La Birgen del Valle (Virgin Mary of the Valley)

The Basilica of Our Lady of El Valle It is a Gothic basilica located in El Valle del Espíritu Santo a town on the island of Margarita, of Nueva Esparta state, in northwestern Venezuela. Its name is in honor of the patron saint of the town and the Venezuelan Navy: the Virgen del Valle. Source: Wikipedia

Bonaire has a fleet of fishing boats, and there are fishing families where the tradition has been handed down from generation to generation. Many of these families have origins from Isla Margarita in Venezuela, and fishing traditions have been carried to Bonaire from there. Bonaire’s fishermen go out day in and day out, in the early dawn hours and fish all day. They come back at the end of the afternoon, and clean their catch. It is then distributed to restaurants or sold from their own homes or small shops. The seas on the island’s east coast are considered as full ocean conditions, and many times, rife with waves and currents which batter the boats. Although it is rare, sometimes boats can have problems at sea, and then the whole island comes together to help bring the stranded seamen home.

These hardy men do this job, not only to provide for their families, but because it is simply what they do.
One of the traditions which came to Bonaire from Isla Margarita is the annual blessing of the fishing fleet. The patron saint of fishermen is La Virgen del Valle, or the Virgin of the Valley. Her saint’s day is September 8th, and each year, on a weekend close to this date, the island’s fishing community gathers together to ask her for safety for their boats and seamen for the coming year.
For this special ceremony, fishing boats in all sizes, shapes, and colors gather at the Fishermen’s Pier at Sorobon in Lac Bay. Here, La Virgen is put on the lead boat, which then heads a parade out into the bay where all the fishing boats give tribute to La Virgen by circling her boat, before returning to the pier.

Upon arrival back on land, everyone gathers on the beach for the celebration of Mass, which includes the blessing of the boats and fishermen. Afterwards, a small social gathering is held, and as the sun sinks down low on the horizon, Bonaire’s fishing fleet is safe and sound until the next day’s dawn.

(Source: Bonaire Insider Reporter, Susan Davis on September 14, 2015)