Ernest Hemingway might have his "The Old Man and the Sea" in fiction, Capt. Louis Gorenflo used to tell people aboard his Sailfish, but Biloxi has its "Old Man of the Island" in real life. At that point, Jean Guilhot, better known as the Hermit of Deer Island, often appeared.|
That was a half century ago. The Sailfish continues to ply the Biloxi waters and entertain passengers with stories and whatever sea life comes up in the boat's small shrimp net. The 42-foot wooden double-decker has changed owners several times but continues to be a hallmark of Mississippi Coast tourism. At least 10,000 a year hop rides.
Today they see a changed shoreline that includes the basics of resort life with added casinos. The shrimp and crabs continue to jump into the Sailfish net.
Capt. Virginia Eleuterius and her husband Corrie bought the Sailfish tour business in 1994. Corrie, as a youngster, had watched the Sailfish being constructed across the street from his grandmother's house. Now it's his.
"We both captain the boat," said his wife, "but Corrie is the show. He loves entertaining with stories about this area and what comes up in the net."
The Sailfish had a front-row berth at the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor, and a sign on Beach Boulevard advertised "Biloxi Shrimping Trip. 70-minute Living Marine Adventure Cruise."
As Katrina approached, the Eleuteriuses secured the Sailfish in Hurricane Hole, a lake near Cedar Lake Bridge where many boats head to evacuate. The Sailfish survived with minimal damage and is ready to go again.
"We're putting the sign back up early in the week, right where it was, where we've had a permit to put it for several years," said Virginia. "Maybe that will show a little progress."
The harbor didn't fare as well as the Sailfish. The Eleuteriuses hired someone to clean out their berth, including removing restaurant equipment, and will use their metal ramp to load passengers.
The Sailfish cruises the Biloxi West Channel, and sonar readings show it does not have large obstructions that might kill propellers. To be certain, the Eleuteriuses will remove their net boards and drag the unimpeded chains to check for snags.
That will happen this week. Why the hurry? More than a year ago, a busload of tourists booked for Feb. 13 and the Eleuteriuses are more than ready to wet the net again. They hope to start regular tours in early March.
- KAT BERGERON