with the shrimpers who’ve already finished
their early morning trawling. You could figure the age of these men and women, like
coastal oaks with their roots deep in the salt
and dusted by white sand, by the big storms
they’ve weathered. This marina is a small
world in a small town on a coast that has
The historic downtown of Ocean Springs,
rising on a slight bluff, was more-or-less
spared from the cataclysmic destruction of
Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Today it’s quietly booming, with the hipster feel of Austin,
Texas, in its infancy. Only blocks from the
marina, Government Street is growing into
a music and restaurant scene. Home to the
legacy of the famous painter Walter Anderson,
and Shearwater Pottery, Ocean Springs has
always been an arts town.
Casting off the Hatteras, McCaffrey films
footage of the big boat as he follows in the
whaler helmed by Nate, a local man-about-town and friend of the guys from the coast.
Across the entrance to the back bay as we
convoy southeast, high-rise hotels and their
casinos command the coast in Biloxi, a dif-
ferent world from genteel Ocean Springs with
her beachfront dotted with private homes
and the Ocean Springs Yacht Club.
Horn Island doesn’t appear to be much
on the approach – only 14 miles long and a
quarter mile wide with several outcroppings
of dunes, pines, and periodic oak trees. We
slide in at the “fat” west end of Horn. Almost
pure beach on three sides, giant sandy
swaths that reach out 25 yards in each direction, lee coves populated by brown pelicans,
ospreys, and a myriad of other sea birds startled only by periodic redfish in the shallows.
The southern shore pounds with surf, while
the north can be as quiet as a Pennsylvania
pond, but with water temperatures averaging
above 80 degrees in the summer, 60 degrees
in deep winter.
Solitario’s career as a painter was made
when he started painting these island scenes,
and he’s obviously ready to dig his toes in
the sand. He wants to paint, but mostly
talks of redfish and wading for oysters at the
mouth of the inner lagoons. Mayfield wants
to boat, and he’s the skipper, so we round
Horn Island to the south. At the eastern
point there’s a secluded shoreline and no
one is concerned that anyone will be there.
There’s an unwritten rule that each island
is claimed by the coastal town that lies due
north. Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian get
Cat Island; Gulfport gets Ship Island; Biloxi
gets the western side of Horn Island, and
Ocean Springs gets eastern Horn. With the
prevailing winds and currents tending to be
from the east, the western cove of Horn can
be filled with locals on weekends using it as
a lee shore in strong easterlies. But today we
have light winds.
The eastern shore of Horn is magical. The
Gulf of Mexico crashing a stone’s throw to
the south is a solid white noise behind dunes
that rise 20 feet. The perfect crystalline quartz
sand that thousands of years ago washed down
from the Appalachians rests here now awaiting
rabbit and ghost crab footprints – and ours.
Solitario sets up his easel almost immediately
in the pine straw and sand beneath a run of
pine trees that are home to massive osprey
Counterclockwise from top: A small runabout is perfect for beaching or taking crew ashore on these remote islands.
Painter Billy Solitario strikes a familiar pose with his toes in the sand and brush in hand. Ocean Springs’ Government
Street is now home to a burgeoning music and restaurant scene.