GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulf Coast residents and tourists will soon have the chance to explore coastal Mississippi on a historic boat.
The 85 foot paddle wheeler, named Betsy Ann, is docked at the Gulfport Harbor. The boat was built in 1989 and is a replica of a paddle wheeler with a rich maritime history.
Michael White is in the process of restoring it and turning it into a one of a kind tour boat.
"It was built as a tribute to the original Betsy Ann, which was the first steel hull steam wheeler on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers," said White.
The Betsy Ann is capable of carrying 150 passengers. White and his wife Dayna, both Gulfport natives, are working on putting together sunset dinner cruises with live entertainment.
The plan is to dock the boat between Golden Nugget and Margaritaville at Biloxi's Point Cadet Marina.
"We plan on doing historical and ecological tours. It will be a two hour tour.That will be during the daytime. We'll do sightseeing tours at Deer Island, talking about the history of the Gulf Coast, the Barrier Islands, the Mississippi Sound and the seafood industry," according to White.
Cruises will not only ferry passengers between the casinos and Deer Island, the hope is to have the Betsy Ann take visitors along the beach front and into back bay and the boat will be available for private bookings for events such as weddings.
White is a former tug boat captain who worked on the Mississippi River. He recalled seeing modern paddle wheelers and always dreamed of having one of his own.
"When I bought it, I cried. I was pretty emotional," White said
There's a certain romance to the wheel turning and water dripping off the paddles. People have already booked weddings aboard the boat. As captain, White will have the authority to officiate ceremonies.
The Betsy Ann could be a unique addition to the tourism scene in South Mississippi. All that remains is final Coast Guard Approval.
White expects to have to Betsy Ann on the water sometime in January.