Dovekies in the Chandeleur Islands
by Lee Martin
This is the story of a trip Bob and I took in 1986. It was written
in that year and sent to SMALL BOAT JOURNAL, but never printed by
Bob has since had a stroke and quit sailing. He sold " Seabiscuit"
to Katie and I years later and we sailed it to the Bahamas in the
90s. Bob was one of the best sailing partners Katie and I ever had, a solid sailer
that never sweated the small stuff. Higher praise can't be given.
Dovekies in the Chandeleur Islands
The rod bent in a half moon and the reel screamed off 100
yards of line before I could stop the shark. This is what we came for!!
It was the first fish to give us a run in the Chandeleur Islands, but
not the last.
The Chandeleurs lie 26 miles south of Gulfport, Mississippi. The
Gulf Islands National Seashore that form the seaward edge of the
Mississippi Sound divide the trip in half. Historic Ship, Horn and
Cat islands provide anchorages to wait out the weather. The sail
across the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico can be rough in opposing winds.
The offshore passage is clearly marked. An 84 foot tower stands
as a mark on Ship Island, while on the northern tip of the
Chandeleurs a 99 foot light blinks. Both are visible from the half
way point. These two towers, as well as the Gulfport Ship Channel
markers keep navigation simple.
Dovekie - a Phil Bolger design
Bob Fiske, my sailing partner, and I own Dovekies. They are the
21-foot, flat bottomed, 650 lb. creation of Phil Bolger and Peter Duff.
It was sold by Peter's Edey and Duff Boatyard. Bob's, "Seabuscuit,"
and mine, "Ibis," made short work of the 13 statute miles between
Ship Island and the Chandeleurs. Just under two hours, In a
leeboarder with a sprit rig? It was a wave slapping broad
reach....... and fun. We picked up the leeboards and slid off the face of the waves. I was sore 'til Thursday.
Once across we found a sand wonderland. Each island grows fields
of cane and sea oats, and forests of shrubs on the Western shore. The
Eastern shore is sand beaches littered with shells and globs of
crude oil. We approached from the west [bay] side, and saw channels
pointing in. They divide the islands at extreme high tide. At normal
tide the islands are stung together by a thin strip of beach. Perfect!
We picked up leeboards and rudders, pushed down bow centerboards
and charged, bumping sand bars all the way in. Toward the beach the
water deepened, and we slipped into an anchorage.
My wife had packed Spam and a minnow trap to catch bait fish. In
half an hour we had enough mud minnows to last 2 days. Let the fun
begin. Bob took 20 minutes to bring in a 7 lb. redfish--- plenty for
supper. We started to catch and release. I set free three black-tip
sharks: 25 lb.,
15 lb., and 7 lb..
We built a fire on the beach designed to cook dinner and keep bugs
away. It did cook the fish, but the mosquitoes were hell bent on our blood.
We ran for the boats, enclosed in netting to eat. The " back porch" is
what Peter calls the arrangement.
This was the start of an idyllic stay in the Chandeleurs. We spent
the days walking the sand, stalking shore birds and slapping green
flies. We changed anchorages when the urge struck and found one as
perfect as the next. The fish begged to be eaten, so we ate them all, and more. Gladly.
Bob snapped my head up mid-morning on the fourth day. "we should
sail while the weather holds from the south east," he said. He was
right. We ate a farewell redfish and repacked. By noon we had bumped
the bars and turned north toward Ship island.
Just past the Chandeleur Light, boats were everywhere, fishing
skiffs, shrimpers and sailboats. As we closed Ship Island their numbers
grew. When we reached the harbor---- worse. Forty sailboats and as many
powerboats were crammed into the anchorage. Bob and I pulled our boats
on the beach as far from the crowds as possible.
Memorial Day---we had a slight lapse of memory.
We started out early the next morning to explore Ft. Massachusets,
the civil war era guard post of the sound. By ten a.m. the crowds were
crowding, so we slipped anchor for Cat Island, hoping for a quiet hole.
The island is split, east to west, by a three foot deep bayou. The
chart shows it ending on the sand on the east side. It doesn't. It ends
in a marsh. We had spied a spot at the western entrance and sailed
there. Inside the sand bar a channel leads through a second bar, and
into a five-foot deep hole with a twenty-foot diameter. No swinging
room. With fore and aft anchors set we relaxed.
The bars were bustling. Black skimmers, Egrets, Herons and terns
fished the shallow water. Bob fished also, but it was spaghetti and
cheap wine for supper. We were down to the bottom of our larder.
By 8:oo a.m. we were sailing the 25 miles to Gulf Islands National
Seashore Park where the vehicles waited. We were ready for shore. Bob
suggested Mexican food, and I thought of nothind but hot sauce and cold
beer during the 6-hour sail. Five if I hadn't overshot the Biloxi
channel. The water tower does look like a lighthouse. "Hey, it could
happen to anyone," I said , wishing my wife-the navigator-was aboard.
With the boats trailered, we checked into a campsight and showered.
Strains of "La Cucharacha" floated from Bob's shower stall, while I
slipped into my last clean jeans. We ate more than enough for four at a
restaurant in Biloxi, then slogged our way to the camp in a suffocating
downpour. I was glad to be out of the storms way that night.
Tuesday we bought T-shirts [why do we always do that?] and started
the drive home. Two weeks later I'm ready to go again. I can't get it
out of my mind. The rod bending, the reel zinging off line and a
meal-for-four redfish flopping on the beach. I want more!
This is twenty year old information, but the islands are still
there and the Redfish still swim the area. You must have a good
seaworthy boat for the off-shore part of the trip, size makes no
difference. As always, watch the weather.
For years, Edey and Duff ran full page ads on the inside cover of Small Boat Journal. They did a good job of pointing out the many attributes of Dovekies - particularly their ability to navigate shoal water. They were entertaining too. Here is one:
click image for larger view