Before Hurricane Katrina devastated Gulfport Small Craft Harbor in 2005, it was a modest, busy marina with a helpful, competent, friendly staff. Now, rebuilt at a cost of $19 million and reopened in 2011, it’s a huge, gleaming marina with a helpful, competent, friendly staff. One reason: the harbormaster, George Manemann, is himself a longtime boater and, along with several other staff members, is a licensed captain. Another reason: the entire staff and owner, the city of Gulfport, take great pride in this state-of-the-art facility.
Gulfport is located midway between Mobile and New Orleans. From the Mississippi Sound Intracoastal Waterway, turn up the Gulfport Ship Channel for six miles. Then, follow the buoys just east of the commercial port — the third largest container port on the Gulf — and enter the marina.
You’ll pass the easy-access fuel dock, manned 24 hours, then pull into one of the 319 roomy slips spread over 40 acres. It took more than five years to rebuild because the city wasn’t satisfied to merely put back what was there. The docks were built with the weather in mind. “No nails, all screwed and bolted down,” explained Manemann. “So, when we get a normal storm — water rising over the docks — we can be back in business in a couple of days.”
The marina’s outline is punctuated by dramatic, tall, white structures along the docks, ornamental but also utilitarian. They house all the breakers and transformers for the dock power, raising them out of the flood zone. Walk on up to the handsome, three-story Harbor Services Building, which houses offices, with restrooms and laundry on the second floor; or ride the elevator up just for a splendid view of the whole marina area.
Gaze out at the white, sandy beach between marina and gulf, or the surrounding acres of green in 26 acre Jones Park, largest beachfront park in this gulf area. Spread a picnic, fly a kite, toss a football, or visit the playground and splash pad for young boaters. The giant, covered Barksdale pavilion is the site for year-round events (see the sidebar) and on Wednesdays, a farmers market with everything from dairy to vegetables to honey to flowers.
Look toward the highway and downtown to find convenient shops and restaurants. Right across the highway is Big Mike’s Speakeasy. Within blocks, there’s popular Half Shell or Salute Italian to name only a few favorite dining spots.
Down the highway are more restaurants, more sites. Do the glittering gulf coast casinos beckon? You can hop a Coastal Transit Authority trolley right on the marina grounds and, for just $1, ride up and down the coast for miles. By the way, marina staff walking the docks 24 hours means you can leave your boat and feel secure.
If you haven’t had enough boating, there are fishing charters or a long fishing pier from which to catch supper.
This waterfront paradise began back in 1935, when the Jones family donated bountiful acreage to Gulfport with the stipulation that it be used only for recreational purposes. No doubt they would be pleased with the results.
IF YOU GO
Events at Harbor and Jones Park: March, Harbor Fest; Eastertime, Easter Egg Hunt; April, Boat Show (largest on the gulf); May, Gulfport Music Festival (two days, name bands); November, Sun ‘n’ Sand Film and Music Fest; December, Gulfport Harbor Christmas Boat Parade. Get more info at www.gulfport-ms.gov/harbor and www.gulfcoast.org/events.
AT A GLANCE
Gulfport Small Craft Harbor
1133 20th Avenue
Gulfport, MS 39501
228-867-8721, 228-236-8070 or 228-236-8071
Monitors: Channel 16
Hours: Open 24/7
Fuel: Valvtect Marine fuels, diesel and non-ethanol gas
Water Depth: 9 to 12 feet (tide range 1.5 feet)
Slips: From 19 to 64 feet; can accommodate vessels up to 140 feet
Transient dockage: $1 per foot, per day
Services: 30/50/100 amp electricity, slip-side pumpout, restrooms, showers, laundry, ice, snacks
Getting there by water: From the Intracoastal Waterway, follow Gulfport Ship Channel north six miles; enter marina channel to the east of the commercial port at Q-R 17’-“2”; channel is buoyed to the fuel dock
Getting there by land: On gulf side of Highways 90 and 49 intersection in downtown Gulfport