Photo by: Tate
By: Nancy Baker Faul
In 1938, Captain Peter Martin Skremetta began a legacy, on the Gulf Coast, that is still sailing right along 85 years later. The captain had always run a shrimp boat but he saw a need that he thought he could fill. His idea was simple. He would build a boat to take coast locals and visitors to Ship Island for the day. He would pull up to the docks of local hotels, like the Tivoli, Buena Vista and the White House, and charge folks a 25 cent fee for a ride to and from paradise.
Captain Pete and his wife, Lovenia, had 8 children in tow over the years as they built their empire on the water. Times were lean and the venture new so the family had to pitch in to make sure that there would be a profit at the end of the day. When summer hit, and the kids were out of school, the entire family would pack up and move to Ship Island to take care of their interests. Captain Pete had bought part of Ship Island and wanted to make it a relaxing and welcoming place for the visitors. Captain Pete, his brother Jimmy and his boys built a bathhouse, concession, dock and a small cabin of bedrooms on the East end of the island.
The captains’ biggest haul with shrimp was recorded as the largest on the coast at 800 barrels on 4 loaded schooners in one trip. This venture in tourism would prove to be, over the years, his greatest haul in history. When the American Legion was buying up Ship Island property Captain Pete decided to give his part to the organization with one big stipulation; The Skremetta family would have sole rights to shuttle people to and from the island oasis and use the dock and facilities. In the 1960’s, the American Legion gave their holdings to the National Park Service Department of the Interior. That official transfer came with the same stipulation as before. The Skremetta Family would have sole rights just as before.
So, while “mama” and her sisters ran the concession stand and the boys helped their dad on the boat the tourists came in droves. One of those boys was Peter Matthew Skremetta. He was 7 years old when the shuttle started to the island and by age 18, he earned a place behind the wheel. He is now 81 years old and his family has kept the dream alive all these years. He is now the Captain Pete that we know today but he is quick to point out that it was his daddy that started everything. “Daddy and his brother Jimmy both ran boats at one point. Uncle Jimmy would run the Pan American out of Biloxi while Dad ran the Clipper out of Gulfport. I learned a lot from those two”, said Captain Pete. The grandsons of the elder Captain Pete are now Captains for the Ship Island Excursions and the families they have built work in the business too. Everything has been passed from son to son and it’s still one of the best deals on the coast.
If you’d like to take a trip to see the wonders of the barrier island that has been a Mecca for visitors for nearly 100 years then you can call Captain Pete and his family at 228-864-1014. Ship Island Excursions run daily with dolphins leading the way at the boats bow. You can drop by the dock at the Gulfport Harbor and visit the gift shop for information on excursion times and seasonal changes. Bring your sunscreen and listen to your captains while you’re aboard. They will keep you safe and happy as you discover one of the most fascinating islands (and families) on Earth. Bon Voyage Ya’ll!