The Early Years
Ship Island Excursions
Written by: Gulf Coast Gal
“How it All Started”
Ship Island Excursions has been an institution on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for almost 100 years. With a legacy like that, it’s easy to wonder how it all started.
That takes us back to Biloxi in the 1890’s where a young Croatian immigrant named Nicholas found his way over from the port of New Orleans.
New to America and armed equipped with a strong work ethic, Nick quickly found work with a man named Laz Lopez who is known as a Biloxi seafood cannery pioneer.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast looked a lot different back then. Instead of large casinos lining the coast, seafood factories and canneries were scattered along the water’s edge.
Even though Nick didn’t necessary start the charter, his actions were instrumental in making it come to life. His hard work and dedication was noticed and Lopez encouraged Skrmetta to “send more like him to Biloxi.”
And with that, Nick’s nephew, Peter Skrmetta, joined him in 1903.
In the years following, Peter Skrmetta obtained his captains license to captain fishing boats along the Gulf Coast.
As I’m sure you can imagine, the 1920’s were a WILD time along Coastal Mississippi. With prohibition well in effect on the mainland, many entrepreneurs worked to find a way around that. One thing they came up with was utilizing the local islands, one in particular, the Isle of Caprice. With the location determined, partiers needed a way to get there and they did so by local fishing boats. Capt. Pete was one of those to lend their boat to ferry visitors to and from the island.
“In the sailing boat days, captains ran excursions to our barrier islands, but there was never a regular route until 1926 when Capt. Pete Skrmetta began.”
Even though the Isle of Caprice disappeared into the sea (a story for another time), Capt. Pete saw how lucrative a venture like that was and wasted no time in working to purchase land on the East side of Ship Island in 1933. There, he ran a concession stand where he ferried passengers.
Capt. Pete made some alterations to his fishing schooner to allow for more passengers and called it the Pan American.
Around the same time, the American Legion’s Joe Graham of Gulfport purchased Fort Massachusetts land and constructed dormitories for World War I veterans and guests as well as a dance hall hosting
the banned gambling and booze. The American Legion convinced Capt. Pete to run their concession stand instead of his own.
From accounts, this lifestyle was the perfect fit for Capt. Pete. He was someone that lived life to the fullest and could “speak in seven languages and curse in 10.”
Capt. Pete was such an integral part of the creation of what is now known as Ship Island Excursions that one ship of the fleet is named after him. This is just a small part of how we continue to honor our history here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
We love sharing our history with you! Be sure to check back here for more blog posts soon!
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