Published: November 2014 – Southern Boating
© 2014 Troy Gilbert
As the first cool fronts make their way down from the north and with the holidays right around the corner, the second major boating season kicks in on the Northern Gulf Coast. Flatboats and pirogues are readied and ponds in the marshes are scouted. Fishermen head out for those big reds and trout that got away over the summer and the oystermen fan out from the coast to bring in those salty mollusks so necessary for this coast’s holiday celebrations.
Thanksgiving and Christmas on the Gulf Coast have always featured time honored traditions incorporating boating and holiday meals that reach back to subsistence fishing and hunting. It’s hard not to notice the flatboats covered in fresh marsh grass on Thanksgiving morning in New Orleans’ Garden District with hunters rushing in their camouflage gear to get the smokers started. Drive the coast of Mississippi and boats skippered by “paw paws” and grandfathers are eased back onto their trailers as the proud and sleepy grandkids are ready for a nap from their quick morning of trawling for the day’s shrimp. On the bayou’s of Alabama, crab traps are raised and early morning trout are cleaned while the luggers in Apalachicola bring in those all important oysters.
As family’s descend on their gathering spots on the coast from Pass Christian to Bon Secour and from New Orleans to Clearwater, the kitchens and the “men’s” kitchens out back come alive. Recipes handed down from generations long past are taught and shared to the next in line. The number of oysters in this year’s dressing is marked on the handwritten recipe that now scrolls back fifty years. Empty shotgun shell casings and old tangled fishing line are placed with moss, green mirlitons and heirloom crystal candleholder centerpieces while the smell of redfish courtbouillon and laughter permeates the houses. Out back, brothers and uncles sip on cold beer while their sons and daughters watch as mallards wrapped in bacon are smoked to perfection – the black labs waiting for that one dropped bird.
On piers and docks, oysters are charbroiled while perhaps a brisk cold wind whips down across the sounds and bays making the boats pop the water in a building chop while sailboat stanchions clink. The windows of the houses all beam with the yellow warm light of families and friends gathered, their cars parked in the lawn underneath sprawling oaks next to a few boat trailers holding license plates that state Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
While the arriving winter means many boaters across the country prepare to put their boats to bed under cover for the inevitable snow and ice, on the Gulf Coast and throughout the South, boating springs to life in a second season. Away from the summer waterskiing, regattas and the heat of waiting on that tuna to bite offshore, many might say that it’s the more important boating season.