When the 502 foot ship first sailed through the Mississippi Sound in January, 1989, owners threw a party. When it left Friday morning, just 30 people stood on Port of Gulfport docks to say goodbye.
Sam Washington was one of the people who watched the ship leave town. "You know I've got mixed emotions about seeing it leave," he said.
So did its old owner.
Rick Carter called said the ship's final farewell bittersweet. "We've had some highs and lows with it," he said. "But I'm glad to see she's going away." Carter was part of the team that brought the ship from Greece to Gulfport. "I took delivery of that ship in Greece in December 1988," he remembered. "It has been very good to us."
Back when the coast only offered daily cruises to no where, Carter's vessel dwarfed its competition. It was called the Pride of Mississippi. And it offered casino action and entertainment on the high seas.
In November, 1989, the Pride moved to Texas. But she came back to Gulfport after owners helped convince Harrison County voters to approve dockside gambling. "She served her purpose. And now maybe she can serve her purpose for somebody else," Carter said.
The Copa Casino's new barge made the ship obsolete. So T&L Equipment out of Louisiana bought it as an investment. David Ridgeway represented T&L at the port docks. He said the ship's future had two possibilities. "She would be used as another casino somewhere in the Caribbean. The other alternative," said Ridgeway, "is she'll be taken overseas for scrap."
Either way, the ship will be nothing more than a fond memory for the Copa Casino's close knit staff. "I know it's a good thing that it's leaving," Sam Washington said, before somebody took his picture with the ship heading out to sea. "But on the other hand, it's kind of sad, too."
Tow boats pulled the old Copa ship to a port outside Mobile. A few days from now, it will be brought to a dock in Pascagoula. And that's where it will stay until the new owners decide what to do with the vessel.