Tags Posts tagged with "Troy Gilbert"

Troy Gilbert

For the cruiser in your life there are endless options for gift giving this holiday season from that new handheld GPS unit to a subscription to their favorite boating magazine. But what better stocking stuffer than a member subscription or “friend” of a non-profit organization that specifically restores and preserves their favorite waterways and cruising grounds?

While the giant non-profits tend to receive the most charitable donations, they also tend to have the highest cost overhead and expenses to cover before your money is brought into direct action. However, throughout the Gulf Coast there are small organizations made up of volunteers—many of whom might be your neighbors or friends at the marina—where $50 or $100 would go a long way to directly and specifically help preserve a favorite boating or fishing location. A few trusted organizations are listed below, but a simple online search will help you find a non-profit group dedicated to your favorite bay, lake or estuary.

Gulf Restoration Network (Gulf Coast): Covering the health and preservation of the entire Gulf of Mexico, this organization and their efforts came into real prominence immediately following the BP oil spill off the Louisiana coast in 2010. While a medium-sized organization, this group and their army of volunteers is very active throughout the Gulf Coast from the planting of marsh grasses to the restoration of barrier islands and fishing grounds. healthygulf.org

Friends of West End (Louisiana): Created in the 1830s, West End is a massive and historical recreational boating and park complex in New Orleans. Situated on Lake Pontchartrain, West End is home to 100+ acres of historic parks and marinas, and the Friends of West End organization raises funds for restoration projects as well as building a large wetlands park that will aid in the downstream health of the fisheries throughout the Lake Pontchartrain Basin. friendsofwestend.org

Coastal Conservation Association (CCA-Mississippi): Dedicated to the restoration of the once highly productive marine fisheries along the Mississippi Coast and the barrier islands, the CCA-Mississippi is a dedicated division of the larger Coastal Conservation Association which has been highly successful in their attempts to preserve recreational and commercial fisheries. Donations to the CCA-Mississippi stay within the state. ccamississippi.org

Dauphin Island Restoration Task Force (Alabama): Dauphin Island—Alabama’s incredibly beautiful lone barrier island—plays a crucial role in the estuarine environments for Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound that helps support the entire recreational and commercial seafood industries for the Northern Gulf Coast. The task force is devoted to restoring the shoreline of this treasure that is rapidly eroding into the Gulf. dauphinislandrestoration.org

Friends of St. Joseph’s Bay (Florida): Very few waters are as pristine as St. Joseph’s Bay in Florida. Located on the Forgotten Coast on the far eastern panhandle of the state, this spectacular bay is home to crystal clear waters that support everything from scallops to seahorses and needs more human advocates to help it remain this way. stjosephbaypreserves.org

By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating December 2014

As the first cool fronts make their way down from the north and with the holidays right around the corner, the second major boating season gets underway on the Northern Gulf Coast. Flatboats and pirogues are readied and ponds in the marshes are scouted. Fishermen head out for those big reds and trout that got away over the summer, and the oystermen fan out from the coast to bring in those salty mollusks so necessary for this coast’s holiday celebrations.

Thanksgiving and Christmas on the Gulf Coast have always featured time-honored traditions incorporating boating with holiday meals that reach back to subsistence fishing and hunting. It’s hard not to notice the flatboats covered in fresh marsh grass on Thanksgiving morning in New Orleans’ Garden District with hunters rushing in their camouflage gear to start the smokers. On the coast of Mississippi, boats skippered by “paw paws” and grandfathers are eased back onto their trailers as the proud and sleepy grandkids are ready for a nap from their quick morning of trawling for the day’s shrimp. On the bayous of Alabama, crab traps are raised and early morning trout are cleaned while the luggers in Apalachicola bring in those all-important oysters.

As families descend on their gathering spots on the coast from Pass Christian to Bon Secour and from New Orleans to Clearwater, ladies in their kitchens and men at their culinary stations out back come alive. Recipes handed down from generations long past  are shared with the next in line. The number of oysters in this year’s dressing is marked on the handwritten recipe that now scrolls back fifty years. Empty shotgun shell casings and old tangled fishing line are placed with moss, green mirlitons and heirloom crystal candleholder centerpieces, while laughter and the smell of redfish court-bouillon permeate the house. Out back, brothers and uncles sip on cold beer while their sons and daughters watch as ducks wrapped in bacon are smoked to perfection—the black labs wait for that one dropped bird.

On piers and docks, oysters are charbroiled while a brisk cold wind whips down across the sounds and bays—boats pop in the water in a building chop while sailboat stanchions clink. Windows of the houses glow with the warm yellow light of families and friends gathered, their cars parked in the lawn underneath sprawling oaks next to a few boat trailers holding license plates from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

While the arriving winter means many cruisers across the country prepare to put their boats to bed under cover for the inevitable snow and ice, on the Gulf Coast and throughout the South, boating springs to life in a second season. Away from the summer waterskiing, regattas and the heat of waiting on that tuna to bite off shore, many might say that it’s the more important boating  season.

By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating November 2014

Many unique, historic classes of boats evoke the culture and lifestyle of particular regions in the U.S. simply from their appearance. From old Chris Craft runabouts with perfectly maintained brightwork on the waters of Newport to the Biloxi Schooners that plied the shallows of the Mississippi Sound for oysters and shrimp; an entire boating sub-culture dedicated to the preservation of these boats is flourishing—including festivals and events that celebrate them.

The Gulf Coast is home to several classes of boats (both sail and power) that are truly unique, although possibly not widely known. The Luggers were shallow, long trawling vessels converted to rustic, if not stately, yachts for cruising the shallows of the northern Gulf Coast. The Lafitte Skiff is another commercial fishing vessel that was transformed over the years into a smaller recreational fishing runabout. And while not unique to the Gulf Coast, the Fish Class dinghies were actively raced throughout the Gulf Yachting Association for decades. A determined few still actively race them in races such as the Fish Class World Championship on Mobile Bay at Buccaneer Yacht Club this month.

These are just a few examples of the famous classes of wooden boats that are celebrated throughout the U.S. The National Sailing Hall of Fame in Annapolis, Maryland, for example, hosts an annual regatta of wooden-hulled sailboats over 65′ in length, and clubs such as the venerable New York Yacht Club still hold races for the Sandbaggers that were raced in the 1800s throughout the East and Gulf Coasts. Wooden boat festivals that celebrate our country’s unique nautical legacy take place in every region, but one of the largest takes place October 11-12 in the small, picturesque town of Madisonville, Louisiana, at the mouth of the deep-water Tchefuncte River on Lake Pontchartrain. Home to several large marinas and an historic town that directly fronts the river, Madisonville’s lighthouse and maritime museum are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their Wooden Boat Festival.

Madisonville is a popular cruising destination and recognized for its impressive collection of Biloxi Luggers that arrive from the Mississippi Coast, cruising clubs from throughout the lake and the coast’s yacht clubs. Live music plays along Water Street with pirogue and other wooden boatbuilding demonstrations onshore—although the real showcase is on the piers with a stunning showcase of wooden boats from throughout history. Madisonville is a true cruiser’s town, and every October it becomes an essential visit for lovers of stunning and perfectly maintained historic boats with a celebration to match.

By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating October 2014

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 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

July brings with it a unique tradition for recreational boat owners on Florida’s Big Bend on the Gulf Coast—bay scallop season. A run of sandy barrier islands and a marshy estuarine system contribute to an ideal salinity and ecosystem for the tasty mollusks, an environment unique to the Gulf Coast. Highly susceptible to even minute environmental changes, the harvesting of bay scallops is strictly controlled and no commercial activities are allowed. The one exception is for recreational boat owners and individuals who wade from shore with dip nets, a pastime that has led to an almost cultural institution on this stretch of Florida’s coastline.

Midsummer brings out the snorkels, flippers and mesh bags as Floridians and tourists peruse the sandy seagrass beds just offshore of Florida’s Forgotten Coast between Port St. Joe and Tarpon Springs. “Diver down” flags pop up above tried and true secret scalloping spots, and with scallops preferring depths of only 4-6 feet of water, it is a family-friendly experience. Port St. Joe also holds an annual Scallop Festival every August in this very authentic old-style Florida town.

Bay scallops once had an extensive habitat throughout the state from Pensacola to West Palm Beach on the Atlantic Coast, but it is increasingly shrinking due to development pressures. Today, isolated populations—still numerous enough to allow scalloping—can be found in the waters around Port St. Joe, Crystal River, Steinhatchee, and Homosassa on the Gulf Coast. Florida saltwater fishing licenses are required and scalloping charters can be found in many of the marinas. The 2014 season runs from June 28th to September 10th, and the per-person limit is two gallons of in-the-shell scallops per person on board, but no more than 10 gallons on board any vessel. It is best to clean scallops almost immediately after harvesting, for the bag limits are one pint of meat per person and no more than ½ gallon per vessel.

After long afternoons swimming in the cooling Gulf waters, families and friends get together for scallop feasts on the beaches or back porches, with most dishes lightly breaded, seasoned and flash-fried. Similar to an oyster in that it is a mollusk, bay scallops are more muscular because of their ability to actually swim. They have lean, firm meat but a very delicate flavor and as such, cooking methods should be light and gentle. More inventive dishes have been making the rounds in the past decades with scallops served in ceviche or lightly broiled and served in beautiful salads and even sliders. Many coastal restaurants will even prepare your fresh catch and simply charge a “corkage” fee for preparing your feast.

Scalloping is one of those unique institutions that hearkens back to a Florida of a bygone era. It is an ideal method to launch your boat and get your kids and friends out on the water—not that you ever need an excuse—and make them earn their dinner.

By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating July 2014

The love of boating is more often than not a trait passed down from generation to generation. Strike up a conversation at any yacht club or at your favorite waterfront joint and it’s likely that person will have a fondly remembered childhood tale of fishing or sailing with a parent or grandparent. With over 123 million people residing in coastal counties or parishes in the U.S. alone, there are surprisingly only 12 million recreational boats in the country according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Obviously there is plenty of room for growth on many waterways, and one way to ramp up the next generation of boat owners is early exposure to boating and its way of life that many may not have access to via family members. A lifetime love for the water can come about simply by instilling that sense of adventure, self-reliance and the freedom found in boating to young kids. A new $100-million facility in Galveston, Texas, seeks to do just that.

Originally conceived as a modest high-adventure boating summer camp for the Sea Scouts—an offshoot of the Boy Scouts—the scope of the project on Offatts Bayou in Galveston rapidly broadened and now even includes a Community Youth Sailing Center and a maritime education facility for merchant mariner students and others. Financed almost entirely by a donation from a private Texan donor who is very active in the Sea Scouting programs, the 60,000-square-foot facility—including lodging, offices, classrooms, a cafeteria, and an endowment for accredited instructors—recently finished construction on their adjacent floating docks and piers. The complex will be capable of hosting 200-300 scouts on a weekly basis by the middle of this summer.

The Galveston Sea Base is already home to a fleet of donated and purchased Sonar and FJ sailboats, plus a retired 82-foot Coast Guard cutter that’s been converted to a functioning on-the-water classroom. They will be adding a variety of vessels ranging from kayaks and Optimists to large schooners with the goals of emphasizing sailing instruction, seamanship, navigation, and high-adventure. Novice sailors will be held to the protected waters of Offatts Bayou, and more advanced sailors will graduate to heavily supervised racing and offshore programs. These boating programs are expected to draw over 20,000 scouts per year from throughout the country and have already hosted scouts from Louisiana, Missouri and throughout Texas while the facility was in its construction.

Conceived as complementary and not as a competitor to the Sea Scout’s hugely successful Sea Base in the Florida Keys, the Galveston Sea Base will draw from scouting programs throughout the west and central United States and the Northern Gulf Coast. With many children lacking exposure to boating through a family member, this immense state-of-the-art program and facility is, and will be, a game changer in youth boating education for decades to come.

By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating July 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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