THERIOT, La. -- Docked boats were bedecked with fluttering red, white and blue streamers and rainbows of balloons in a bayou country, pre-shrimp season tradition known as the Blessing of the Boats.
On the menu? Heaping trays of barbecued chicken, smoked sausage and potato salad -- but no crabs or shrimp. Blame the BP oil spill. The company has plugged the leak and announced Sunday that cement sealing the busted oil well in the Gulf of Mexico had hardened, clearing the path for the final phase of drilling a relief well.
The future isn't so clear for fishermen and their families seeking blessings for a bountiful harvest and divine protection from the water's dangers. They are wondering if the waters will ever be the same again.
"I've had ice chests of shrimp in my freezer all my life," said Dita Dehart, 70, a lifelong area resident who was working on desserts in a back room of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, which has hosted the blessing on Bayou Dularge for more than 50 years. "I have none now."
Fishermen have suffered through the ever-changing scenario of on-again, off-again closures and a murky future since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. BP said Sunday it may soon begin drilling the final 100 feet of a relief well. Once the relief well intersects the broken well, more mud and cement will be pumped in for the "bottom kill" meant to seal the well for good.
However, the plugging of the well hasn't ended the uncertainty: Yes, the state technically set Aug. 16 as the opening for a fall shrimp season along the coast, but some waters likely will remain closed as federal authorities test the safety of the seafood. "I got a boat that's ready," said Ravin Lacoste, 57. "But we don't know what's going to open up."
"It's open, it's closed, it's open it's closed," said Charles Lovell Jr., before he clambered aboard his boat to ferry the Rev. Jervis Burns up and down the bayou.
Burns first conducted a service for about 50 fishermen, their families and other parishioners of St. Andrews. Then he climbed aboard Lovell's shrimp boat to lead a water parade, during which he would bless other vessels docked along the bayou and then toss out a wreath memorializing fishermen who have died on the waters.
Scenes like this play out along coastal Louisiana throughout much of the year -- fishermen and their families seeking a good harvest and divine protection. "Hurricanes and high waters and all of that. And this year we had the BP oil spill," Burns said as he opened his bayou-side service.
Shrimpers also face lingering doubts about the market, said Mike Dehart, 51, Lacoste's brother-in-law, who runs a shrimp dock just up the road. Demand, and the prices he could get for shrimp, shot up right after the spill, he said, as people rushed to get what they feared would be their last taste of Gulf seafood. But demand and prices dropped as the spill continued. "It's going to take a couple of years before things get back to normal," he said.