Shrimp Boat Tour Returns Amid Hurricane Debris

Corrie Eleuterius greeted the first tour bus to pull into his dock area in almost six months.

"Good morning," the shrimp boat operator said.

The bus driver quickly responded, "Good morning." He brought a busload of Wisconsin snowbirds over from Gulf Shores. They became the first shrimp boat passengers since Katrina.

When one woman heard about this being their inaugural trip since the storm, she exclaimed, "Wonderful."

Eleuterius walked from the bus to the bow of his vessel. He greeted his guests at a pier that just five and a half months ago was submerged in about 30 feet of water. When he pointed to a spot on the building next door where you could see the water line, a passenger simply said, "Wow."

Eleuterius was glad to have his vessel back in calm waters. Still, he had this warning for his inaugural guests.

"I haven't got a clue what's going to be out there," he said.

Before Eleuterius dropped his shrimp net, he took a side trip behind Hard Rock and Beau Rivage. His passengers looked on in disbelief as they passed a smashed up casino barge. Elaine Kolden took pictures of the devastation.

"We saw all this on TV back at home last fall," she said. "And it isn't the same."

Kolden came to Biloxi because of "curiosity. I guess it's one of those things where you just have to see it for yourself to really believe that it happened," she said.

Eleuterius tried to treat this voyage like it was any other trip. It wasn't easy.

"I'm going to be honest with you," said Eleuterius. "Nobody is going to be more surprised at what we catch today than me."

So when a piece of wood from a damaged home came out of the water, Eleuterius laughed.

"There's one of your little treasures, how about that," he told the group.

Moments later, he almost got upset that his net had no shrimp.

"Well rats," he exclaimed, angry that the trip produced no results.

His wife was a lot more upbeat.

"It's great to be back out here," Virginia Eleuterius said as she steered the shrimp boat through the Biloxi channel.

It was a chilly Monday morning in February. And the couple was doing what it loved.

"You have to start somewhere," Mr. Eleuterius said. "You have to put one foot in front of the other. To walk a mile, you have to take the first step."

Step number one was launching the tour boat. Step two was finding passengers.

The Wisconsin group made reservation a year ago, and didn't want to cancel them. The snowbirds could have skipped this trip and stayed in their Gulf Shores winter hideaways. But tour organizer Sue Harmon said they had to come here and see Katrina's fury for themselves.

"There aren't words to describe what we've seen," she said.

Harmon is a regular coast visitor with a stepson living in south Mississippi.

"It's not the warm, fuzzy place that we've come to for quite a few years," she said.

It's become a city with a messed up skyline. But with the Eleuterius' steering the ship, the Wisconsin crew is sure Biloxi will come back to life.

"Biloxi has come a long way," Mrs. Harmon said, "doing a good job."

Corrie Eleuterius has a few more Monday trips scheduled with other Wisconsin snowbirds. Sometime in March, he'll invite the general public back on board the Biloxi Shrimping Boat.