Duckworks - Outings
The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders

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 them.

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