Yesterday Tom and I did an unusually touristy thing. During retirement we have tried to see places, as much as possible, as the natives do. But I wanted to go to the ocean and the Gulf of Mexico is only an hour from Hattiesburg, so we drove south to Gulfport. We left early in the morning so that we could be at the Ship Island Ferry at 8:30 a.m.
Ship Island is one of the barrier islands that protects the Gulf Coast and keeps the harbor safe. Ship Island is the only one you can reach without a private boat. All of them are part of the Gulf Island National Park so they are all uninhabited and protected from development. This is a very good thing because barrier islands are meant to move, and trying to build a house on a barrier island is an waste of money and an affront to nature. One of the signs on Ship Island says: “For want of the grass the sand is lost; for want of the sand the dune is lost; for want of the dune the island is lost; for want of the island the harbor is lost.”
But back to our “touristy” excursion. We boarded the comfortable ferry with 50 other people and enjoyed a sunny, windy ride to the island. Ship Island is 12 miles from Gulfport and it was interesting to watch the shore retreat into the distance – never out of sight entirely – and watch the barrier islands come into view. I also enjoyed watching the pelicans and terns that went diving headfirst into the water to catch fish. We saw some American Bottlenose Dolphins on the trip out also. The boat ride took an hour.
Once on Ship Island we were dropped at the dock and walked up to the main attraction on the island: Fort Massachusetts. The fort was build during the Civil war and is an imposing brick structure that rises above everything around it. The fort was manned primarily by the 2nd Regiment of the Louisiana Native Guard, a primarily black regiment made up of free blacks and runaway slaves who fought for the Union. The Fort is so well constructed that it survived Hurricanes Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005 with very little damage. Ship Island was not so lucky – it was divided into East and West Ship Islands by the tidal surge of Hurricane Camille.
The other attraction on Ship Island is the beach. West Ship Island is 6 miles long and has white sand beach all around it. There were only the 50 people from the ferry on the beach, so there was plenty of room to spread out. All the wildlife is protected, and people are asked not to walk on the dunes, but there was plenty of beach to enjoy and ocean to play in. We enjoyed the cloudless blue sky and a temperature of 83 with a mild sea breeze. There was a snack bar operated by the crew of the ferry and you could rent beach chairs, umbrellas, and boogie boards.
At 2:30 we reboarded the ferry and headed back to Gulfport. It was just the right amount of time – I’m sure there is such a thing as too much sun, although being from northeast Ohio, we haven’t reached our limit yet. We got back to Gulfport just in time to head north before rush hour began. We took a wonderful boat ride, learned a little history, and relaxed at the beach. Does a day get any better than that?