THE BAY OF ST. LOUIS - Paul and Stella LaViolette stood outside the passenger cabin on board the free ferry that started running across the bay on Wednesday morning, taking in a beautiful day.
They thought the importance of restoring the link between the decimated towns of Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian was more than worth it.
"Putting the two together is putting the heart back together," Paul said.
"Psychologically, if not physically," said Stella, finishing her husband's thought.
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By its second run of the morning, the ferry was carrying capacity loads. The LaViolettes rode over on the ferry that left Bay St. Louis at 10:15.
It arrived at Henderson Point 25 minutes later, off-loaded 19 cars in five minutes, took on 21 cars and a motorcycle and left at 10:55.
Kevin Poteet was the motorcyclist who made his first trip to Pass Christian since Katrina. He was checking on cabinets being built for his new home in Lakeshore, and getting there was easier by ferry than by Interstate 10 and the little roads into town.
The size of his ride provided a prime example of how the ferry's capacity varies. SUVs and full-size trucks drive down the number of vehicles that can be fit on the Marissa Mae Nicole as the crew puts together the automobile jigsaw puzzle each voyage.
When the ferry left on its next trip from Bay St. Louis, there were 22 cars.
As usual in the ferry business, the people who are left in line are not happy.
"We operate ferries from this size to 250 cars," Hornblower Marine Services Vice President Greg Brown said. "Every one of them doesn't carry enough."
There was grumbling from some passengers that there needed to be a second ferry. Brown said the 50-minute round-trips were nearly double the transportation department's original goal of 45-minute one-way transits, although the ferry is smaller than solicited.
He said they'd be trying to refine a schedule, perhaps shifting the 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. operating hours or making other tweaks before issuing a more regular schedule.
The ferry links two of the Coast's smallest towns, and in essence becomes a little community of its own. The leisurely 6½-7 mph trip allows time for folks to get out of their cars and visit.
The Rev. Jack Rietti was headed west to get an absentee ballot for next week's election. The priest also was delivering a crucifix to a Vietnam veteran.
The Rev. Dennis Carver got on as the ferry headed back east. He'd been to St. Stanislaus to celebrate Mass on All Saints Day. His was one of 22 vehicles that boarded, in addition to two big sackfuls of Church's chicken for the four-man crew.
Some passengers had binoculars to see the sights, a little boy took his first boat ride, vans sat loaded with contractor crews, and a sunscreen concession stand could have mopped up on a beautiful day for a boat ride.
"From here, it looks like the best place on earth," said Paul LaViolette.
No trailers allowed
Mississippi Department of Transportation workers said they'd had to turn around pickup trucks with lumber that stuck out from their beds and that no trailers would be allowed.
Also, MDOT announced the ferry would run from 6:30 a.m. to noon only today. Operations will be suspended this afternoon to allow the Coast Guard to finish inspections.