Beach to Bayou - September 2021
- by Wendy Sullivan
“I’m on a boat!” four-year-old Jeremiah exclaimed excitedly as passengers boarded the Captain Pete, one of Ship Island Excursions’ boats. A 90-minute dolphin cruise into the Gulf of Mexico was heading out from the Gulfport harbor and even the older passengers looked as eager as children.
Ship Island Excursions is one of the longest family-owned businesses in Mississippi. Started in 1926 by Croatia immigrant Peter Martin Skrmetta, the business has reinvented itself repeatedly to meet the times and needs of the coast community.
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During prohibition in the 1920s, the first boat in the Skrmetta fleet was outfitted with slot machines for excursions to the Isle of Caprice. This island once lay between Horn Island and Ship Island – beyond the 12-mile limit for gambling and drinking – making it a prime destination.
Robert Skrmetta, grandson of Peter, shared family folklore about slot machines that were dumped into the waters around the Isle of Caprice after a tip about an FBI raid. Robert denied knowledge of a buried treasure, but said “I’m sure there are a lot of pennies, nickels and dimes still down in those machines!”
The tiny island eroded into the sea by 1932, but the industrious Skrmetta family continued to expand the excursion boating business, making it into one of the "don't miss" family attractions on the entire gulf coast.
Currently, the Ship Island Excursions is offering two daily dolphin cruises which include a tour of Gulfport commercial shipping harbor. With special permission from the harbor master, the ship’s captain is allowed to sail into the harbor for closer views of the cranes and features of the shipping industry.
Captain William Buckley, affectionately known as "Captain Buck," pointed out the smaller tug-like boat that carries local pilots to ships coming into port. He explained that each cargo ship must have a local pilot on board to guide it through the channel into port. The locally licensed boat pilots ensure safe transport into the busy harbor.
After the harbor tour, Captain Buck headed out into the Mississippi Gulf waters in search of dolphins. He said, “since becoming a dad 4 years ago, I especially enjoy the excitement of the children on the cruises.”
Crew members pointed out dolphins to thrilled passengers, both young and old. “There is one!” “Wow!” “I see one!” could be heard from all over the deck. One first-timer remarked “I was surprised to see so many, so close to the boat.”
Several different groups of dolphins swam by, jumping into the air as through performing for the passengers. The dolphins would swim alongside for several minutes or under the boat, popping up behind in the wake to the delight of folks in the rear.
Despite choppy waters, passengers roamed the two decks in pursuit of more dolphin sightings. Passengers also found snacks and cool air in the air-conditioned snack bar on the lower deck.
By the end of the cruise, young Jeremiah, whose family was visiting from Alabama, reveled in his new-found love of dolphins. The child held on to his stuffed dolphin and beamed with happiness to everyone around him, even thanking his fellow passengers.
In addition to the dolphin cruises, Ship Island Excursions offer 2-hour Sunset Cocktail Cruises Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings.
Robert Skrmetta explained “Evening is my favorite time on the water because it’s so beautiful.” He described these adult cruises as "fun and romantic."
For more information, the Ship Island Excursions’ website is an easily navigated website for
- news about the return to Ship Island
- cruise delays due to weather conditions
- updates on specialty cruises
- private charter options
- additional history and information about the Gulf.
This family owned and operated business offers everyone access to the beauty of the waters of the Mississippi Gulf. It is located in the Gulfport Yacht Harbor.
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