|Gulf Coast Jambalaya|
| Sugar sand and molasses seas from Pensacola to New Orleans.
By Tim Clark — October 2001
In an antiques store on the forlorn main street of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, I found the University of Wisconsin graduation photo of a young man who, judging by his stiff new suit and period dignity, took his degree sometime in the early 1920s. "Aunt Mary" was written in pencil on the back of the folder, surely in her fresh-faced nephew’s deliberate hand. It was a peculiar thing to discover in an out-of-the-way shrimp port on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. But I wasn’t surprised to run across it. In new waters you’re on the lookout for the unexpected.
The lady at the shop took three bucks for the portrait, and photographer Gary John Norman and I made our way back across the street and down a couple blocks to the grounds behind St. Margaret’s Catholic Church, on the east bank of the bayou, where our RIB was tied at a little landing. There was no inkling of the hullabaloo afoot here just a week earlier, when, we were told, this had been the site of the annual Blessing of the Fleet. Then, the town’s workboats had formed a streamer-festooned flotilla to receive good wishes for a safe and prosperous fishing season, and festivities had included a crab race and a cornucopia of boiled shrimp, fried oysters, baked crab, and gumbo by the gallon. Now the lawn was empty but for a granite memorial to local fishermen who’d lost their lives at sea, and the bustle in Bayou La Batre had shifted back to the seafood processors, boatyards, and brightly painted shrimpers lining the mile of river winding to the Gulf.
About halfway down its length, our Pacific Mariner 65 lay against a weathered wooden dock, watched over by skipper Les Holmes, first mate Bill Hodges, and Pacific Mariner’s sales manager Mike Osborne. It was mid-May, the weather was ideal, and we were partway through our second day of a roughly 200-mile cruise from Pensacola, Florida, to New Orleans, Louisiana. Holmes had passed this way once before, but as a delivery captain unable to take his time. The rest of us had known nothing about the northern Gulf Coast beyond rumors of a particular abundance of shrimp. You could say we chose these relatively isolated cruising grounds because of our ignorance of their attractions; they encouraged more audacious exploration than well-traveled waters, and we liked the sense of discovery.
At Bayou La Batre we’d simply nosed our way in through the narrow channel and tied up at a commercial dock that looked particularly idle, just as we’d done at the smaller fishing town of Bon Secour, on the southeast shore of Mobile Bay, the day before. In both ports, although our yacht attracted many a mute stare or puzzled wave, no one ever inquired as to our purpose or objected to our presence, and because we could satisfy our curiosity in a matter of hours, we were gone before getting in anyone’s way.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.