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At annual blessing, fishermen add one more to ranks of those who have died at sea

Stonington — When Peggy Krupinski used to attend the Blessing of the Fleet each year, her husband Walter was always with her.

This year, she came alone.

Helped on both sides on Sunday by the family members of men who lost their lives on fishing boats, Krupinski held an anchor-shaped wreath of red flowers over Stonington Harbor.

Standing behind her on the fishing boat Neptune, The Most Rev. Michael Cote, bishop of Norwich, read a prayer.

“O God, who alone know the depth of the oceans and the destiny of souls, we commit to your care those who never returned from the sea.”

Krupinski let the wreath drop into the harbor.

“Give them pardon and peace with you, and grant that we may see them again.”

And with that, Walter Krupinski — known as “Wally” — was added to the list of Stonington fishermen who have died at sea.

Krupinski died nearly a year ago, in September 2015, at the age of 81 when a 60-foot yacht captained by a New Jersey man collided with his small fishing boat off Watch Hill, R.I.

Peggy Krupinski said she was honored to be asked to help with the wreath ceremony. But it was an honor she never wanted or expected to have.

“It was such a tragedy that happened so quickly,” she said Sunday. “You never think that your own husband would be such a big part of it.”

Wayne Cale, whose brother Robert was 50 when he died in a bad weather while fishing for lobster in August 1990, never expected to be a part of the ceremony either. Until he was.

He has come back to the wreath ceremony every year since his brother died, he said.

“I have to re-live it, and that’s not easy,” he said.

Albert Banks stood on Krupinski’s other side as she tossed the wreath into the water.

He was there to remember his son, Arthur, who died in 1989 at the age of 25 when the offshore lobster boat Heidi Marie sank. Banks had planned to quit fishing after the trip.

“It doesn’t get easier,” said Cheri Banks-Harland, Arthur’s sister.

On land, a small crowd mourned the men who lost their lives at sea and prayed for the success and safety of the current fleet.

Before boarding the Neptune, Cote walked in a loop around the Town Dock, sprinkling holy water on the boats and blessing the captain of each one. During the morning he celebrated a special Fishermen's Mass at St. Mary Church and said a prayer at the granite Fishermen's Memorial that lists the names of the fishermen lost at sea.

 The event is now smaller than it once was. Where thousands of people would once descend on Stonington for a weekend-long celebration, this year a couple hundred people watched as the Westerly Band, a group of people dressed like pirates and a few fire trucks looped around the town's streets.

But the size of the event doesn’t matter for the families of fishermen who take the day to remember their sacrifice.

“It’s tough,” said Ingrid Feddersen, the owner of a Stonington marina who was friends with Walter Krupinski. “I remember the old blessing of the fleet — it was larger, and more colorful."

Now, she said, “it’s a different atmosphere totally.”

But, she said, “for the fishermen it isn’t.”

m.shanahan@theday.com

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