At the conclusion of a celebration of life service on Saturday, Ashley Gross, left, and Maya Porper throw a floral arrangement into the waters off the Portland Fish Pier to commemorate Michael Porper – their fiancee and father, respectively – and three other Maine fishermen who died when the Emmy Rose sank last month off Massachusetts. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Friends and relatives of four fishermen lost at sea gathered at the Portland Fish Pier on Saturday to remember a captain and crew who worked hard, loved their families and felt a deep connection to the sea.

The Portland-based fishing vessel Emmy Rose sank off the coast of Massachusetts during a gale on Nov. 23, prompting a search by the U.S. Coast Guard that was later suspended. Robert Blethen Jr. of Georgetown, Jeff Matthews of Portland, Ethan Ward of Pownal, and Mike Porper of Gloucester, Massachusetts, are presumed lost at sea.

As of Saturday afternoon, an online fundraising campaign had gathered nearly $125,000 to support the families of the crew.

At Saturday’s service, family members rose in turn to celebrate the life of each man, starting with the captain, Blethen, who went by Bobby.

“He was incredibly generous and kind,” his fiancée, Ann Preble, said. “He was very loving with his son. He gave us so much, and I’ll miss him and all that he had left to teach us.”

Mourners described Blethen as a hardworking, incredibly handy man who knew how to fix nearly anything. After fishing trips, he’d come home and take to a smaller boat just for pleasure.

Porper, too, was a hard worker, and possessed of an enduring love for the sea.

“He loved hard, he played hard, he worked hard,” his girlfriend, Ashley Gross, said, adding wryly, “Everything Michael did, he seemed to do the hard way.”

Pastor Chris Dumas invites the families of the four Maine fishermen who died when the Emmy Rose sank last month off Massachusetts to gather at the front of the memorial service before throwing flowers into the waters off the Portland Fish Pier on Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The pastor conducting the services, Chris Dumas of Five Islands Baptist Church, read some words from the family of Matthews. The late Portland fisherman taught his family how to stay strong before adversity, they said, but also had a goofy side.

Matthews’ daughter, Reyann, recalled him telling her, “It’s not what you go through, Reyann. It’s what you make of it that defines you as a person.”

Ward was remembered as an adventurous, determined, sometimes mischievous young man who would stop at nothing to meet his goals.

Even as a small child, he escaped from a locked apartment to attend a concert, spurring a police search mission throughout Freeport, his mother and grandmother said.

“Even if he got a few bangs and bruises, he always achieved his goal,” Dumas said, reading a statement from Ward’s family.

Ward liked to share good news with his loved ones, and when he was out at sea, he sent photos of glorious sunrises back home. That’s how one family member said she wished to remember him – with his back to the oncoming storm, snapping a light-filled photo to cheer up those who missed him.

Several mourners read poetry. Her voice wavering, sometimes with sorrow and other times with humor, Ann Preble memorialized Blethen with a few simple, poignant couplets.

The last one went: “If ever I go missing, just tell ’em I’ve gone fishing.”

After the service, family members lined up at the edge of the pier and tossed flowers – white roses, lilies and chrysanthemums – into the sea. The water is where the mourners lost their loved ones, Dumas said, but it’s also where life begins.


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