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Waterways the best way to enjoy Coast

To do the Gulf Coast, you’ve got to travel the waterways. See our dolphins, oysters, sea birds, gators and other creatures of distinction. There is no shortage of transportation, whether you want a tour, getaway or deep sea charter.

Explore inland water via Eco Tours of the Pascagoula River and bayous with Capt. Kathy Wilkerson, Moss Point. A native, she’ll show you river gardens and tell you ecology matters. For photographers, she knows the prettiest lagoons and where regal osprey nest. Daily sunset cruises are her specialty.

Do-it-yourselfers can rent canoes or kayaks to explore nearby islands, rivers and bayous.

For a real Mississippi experience, take the Biloxi Shrimp Tour, departing from the piers behind Isle of Capri. Cruise the harbor, learning first-hand how shrimpers catch those delectable creatures. The crew throws nets gracefully across the water and dolphins come up for a crustacean snack. Pelicans coast alongside while seagulls ride the sunroof, until Capt. Mike tosses shrimp overboard for their dinner.

At North Star Sailing, Capt. Roger Buenzow offers two-, four- and six-hour sailing charters out of Point Cadet slip D38, behind Isle of Capri Resort and Casino.

Want luxury? He’ll arrange dinner from Farradday’s Restaurant or jumbo gulf shrimp snacks. This seafarer came here from Alaska in 1998 for a military job. He began his charter business and became Mississippi’s only certified sailing school. North Star Sailing’s 31-foot Catalina has been host to 17 young bachelors as they proposed to their future brides, against a Gulf of Mexico sunset. There have been two weddings aboard. Buenzow simply says, “We make memories.”

History buff? Catch a sail on an authentic, handcrafted, reproduction schooner out of the Maritime Seafood Industry Museum Pier on Beach Boulevard, Biloxi. Learn how a schooner operates and help raise sails as you glide across balmy Gulf waters.

“Miraculously, Katrina spared these two beautiful boats, built by a local master boat builder,” explains Museum Executive Director Robin David. “Though we lost our museum, we’re happy to have the schooners.”

Schooner charters begin at $375. A day cruise to Horn Island’s wilderness runs $1000, for up to 49 people. If you’re up for it, they’ll drop you for a night of camping with your own equipment, and pick you up in the morning. Two-hour walk-on tours sail twice a day.

Cat Island Tours and Ship Island Tour Co. take you up close and personal with Mississippi’s portion of the Gulf Island National Seashore. Sugar sand beaches, quiet, clean air and tranquil ferry cruising are components of a lovely summer Gulf day. Kids can run, swim and explore while you finish that best seller you brought.

Sportsmen, or the Gulf-curious, can hire fishing charters and guides. Whether you seek deep-sea thrills or casual local fishing - boat captains, all experienced anglers, give you the help you want and provide bait and tackle, too. See a list of Mississippi Charter Boat Captains Association members on page 23.

“The boats take groups of four to 40 people for two to eight hours,” says Capt. Tom Becker, vice president of the Charter Boat Association. “We know where to find the fish, and in 24 years, I’ve only seen one trip that didn’t bring back good ones.”

You can keep or release your catch of mackerel, bonita, red drum, sharks and, in season, grouper, red snapper and others. A charter trip is an awesome gift for retirement, wedding, milestone birthday or just to treat yourself.

Prices for these adventures are great values, varying from boat to boat. It’s bring your own snacks and beverages. Daytime trips mean bring sunscreen. Evening trips often require a sweater. Your camera? Don’t go anywhere without it.