Living

The 86-year-old Doris Mae is just like family to the Bakers

The 86-year-old Biloxi Lugger, Doris Mae, appeared at the 2017 Blessing of the Fleet for the first time in three years.
The 86-year-old Biloxi Lugger, Doris Mae, appeared at the 2017 Blessing of the Fleet for the first time in three years. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Baker Powell

Today’s Flashback features the odyssey of the Doris Mae, pictured off Deer Island sometime in the early 1960s.

Built in 1931 by Biloxi boat builder J.D. “Jackie Jack” Covacevich and named for his daughter, Doris Mae, the 46.45-foot Biloxi Lugger was originally designed and first used as a shrimp trawler.

In 1932 Captain Frank G. “Ben” Baker (1869-1947) of Deer Island purchased the Doris Mae to give to two of his sons, Arthur (1906-2000) and Ralph (1911-1992), to give them the chance to captain their own shrimp boat.

During the July 1932 Biloxi Regatta, the Doris Mae competed in a special race against five other trawlers and came out the winner. While working in 1934, lightning struck her stem and mast but, despite heavy damage, the trawler managed to bring home 73 barrels of shrimp.

In 1935 Arthur Baker purchased a house in New Orleans, had it dismantled, and carried every stick and brick on the Doris Mae to Deer Island, where it was reassembled and used as his family home. But the Doris Mae was no match for the Hurricane of 1947, which sank it in a bayou behind Henderson Point.

Following the hurricane, the Bakers raised the Doris Mae and took it home to Deer Island.

There, the trawler lay anchored for the next 12 years, only being hauled up for annual hull maintenance. In 1959 Arthur Baker, now sole owner, stripped the vessel and converted it into a deep-sea charter boat, which he and his son Frank ran for the next 23 years. The Doris Mae survived Hurricanes Betsy (1965), Camille (1969) and Katrina (2005). Camille took all of the Baker families’ Deer Island homes, and for the next few months Arthur and his family lived on the Doris Mae while searching for a new house on the mainland.

After the death of his son Frank in 1982, Captain Arthur lost heart for the charter business, and the Doris Mae remained anchored until he sold it to a family friend, Charles Stojcich, in 1991.

Upon his death in 2006, Captain Stojcich willed the boat to Arthur’s son, Captain Ronald Baker Sr. The Baker family welcomed the Doris Mae back as if it were beloved family member. Today, the 86-year-old Doris Mae can be seen in its berth at the Biloxi Schooner Pier, where it is part of the annual wooden boat show. In respect for the Doris Mae’s age, the Bakers take it out only for special family occasions.

Murella H. Powell, a local historian, writes the weekly Flashback column. Do you have a local photograph to submit to Flashback? It can be of any subject or event in the Coast’s distant or recent past. Please send a description with your name, address and phone number to Flashback, Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535; call 896-2424; or email living@sunherald.com.

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