Tags Posts tagged with "Gulf Coast"

Gulf Coast

After hours on the water, cruisers on the Gulf Coast each have their favorite dockside restaurant or marina watering hole and for many, rum is the preferred drink. The refined properties of sugarcane and tropical fruits are ubiquitous across the globe and share a close association with the boating lifestyle through nautical history and centuries-old island distillers of the Caribbean. However, over the last decade the Caribbean has seen its lock on rum production diminish with distilleries in Central America coming online. And now, one of the largest sugarcane producers in the world—the United States—is also challenging the Caribbean’s rum supremacy. Led by Louisiana and to a lesser extent, Florida, the Gulf Coast is embracing its past distilling heritage and exploding as a rum-producing region.

With a legacy of rum distilling primarily silenced by Prohibition in the 1920s and antiquated state laws that continued until the late 1990s, Louisiana has always had its share of Cajun bootleggers making the liquor deep in the swamps. With the rise of micro-distillers throughout the U.S. over the last decade, it’s no surprise that many of these producers have come in from the bayous.

New Orleans artist James Michalopoulos was the leader when he first began distilling rum under the Old New Orleans label from Louisiana sugarcane back in 1995. After much experimentation and legal wrangling with the state government, the first bottling run occurred in 1999. Today his rums can be purchased throughout the U.S. with one of his largest sellers, the 5-year-aged Cajun Spiced Rum.

Two of the more ambitious producers to come online are the bottlers of Rougaroux and Bayou rums. Both distilleries are located in the heart of sugarcane country in southern Louisiana within a few miles of massive, century-old sugarcane processing plants, where they acquire the highest quality molasses and sugarcane juice. Bayou Rum is the most aggressive of the producers—recently doubling their production—and has no qualms about wanting to become “America’s Rum.”

Smaller producers are also coming online. When not working on offshore oilrigs, the two owners of Rank Wildcat in Lafayette, Louisiana, produce Sweet Crude Rum on their weekends and holidays. The bottles can be found throughout Louisiana, and the owners have plans to rapidly expand distribution. Two other bottlers in southeastern Louisiana are nearing their first releases, and rumors of more investments in distilling equipment are common on the New Orleans mixology circuit.

Florida has also seen several local brands come onto the market though not from private distillers—they are more boutique bottlers in Miami and Key West. Cruisers and rum drinkers throughout the U.S. should pay attention since Caribbean distilleries already are—sugarcane production is as perfect and natural of a product in regions of the Gulf Coast as it is in the islands. Before anyone realizes, those bushwhackers at your favorite yacht club may be mixed using local Gulf Coast-made rum, and these upstart distillers may soon be sponsoring your next regatta, fishing tournament or poker run.


By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating September 2014

The Gulf Coast has a long history of artisanal boatbuilding that stretches back to when it was first settled. Marrying Native American designs with European influences and tools birthed entire classes of boats uniquely suited to regional waterways all along the coast. With the arrival of fiberglass and the consolidation of boatbuilding into large corporate enterprises, many traditions and generational knowledge were on the verge of being lost. However, there is a recent resurgence of artisanal builders with legacies and techniques being rediscovered that result in gorgeous, fully functional nearshore and inshore boats ideal for these coastlines.

In southern Louisiana, French colonists quickly learned that their deep-hulled European vessels were not navigable in the naturally shallow bayous, so they adopted the designs of the Indians’ flat-bottomed, 16-foot boats that were carved and burned out of single cypress logs. As these pirogue (pee-rouge) developed and became the standard for trappers and fishermen, eventually cypress planks were used to significantly drop weight and further the boats’ maneuverability in shallow marshes.

Today, Cajun craftsmen like Tony Latiolais of Henderson, Louisiana, in the Atchafalaya Basin utilize “sinker” cypress logs reclaimed from the bottom of bayous and logged swamps. Other builders like Keith Felder of Denham Springs, Louisiana, are constructing them out of marine-grade plywood and finishing with cypress. Stacked on board powerboats, these boats are prized possessions that allow duck hunting enthusiasts to enter shallow ponds and sloughs off the deeper bayous. They are now being revisited by anglers who tackle the incredibly productive fishing grounds of the Louisiana marsh and are ideal for cruisers looking to explore shallower, protected bayous.

Boatbuilding is an evolutionary process and Texan craftsmen are joining traditional wooden boats with modern styles to create hybrid designs that serve the creeks and near-shore waters of their state. Craftsman David Escobedo of Escobedo Boatworks is doing this on the outskirts of San Antonio in the one-horse town of Buda, Texas. His boat Sea Dart is a 16-foot lapstrake-type build that combines the look of a canoe and a kayak ideal for lake or creek fishing, as well as hunting redfish along the coast.

Arrowhead Custom Boats in Austin, Texas, is another wooden boatbuilder helmed by David Nichols, who has long embraced the art and traditions of classic construction. His boats range from traditional canoes to ideal fly-fishing platforms.

Part of the resurgence of these wooden shallow-draft boats and classic Gulf Coast boats like the Lafitte Skiff were initiated by the determination of organizations such as the Center for Traditional Louisiana Boatbuilding and wooden boat festivals such as the hugely popular celebration in Madisonville, Louisiana. Small maritime museums like the one in Port Aransas, Texas, are also determined to re-introduce these skills and knowledge. Many of these organizations conduct traditional boatbuilding classes and are reviving these old processes and designs, which are creating a new legacy of hobbyists and entrepreneurs who are constructing beautiful heirloom paddleboats.

By Harlan Leslie, Southern Boating August 2014

The emerald waters and white sands of the Northern Gulf Coast are normally a tranquil vacation spot except for one week in late August when a “Who’s Who” of powerboat racing storms onto the coast. The growl of high-octane engines screaming just a Frisbee’s throw offshore builds unparalleled energy and excitement for race fans lined on beaches, and in spectator boats and private beachside condo balconies. After a decade of racing, Thunder on the Gulf has become one of the top powerboat racing events in the U.S. and this year will be no exception.

Held over a long weekend August 21-24, the event has expanded to include racing in both Orange Beach, Alabama, and nearby Pensacola, Florida,—now billed the Flora-Bama Shootout Grand Prix Championship. The legendary Flora-Bama bar straddling the line between the two states is famous for their mullet toss and is hosting the kick-off party on Thursday, August 21st. John Carbonell of Key West is the premier race official and Super Boat International is the sanctioning body for this race weekend, which is listed as a top event by the Southeast Tourism Society.

With race villages and wet pits set up in each location, race fans can tour these monster super-boats in a festive atmosphere the day before the races, which run Friday the 22nd in Orange Beach and Sunday the 24th off Pensacola’s historic downtown waterfront at the Plaza de Luna.

Billed as an entire race week experience, food and live music will be featured at each event site, including the Marshall Tucker Band at the Wharf in Orange Beach. There will also be a golf tournament, the well-attended Thunder Motorcycle Run, an offshore fishing tournament, and two bikini contests. A massive street party, boat parade and fireworks display on Palafox Street and the adjacent pier follow the final awards ceremony in Pensacola. All events are staggered and timed to chase the race boats as they transition from Alabama to the Florida Panhandle. VIP packages are available.

Depending on your taste and energy level, there is something for all race fans whether you don’t want to miss a minute of the onshore and offshore events in both cities or would simply prefer to set up your beach chairs with a cooler along the 6.5-mile liquid racecourse in Orange Beach. For those who are new to superboat racing, this is a perfect time to book your family vacation and delight the kids with this NASCAR-type event on the water. thunderonthegulf.com

By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating August 2014

Southern Sojourn

If you’re cruising along the Simon Bolivar Peninsula, don’t be surprised to see cattle drives with Texas cowboys moving their herds over two-lane highways crossing the ICW. The wide Texas beaches on the coast hide cattle country and oil derricks and slowly give way to raised beach houses with names like “Gulf Breeze” or “Jolie’s Hideaway.” The inevitable one-horse beach shop with their airbrush artisan and seashell wind chimes are also there, but sail past historic Fort Travis and the Bolivar Lighthouse rising on the western tip of the peninsula, and Galveston Island beckons with her historic architecture, beaches and maritime culture.

Once known as a gambling mecca until the Texas Rangers raided the town, Galveston was also the largest port on the Texas coast, pulling down cotton and cattle from the interior and ushering in generations of Indian fighters and future Texas land barons. Crossing the Houston Ship Channel to the island is spectacular, with its never-ending run of modern freighters bypassing Galveston and heading into Houston or sailing to points unknown. This leaves the island town with a different sort of nautical energy today—one of history, charter captains and resortwear.

Located on the island’s northwestern edge, the Galveston Yacht Basin is a full-service private marina and an ideal transient slip location to begin an exploration of the island. Filled with charter fishing vessels, the piers hum with skippers tinkering on their boats or, more likely, catching naps in the ubiquitous land tenders—their golf carts lining the marina. Dockside restaurants are sprouting up around the marina, and certain piers in the channel will get transients within easy walking distance of the historic downtown and seaport.

The Texas Seaport Museum with her beautifully restored 1877 Tall Ship Elissa is an ideal start to get your bearings. Lunch next door waterside at the Olympia Grill or Willie G’s and savor the contrast of Elissa with berthed luxury yachts and the modern cruise liners that now call Galveston their home port.

A block away is the Strand—Galveston’s historic Victorian-era shopping district. Filled with unique shops and whimsical cafes with wrought-iron balconies on the restored historic buildings, the Strand is the pulse of Galveston. Shop at the Admiralty for some of the finest ship replicas constructed from scratch using their original ship plans, or enjoy freshly made saltwater taffy at LaKing’s Confectionary. Catch a carriage ride through the historic residential neighborhoods filled with homes straight out of New Orleans’ Garden District. Tour or catch a show at the Grand 1894 Opera House before finishing with dinner and drinks at the legendary Rudy & Paco’s—reservations are a must.

Coastal artists abound and the street simply known now as Postoffice is full of galleries showcasing enough nautical art to adorn your vessel’s staterooms. Keep an eye peeled for the work of Gay Paratore, Robert Peterson and Gayle Reynolds. Postoffice is also home to many pubs and coffee shops and only a few blocks from the historic home tours on Broadway where massive stone mansions rise—Bishop’s Palace built in 1892 and the 1895 Moody Mansion are majestic.

Galveston—like much of the Gulf Coast—has been subject to the ravages of hurricanes throughout her history. In 1900, a massive storm struck the island and drowned over 6,000 residents. It is important to remember while walking the historic districts and neighborhoods of the island that after this storm, residents banded together and embarked on one of the most unheralded engineering feats in American history. Every surviving structure—from massive mansions to humble homes with picket fences and down to the lowliest barns—was raised up on stilts and piers to an average of eight feet high. Gargantuan amounts of dredge from Offatts Bayou to the southwest were then painstakingly pumped in to raise the grade of 500 city blocks. Streets, sidewalks and utilities were then rebuilt as well as a massive beachfront seawall, which again has become the playground of Texas. Today, the bustling seawall is filled with fishing piers, restaurants and 32 miles of beaches quietly rolling with surf from the Gulf of Mexico. Stroll the giant old-school Pleasure Pier, with her amusement rides and restaurants jutting straight out over the Gulf. Relax and fish off the piers before taking in dinner at the classic coastal seafood restaurant and cherished dining tradition, Gaido’s, which has run continuously since 1911—do not miss the charbroiled oysters brought in fresh from nearby Port Aransas.

Nearly all of the beaches in Galveston are open to the public with the most scenic being East and Stewart Beaches. Pack an ice chest and enjoy the warm Gulf waters, where a nice building wind from the east will even allow surfing. Keep your eyes peeled for Texans with their trucks and Jeeps, for nearly all of Texas allows vehicular traffic on the beaches.

Galveston is filled with museums and amusements for children. With the connection to the oil industry, a giant Drilling Rig Museum sits in the harbor, and the Railroad Museum resides on the Strand. Harbor tours run from the Seaport, and there are public golf and putt-putt courses as well as a multitude of water parks, state parks and hiking trails.

For an exciting and romantic evening boat over to Offatts Bayou and tie up at the Pelican Rest Marina. This private facility is angling to become its own mini-resort with a pool and adjacent tiki bars. The upscale steakhouse of Number 13 overlooks the grounds with ship’s captains cruising from pier party to pier party on giant tricycles. From the decks, the massive lighted pyramids of Moody Gardens and the Colonel Paddlewheeler across the bayou reflect on the waters while Jimmy Buffett cover bands work their magic.

Immediately next door to the Pelican Rest Marina is the multi-million dollar construction for the future home of the Sea Scouts in Texas. With private funding this facility and marina is set to become a world-class maritime school and camp for the Sea Scouts and will be an important educational facility for training the next generation of cruisers and sailors on the Gulf Coast.

Within a few hours’ sail north of Galveston lies the famous Kemah Boardwalk. With ample transient slips available, this giant amusement park and retail/dining establishment is filled with energy and hosts concerts and shore-side entertainment. Kemah and the areas nearby are filled with facilities for cruisers.

Galveston is home to residents who can trace their island roots back to when pirate Jean Lafitte roamed these shores. Filled with islanders enjoying their southern gardens, charter captains swapping fish tales at their favorite watering holes, and artists setting up easels to capture the sunsets, Galveston is one of those rare spots on the Texas coast that feels more in tune with the rhythms of the Gulf Coast than the bustling cities and sprawling ranches of the interior. The island and her residents are ready and waiting for you to tie up, walk her palm and oak-lined streets, and dig your feet into Texas sand.


By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating March 2014

A Place Apart

Bay St. Louis is one of those idyllic, sleepy little Gulf Coast towns where the mesmerizing sound of the L&E Railroad’s horn and the breeze crossing the bay seem to continue forever. A town of well-used porch swings cradle neighbors who chat as condensation drips from their grandmother’s heirloom crystal rocks glasses, while the cicadas call out from the deep southern evening. White sand spills and shifts from beaches onto the roads that follow this seemingly endless coast—most of which are shaded by sprawling two-hundred-year-old oaks that easily outnumber the citizens. All roads lead to the bay.

Founded in 1699 by French explorers and slated to become the state capital of Mississippi in the 1800s before passed over for Natchez and then Jackson, Bay St. Louis quietly fronts the western shore of its namesake bay. A shallow estuary that opens onto the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico, the bay and surrounding waters hold incredibly fertile oyster beds, shrimping grounds and diverse fishing, all protected by a run of small sandy barrier islands that make up the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Located a quick cruise off shore, these islands are home to the remnants of Spanish forts—the staging grounds for the British invasion of New Orleans in the War of 1812—and were notoriously used by pirates, privateers and smugglers throughout most of their history. As recently as the 1980s hidden booty was unearthed on these Mississippi islands.

Bay St. Louis was built on a small bluff and has been rediscovered as an arts community full of old-world southern characters. Take the time to chat with them. It’s likely you’re talking with a descendant of the only President of the Confederacy, or a renowned artist inspired by Walter Anderson, or a charter captain whose family arrived with the French or Spanish—the first who cruised this coast. Like most towns on the northern Gulf Coast, the “coasties” are somewhat removed from their rural northern neighbors and even host their own coastal accent.

Bay St. Louis’ Main Street leading off the bay is populated with art galleries and quaint antique and brica-brac shops, with the shopkeepers walking home in the light evenings along perfectly lush gardens fronting shotgun, Biloxi cottages, Sidehall, and West Indies Planter-style homes. Along the bay, the steeple of Our Lady of the Gulf Church is the boating landmark that rises next to St. Stanislaus College—founded by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in 1854—which hosts an exceptional high school sailing program.

Bay St. Louis is a strolling town, so explore. Browse the independent bookseller Bay Books, and pick up a few titles on the forgotten history of this coast. Grab coffee and a muffin next door at the little hole-in-the-wall bakery Serious Bread, or stroll down to the Buttercup or the Mockingbird Cafe and enjoy their verandas for brunch and light reading. Spend the afternoon walking the quiet residential streets and remember to wave back to the residents—you are in the Deep South where hospitality is as natural as breathing.

On lazy afternoons the porches and verandas come alive as the cooling bay breeze fills. Sailors gather on the decks of the Bay-Waveland Yacht Club to cocktail as they have been doing since it was founded in 1896. The balconies and bay tables at Trapani’s and 200 North Beach fill early as the sun sets and locals sip on Southern Pecan Ale from the local brewery Lazy Magnolia while awaiting their seafood dishes landed earlier that day. Both restaurants overlook the recently constructed, state-of-the-art 163-slip municipal marina, built specifically to provide transient cruisers walking access to the heart of town and can host up to 60′ boats.

A few blocks away on Blaize Street, the once neglected back of the town has become a small, gentrified strip of bars and nightlife located in 19th-century buildings with renovated condos above many. Spend a few hours after dinner at Coach Mike’s on the sidewalk tables and get to know the locals. No one would ever say Bay St. Louis has become bustling, but no one would want it that way.

Across the narrow bay is Pass Christian and home to the one of the five oldest yacht clubs in the U.S., the Pass Christian Yacht Club. The “Pass” originally served as a summer retreat for wealthy bankers and cotton brokers from New Orleans, as well as planters from northern Mississippi. Grand mansions along the beaches were built as an escape from the heat and yellow fever epidemics. The Pass is still a second home to many from New Orleans and the rural north.

Bearing part of the brunt of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Pass has made a steady comeback. So much architectural history was lost, but what remains is astounding. The sugar sand beaches Walker Percy wrote about while describing daytrips by his characters are there and awaiting quiet walks back into history. Miles of mature oaks and antebellum mansions line the shore, while to the south lie the coastal islands, the Gulf of Mexico and Cuba—waters sailed by William Faulkner and poet Eudora Welty on occasion.

This coast’s history and descendants still live and reside on these waters traversed by European explorers not so many generations ago. Many of the locals hold that lineage and have their family’s oral history to prove it. They also still ply the waters of the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf, albeit now for a different bounty—blue crab, shrimp and oysters. The marina at Pass Christian is a pure example of this as the crab boats come home; their wares are sold directly to restaurants like Shaggy’s in the marina or the more upscale fine dining of Wolfe’s.

Within an hour’s cruise is Beauvoir, the prior home of and current museum dedicated to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, as well as the Biloxi Maritime Museum. Fort Massachusetts—renamed by Union soldiers and used to house Confederate prisoners of war—is a massive Spanish fort rising from Ship Island in the Gulf that runs regular tours. Since the storm, world-class golf courses and casinos have also been constructed on this stretch of the Mississippi Coast—many with docking facilities—including the newest addition, native son Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Casino.

Over 300 years after its founding, Bay St. Louis is still the charming little town on a bluff waiting for you to listen to the enchanting sounds of the southern twilight over the bay. Relax on a deck surrounded by gardens of azaleas, plumbago and centuries-old oak trees with white sand brushing at their feet as the breeze lifts off the bay and the shimmering water beckons you to stay awhile.


By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating February 2014


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