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by Pat Johnson - Pensacola, Florida - USA

An event exploring the Mississippi Barrier Islands

Part One - Part Two

Disclaimer - Although we were together with others most of the nights and some of the days, all the participants had vastly different experiences, routes and anchorages for parts of the event. We only saw each other at the anchorages. We tried to figure out a good way for us to do some sort of write up together but I don't think it's possible without writing a novel so here's my perspective on the event. This was the first "Mississippi-110" event and no one knew exactly what to expect or what they would do until the weather helped them choose what was best for them.

There are 5 main Islands in the Mississippi Barrier Island chain. They stretch almost 50 miles east to west all the way from Alabama's Dauphin Island to the Louisiana State line. They're about 10 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi Mainland. The islands are between 2 & 12 miles long and as some as wide as a mile so they are substantial enough to have had an interesting history. There is a Civil War era fort named Fort Massachusetts on West Ship Island and it has a ferry service from Biloxi that operates daily. Horn Island had a WWII base on it at one time and there is a ranger station there now. Many of the islands have previously had inhabitants who farmed or grazed cattle on the islands. Cat Island is the only island in the chain that still has a few private homes on it that are only accessible by boat. Even that island is mostly part of the National Sea Shore like the others. You can anchor/camp nearly anywhere on the islands making it great for our kind of exploration. The northernmost Chandeleur Islands are only about 15 miles south of the Mississippi Barrier Islands and they extend southward nearly 50 miles towards the mouth of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi Islands are only about 5 miles apart end to end so there is never a time when you can't see land when sailing between them. You will always be able to see landmarks on the mainland and will see the next island before losing sight of the previous one when sailing from one to the other. Pascagoulas launch and Round Island halfway to the islands means you can get out there without ever losing sight of land. Round Island is less than 5 miles north of Horn Island and less than 5 miles from the Pascagoula launch.

Pehr Jannson, who I knew of through the Texas-200-Facebook page, was the instigator of the Mississippi-110 event. He had contacted me early on having ready my Duckworks Article "Around Alone" a few years earlier that described an earlier visit to the area. I immediately agreed to assist him in planning the trip. We agreed to keep it as simple and disorganized with respect to administration as possible. So we did everything as though it were simply an announcement that he and I were gonna go, with the dates and our probable anchorages for each night and little else. We posted a description of the event on the Mississippi-110 Facebook and posted it in June 2015. The website  Guide to the Barrier Islands was a huge help in planning my first trip and in this one as well. Since we went public in June and only via the Mississippi-110 Facebook Page we knew we were probably too late to get a lot of participants in an event scheduled less than 4 months away. That was fine though, it might be better to have a small group since this was to be an "exploratory trip" to see if it might make sense to try to do it annually. We knew we wanted to do it after the heat of the summer but we also wanted to go the Port Aransas Plywood Boat Festival in October so we settled on 5 days and 4 nights - Wednesday September 23rd - Sunday September 27th. Here is a link to the Proposed route and anchorages

Wednesday Sept 23rd 2015

Ultimately 6 boats showed up for the event but only 5 launched. We all showed up Wednesday morning within a couple hours of each other and after a quick chat began preparing to launch and get started. Terry & Ladona Green launched first in their Sanibel followed by Travis, Stan Roberts & Pehr on Pilgrim and then Murray White on his 12' O'Day Widgeon. Mike Mangus tried to launch his "Little-Tri" next but had a serious mast partner failure that couldn't be easily be patched or fixed.

After helping Mike load the boat back up on the trailer, I worked on getting ready while I waited for Mike as he got his stuff together to load onto my boat. We had discussed things and decided he would ride with me on my "Half-Fast" Cruiser during the event since he had traveled all the way to Pascagoula to do the event and didn't want to miss out on it completely. We launched "Half-Fast" and headed out to meet up with the others as they traveled the 9 or 10 miles to the spoil island on the west end of Petit Bois Island (the easternmost Mississippi Barrier Island).

It was almost immediately apparent after leaving the ramp and rounding the corner into the sound, that it was gonna be a bumpy day. The winds were easterly at almost 20 mph and the waves had built to a steady 2-3' steep chop with a few larger ones sprinkled in. The wind had been out of the east all week and was forecast to continue from the east most of the week of the event. Consequently, the long fetch to the east had allowed the waves to build and get steep in the relatively shallow waters of the Mississippi Sound. Mike and I gave it some gas and lifted the sharpest part of the bow to part the waves and cruised South at about 8 mph. We were quickly catching up to Murray White in his little 12 footer after the first 3 miles or so but before we passed him we saw him peel off to the west. I told Mike that Murray was a great sailor and knew what he was doing. I further explained that I was pretty sure Murray has assessed the conditions and decided to head west to Round Island where he could wait until conditions calmed before pressing on. Turns out that is exactly what he did. Mike and I continued bouncing all the way to the Peit Bois Spoil Island when Mike suddenly remembered that although we had loaded the boat back onto the trailer we had forgotten the mast laying in the grass beside the ramp! Knowing it wouldn't be there if we didn't go back we motored close enough to Pilgrim & crew to shout out that we had to go back and would see them later. Then we made the bumpy ride back and found the mast right where it was supposed to be. Mike got it lashed down to the boat on the trailer and we shoved off again. By mid afternoon we had anchored in the lee of the spoil Island just west of Petit Bois named Sand Island. There is a big horseshoe shaped cove on the west side of the island that offers protection from anything but west winds. We got up against the southeast corner and anchored stern to the beach like the others. Because of the high seas and winds no one had tried to explore Petit Bois but had gone straight for the protection of the planned Anchorage.

Everyone got settled down and Beef Steaks and Tuna Steaks appeared on the grill and all was right with the world. During the night a huge ship moved by and sent all our boats rocking and rolling over its huge wake. Around Midnight the winds had clocked around to the south and were kicking at almost 30 mph for an hour or so before they moderated. In the wee hours the high tide actually rose high enough to flood the area where everyone had been cooking and sitting the previous night. All in all Wednesday night was not the best night for sleeping since it was the first night out and the waves, tide and strong winds had made it hard to sleep.

Thursday Sept 24th

Mike and I motored out first and headed for Horn Island. Our plan was to see if the waves would allow us to anchor along the shoreline and explore the middle of the island where the pier is but that was not to be the case. The winds were easterly at near 20 mph and the steep chop coming from the east due the winds was compounded/conflicted by the southerly ocean swells from the Gulf in between the islands. It was a nasty ride till we got to Horn and at least eliminated the ocean swell part of the discomfort. The easterly winds/waves made the entire north shore of Horn a "lee shore". We pushed on to the western tip exploring from the water as we went. We checked the far western side of the tip where there was actually a temporary BP Oil Spill pier the last time I had been there. All signs of the pier had been removed and although it looked like it would be similar in protection to the previous night's Anchorage we decided to go back around the tip to a Hidey-Hole Anchorage we had scouted an hour earlier. By this time the winds had died down to a nice 10 miles per hour (still from the east).

Although not easily seen from the water there is a fish hook shaped spit of sand that ultimately angles back south towards the island and offers 360 degrees of protection from the waves and was about 3 foot deep near the sandy hook itself. It isn't high enough in elevation to offer much protection from the wind but the smooth waters were what we were after. The winds had died to about 10 mph and it was a comfortable day. After settling in Mike and I took a walk along the beach thinking we would take a closer look at the tip of the island. We ended up continuing along the Gulf side beach for a mile or so before crossing back to the sound side to explore an abandoned boat. We crossed a few Lagoon inlets along the way.

After checking the boat out we decided we ought to walk further and see the infamous "Chimney" area where they had burned mustard gas back in WWII era. After another mile or so we saw Murray sailing along about 50 ft off the beach headed for our anchorage.

We shouted to him as he passed but kept on walking. We didn't quite make it to the Chimney because my feet were sore (barefoot walking) after 4+ miles and Mike was ready anyway so we returned to the anchorage and Murray. By that time I had blisters on the balls of my feet! Note to self, don't walk 8+ miles barefoot on hard wet sand! We sat chatting and saw Pilgrim approach and then sail on around the tip where they anchored on the west side of the tip.

They eventually showed up on top of the dune and saw our small Hidey-Hole anchorage that had not been visible from their approach. An hour or so later that came sailing back around the tip and slid into the Hidey-Hole explaining that a large ship went by the tip and had them rocking and rolling so they moved to our more protected anchorage instead. Another hour passed and we saw Steve Spangle and Dave Briggs in Steve's O'day sail by the same way Pilgrim did. They too had not been able to see the entrance to the Hidey-Hole. Steve and Dave had not launched til Thursday morning. Eventually, they figured we had somehow gotten in there so they dropped the sail and motored in till they saw it was no problem getting into the anchorage.

Then there were 4 of us in the Hidey-Hole. Terry & Ladonna had gone back to the Point Park Boat Ramp and called it a day. The rolling seas had made Ladonna a bit queasy and Terry wanted to stay married so agreed to take her home. We had a wonderful night at Horn Island.

The high tide caused the water to just barely come over the sandy spit on the end where Pilgrim was but it wasn't enough to cause any problems. We all talked about our plans for Friday and it seemed we were all going to be in different areas and so we simply said everyone was on their own with regard to where they anchored for the night. Murray was going to sail back along Horn Island and stay near the East end to ensure he could make it to Round Island on Saturday. Steve and Dave were going to sail west to Cat Island and planned to anchor there. The rest of us didn't know if we would be able to anchor at Ship Island or not. The thinking was that we might all end back up at Horn in the Hidey Hole if no protection could be found on either of the Ship Islands.

The winds died and the bugs came out to greet us around 8:00 or 9:00pm. Then the winds kicked up during the night and I was awakened by the shrieking of Steve's standing rigging in the wind. But the wind had driven off the bugs and it had cooled off and was good for getting a little sleep.

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