This month - Two Biloxi schooners and a seasoned captain visit the Bay Harbor for the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bay of St. Louis
The Biloxi Schooners and Captain Ron Reiter
story and photographs by Ellis Anderson
They used to call them "White Winged Queens," and when they're under sail, they glide regally across the water. The Biloxi Schooners were the royalty of boats in their era and from the late 1800's to the early 1900's they represented a way of life, one where men harvested the bounty of the sea propelled only by the wind.
The two Biloxi Schooner on the Mississippi coast belong to the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi. They're replicas of the renowned oyster boats, built in 1985. The "Glen L. Swetman" and the "Mike Sekul" are usually docked by the museum, where they give museum visitors a chance to taste that bygone life. The schooners can also be chartered for special events - like weddings, or the Reenactment of the Battle of the Bay of St. Louis on the 13th of December.
Captain Ron Reiter and his crews brought the schooners into the Bay St. Louis harbor on the morning of December 12th and the boats offered several 1/12 hour excursions into the Bay before the battle reenactment on Saturday afternoon. Viewers from the shoreline who happened to spot them a-sail were instantly transported back in time as the schooners skated across the calm waters.
Captain Reiter has been working for the museum for more than fifteen years. He not only has the pleasure of sailing the schooners, but the responsibility for keeping the high-maintenance boats seaworthy. With four decades experience captaining boats, any passenger or crew member can feel secure that they're in good hands.
The Bay Harbor rated high marks from the Captain, who has certainly seen his share of facilities through the years. For a decade, he and his wife lived aboard their forty-foot Columbia sailboat, exploring every nook and cranny of the gulf coast. However, he acquiesced when his wife believed it was time to live ashore again. Now their boat is docked in the canal behind their house.
Yet, the captain still has all the sailing opportunities that one could wish for. During the summer, he's at the wheel of one of the schooners two or three times a day. Each year, he captains the boats to the Madisonville Wooden Boat Festival, where they shine as the event's celebrities. This is a man who clearly loves his job.
"It's really tough to roll out of bed on a sunny summer morning and say 'I have to go sailing today,'" he jokes.
It's difficult to believe that this agile, strong man, who moves across the deck with the grace of an athlete in their prime is 83 years old.
When asked if he has plans to retire, the answer is one sure to bring a smile, but you can hear something in his voice that let's you know the captain is not joking this time.