlke has organized and led 13 successful years of the event.
The community gathers at the historic Rod and Gun Club and waits for the crab boats to come up the Barron River. Soon the low murmur of the diesel engines can be heard purring up the river, one after another. The first boat, Kit Kat, pulls alongside the seawall, followed by Strictly Business, as other crab boats fall in line along the seawall. When the fleet is securely tied up, a procession of young children walk by, sprinkling fresh flower petals along the dock.
After the last flower petal is spread, the local clergy asks everyone to bow their heads to pray for a bountiful season and a safe return from the sea. Next comes fun, music, games, and food. The festivities include the frog jumping contest, followed by the coveted, and sometimes controversial, best of the best coconut guava cake contest.
The blessing of the fleet is a great example of a community coming together to support its long history of independence, fortitude, and grit. Long after the last piece of coconut guava cake is eaten and the last leaping frog crosses the finish line, the fleet will be providing the blessings of stone crab for months to come.
Capt. Brian Holaway is a Florida master naturalist and has been a Southwest Florida shelling and eco-tour guide since 1995. His boat charters visit the islands of Pine Island Sound, including Cayo Costa State Park, Cabbage Key, Pine Island and North Captiva.