I have the good fortune of living on the Alabama Gulf Coast, and this usually means hot summers and mild winters. When we are lucky enough to have a cooler than a normal day during the summer. That happened just recently. Friends were visiting from Florida, so I decided to join them in Biloxi, Mississippi for a day of fun. Only an hour’s drive from Mobile and with temps in the mid-70s, it proved to be the perfect day to enjoy the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
After the group took time to catch up, we headed to the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum located just off the main thoroughfare of Biloxi. The building located not from the foot of the Biloxi Bay Bridge is impressive. Since the destruction incurred upon Biloxi with Hurricane Katina in 2005, most buildings are built high off the ground, even a nearby Waffle House.
Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum
Established in 1986 and located on Point Cadet on the site of the Historic Coast Guard base, the museum preserves the maritime history and heritage of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The museum was destroyed during Hurricane Katina in 2005. The designated “Gateway to Biloxi” reopened in 2014.
Within the three floors of the museum, you will find an impressive array of artifacts from all facets of the maritime industry. Seafood was and remains the backbone of the Gulf Coast’s economy. Here you will see nautical charts, compasses, cooking implements, machinery, and full-scale boats.
One particular item caught my eye in the museum. I have peeled a lot of shrimp, but I didn’t know there was a shrimp peeling machine. One of the docents, Edgar, told us the story of sixteen-year-old James Martial Lapeyre of Houma Louisiana, who invented the machine with the help of an uncle who was an engineer. The shrimp peeling machine was put in use in 1949 and could peel one thousand pounds per hour depending on the size of the shrimp. This technology revolutionized the shrimping industry and reduced the cost of shrimp to the consumer.
One large display chronicles the history of the seafood industry from shrimping to crabbing, if you can catch in the gulf waters, the people of the gulf coast are going to eat it.
There are several types of watercraft on display in the museum, including a 1947 pirogue. These small boats were used to traverse the shallow waters of the Biloxi marshes.
The centerpiece of the museum is the Nydia, a 30-foot gaff-rigged cabin sloop that was built in Biloxi in 1898. Dominating the Grand hall of the museum, it was restored to its magnificent glory to honor its owner, Baldwin Woods. Mr. Woods passed away on board while sailing the sloop, the thing he treasured most.
The island lighthouse Fresnel lens was made in the late 1800s in Paris. The lens was one of the artifacts damaged during Katina. It was found and restored with only a few minor imperfections.
“Camille at 50”
2019 is the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Camille, a category five hurricane that struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 17, 1969. I have vague memories of the storm from it striking Mobile, but the storm made a direct hit on Biloxi, killing over 250 people and causing over one billion in damage.
An installation of photographs documents the devastation of the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Bay St. Louis to Biloxi. Photographs from before and after the storm are stunning. I can attest to the destruction having seen it both before and shortly after the storm. Of course for those how lived through it and made it through the aftermath, it was a daunting ordeal.
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast. There is a large exhibit on the history of hurricanes that struck the region. There is a gallery of news videos of the storm, it’s aftermath and timeline of hurricanes since the 1700s.
“This does not suck” – Schooner Sunset Cruise
At six p.m., we climbed aboard the Schooner Glen L. Swetman for a sunset cruise. There is no better way to end a day but a sunset cruise on the gulf waters. As one of my friends commented, ‘this does not suck’ and it certainly didn’t. We enjoyed the sea breeze, the cruise while we dined on the snacks we brought aboard.
Both Schooners, the Glen L. Swetman, and the Mike Sekul are named for the donors who made the largest donation for the building of the vessel. Both are replicas of original Biloxi schooners. A Biloxi Schooner is defined by the aft mast being taller than the foremast and having a shallow draft. It has a skeg keel which draws a shallower draft from the vessel. It is meant for cruising in shallow water and out to the barrier islands that are twelve miles offshore from Biloxi.
Between 1900 and 1955, the Mayor’s Cup Schooner Race was held annually. The Museum is trying to bring back the schooner race setting up the rivalry between the towns of D’Iberville and Biloxi. The race was held over the Fourth of July. This year the race was won by Biloxi. It’s a community party that can run well into the night.
The Maritime Museum also runs charters for the vessels for excursions, weddings, parties, and burials at sea. The schooner holds 47 with passengers and crew.
Our Capitan, Tyler Foster, was a young man of twenty. Tyler received his captains’ license at the age of nineteen. I was impressed with his maturity and his natural authority in running his vessel. He told me, ‘It’s nice to get paid to tan.” He has quite a life path mapped out from himself including continuing his work with vessels on the waters of the Gulf Coast.
As we cut the engine, the crew of the Glen L. Swetman, Robbie and Clay unfurled the sails so the passengers would enjoy the peace of wind and pointed our craft back toward the shore. This two and half hour cruise made for good fun for the passengers and a peaceful end to an afternoon of history lessons on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.