Rescuing History in Biloxi

How would you like to be the proud owner of a very inexpensive 1984 Judel/Vrolijk One Tonner named SudPack? Make an offer, but understand she’s up a tree. Several trees, actually. Or howzabout a 1966 Westerly 30 for $5,500? It’s for a good cause.

There’s little on the Gulf Coast that didn’t take a battering from the hurricanes of 2005, and that includes the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi, Mississippi, which says that its mission is, “to preserve and interpret the maritime history and heritage of Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

Preservation has its challenges in the midst of a hurricane, as we see by comparing this picture taken before . . .

. . . to the picture below, taken after Katrina passed through.

Rest assured, there’s a beauty to this story, as you will discover if you stick with us to the bottom. The museum is housed in a former Coast Guard barracks built in the 1930s. The building survived Hurricane Camille, but Katrina poured a 30-foot tidal surge across Deer Island, carrying away pine trees that “acted like torpedoes” as they crashed through the complex, according to museum staff.

Like other nonprofits, the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum accepts boats as donations, and sells them for sustenance. This is, unfortunately, a time when the Gulf Coast market is overstocked with fixable boats that have taken a whipping. Sud Pack is described as lodged in several trees, with no hull damage, boom and back stay broken. If you’d rather have a shot at a fully restored, ready-to-go runabout, for example a 1956 Century Resorter (mahogany on oak, with silicon bronze fasteners), the museum is raffling off a beauty in a drawing scheduled for August 29. For raffle tickets at $100 apiece, email, call (228) 435-6320, or write to the museum at P.O. Box 1907, Biloxi, MS 39533.

The museum did (and will) include an array of exhibits on shrimping, oystering, recreational fishing, wetlands, managing marine resources, charter boats, marine blacksmithing, wooden boat building, netmaking, catboats/Biloxi skiff, shrimp peeling machine and numerous historic photographs and objects. Here’s a sampler of what the museum has to say about itself: “The Museum has brought life to local maritime history and heritage by replicating two 65-foot Biloxi Schooners. Examples of living maritime history, they sail the Mississippi Sound and waters of the north central Gulf of Mexico almost daily. The Museum also conducts year round educational programs and a summer Sea-n-Sail Adventure Camp which teaches youth about local maritime heritage.” Here’s that note of beauty we promised you:

If you’ve never experienced the beauty of sailing on the Gulf Coast, this image of the museum’s schooners should bring it into focus for you.

Both the Glenn L. Swetman and the Mike Sekul, survived Katrina with hardly any damage and will return to their heavy sailing schedule—charters, day sails, and kids’ camps—in 2006. A $2 million Schooner Pier project was nearing completion before Katrina, including an additional 20 slips for visiting boats. Finishing the pier is a high-priority project now, and the museum hopes to have it operational by June.

—Kimball Livingston

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