Ships Island | The Free Range Naturist



To Georgia and Back Series: Part 8

We drive down through the length of Alabama, all the way to the coast. Lot’s of trees, lots of trees, lots of trees…


…We check into our motel in Gulfport, Mississippi and begin the quest for Cajun food. We picked the wrong day, everything is closed. There is a pizza buffet down the highway. It’s pretty good, but mostly the variety makes the fun.

 In the evening, we decide to check out the harbor and know where we’re going in the morning. We find our tour boat occupied, rented out to a group of drunken college age girls. They are lighting up the quiet night, belting out off key karaoke and rock anthems as they toast and gyrate.

 As the racket fades, the coastal lights on the water’s ripples, with its still, bring a peaceful ambiance, as we stroll arm in arm.

In the morning we’re taking this tour boat out to Ships Island and an unofficial nude beach.

We’ve planned this for Sunday, the day that there are two shuttles and we can stay out there for the extended hours, from 9 to 5pm, instead of 2:30. The plan is to turn east where most visitors go and walk until we’re away from that crowd. We don’t know how far, nor how long. We don’t want our visit to be rushed.

The pictures look like white sand and tall grass, a flat gulf coast island. We have been sure to pack umbrellas to ward off any chance of sunburn.  The word is that “the Ships Island sunburn” is famous.

The big boat pulls out of the harbor and into the smooth waters that head out a dozen miles to the barrier island. We’re entertained by the troop of sea birds diving and dipping off the stern of the vessel.

There are drinks to be had that are easy to handle, as the waters are relatively smooth. So goes the lumbering ride with its motorized droning.

We get up top and closer to the bow to enjoy the sea breeze and feel the warmth of the sun. We pass the time snapping a few pictures and considering the coastal landmarks that we are not familiar with.

I’m interested in the old fort, its construction and place in history. Its tall fortified walls rise above the island as we dock. The island has a feel, like we will be stepping off the boat and back into time.

It has the thick brick walls that were produced by a local contractor and ready for the naval artillery of the mid-1800’s.

There is a channel here that wraps around the western end of this island that allows deeper water vessels to not run aground and to port.  Because of this, this island was used to colonize the area, including New Orleans. Later, it was a staging area for conquest, with troops and supplies stored during the War of 1812. It had been strategic during the Civil War.

The fort was started during secession. The island was used to house confederate prisoners of war. My eyebrows do raise, when I discover that those prisoners were overseen and guarded by black Union soldiers. Tables turned, that must have particularly stung many of those previously captured defending slave states. It also brought things closer to home, when I read that this same black unit was later reassigned to Arizona, becoming the famous Buffalo Soldiers.

We are given a thorough tour of the fort. It is the highest thing around, probably 25, or 30 feet up and the best view. There are some relics.

There are the huge iron apparatus to turn the big guns and even an intact monumental monster of iron ingenuity.

It is explained to us that what looks like a pizza oven to feed a battalion was used to make cannon balls.

This Island was cut in two and then put back together more recently, during the occasional hurricanes and their tidal surges. Gazing from up high, I’m amazed by the picture of tidal water that my imagination produces. The entire fort was buried underwater. Where I am standing, on top, the steel storage door once held a couple of very lucky survivors of that storm.

If you are interested, there is plenty of this fort’s history to be found on the internet.

With our tour complete, we look down a three fourths of a mile long boardwalk across the marsh and a field of the tall grasses that vegetate the island.

A building at the far end is the snack bar. It is the last icy cool drink and the first upon return…free refills.

The ramp opens down to the sandy ocean side beach. There are a line of umbrellas and chairs to use. Excited families are arriving and setting up. Kids can hardly contain themselves, dads are cracking open cans of beer, inflatable toys are meeting bulging cheeks.

Our plan is to detour east of here and walk until there are no more people, or we find a population of obvious naturists. This is a seven mile long beach. It is just plain flat, everywhere. We have at least a mile of walking to get out of view of wandering activity, but that’s okay.

As we walk, we are getting away to a sense of a private island. There is no one to be seen. The waves are easy. The sky seems endless past the horizon, now in nearly every direction. 

Out in the east, not too far, there is a storm. The clouds show thunderheads. It looks dangerous, but I have checked the National Weather Service. It is all heading north, where we came from yesterday. Here we are safe in tranquility and peaceful seas.

There is more, seven miles of this. We are aware that there also can be seven miles back. We have a finite time limit. It is a shame that we can’t just stay out here, but there is no camping on the island. The stars, the solitude, the constant of the ocean waves, would make for an incredible evening.

We walk on the firm packed sand. It all feels pristine, other than occasional debris and knowing how this changes like a sandbar. With the crowd gone, we see a dark dot off in the distance, two more humans on a point of beach. We’ll have to walk to that dot and then past it that much more, to be out of visual range.

I ponder, “It’s nice to walk here, but it could be even better, nude, when yet another pair of walkers can be seen in the far distance.  As time passes, the figures appear as a birder, with a huge telephoto lens. The two women are dressed in naturalist like khaki uniforms. We have more distance to cover to escape that kind of telescopic scrutiny.

Eventually, as we are feeling kind of tired, we drop the kilt and sundress and truly begin to experience the sense of our freedom. Then, again in the very far distance, there is a black spot sitting on a far beach popoint. I squint, trying to identify it. If it is people, perhaps they are nude. Who else would walk this far?

They seem to be meditating on the beach, perhaps in a dark covering. We just can’t be sure.

At a point, we can see that it is no body, but what is it? A tent?

An old black executive chair, upon closer inspection, becomes a captains fishing chair. It is a lost fishing mishap. Barnacles are attached to the underside. I have to wonder how it may have sat with its post stuck in the sand long enough to gather barnacles.

We’ve had enough of this walking. The folding chairs come out of the bags, the towels are secured to not blow away. The cool water is about to refresh our naked bodies at long last…..

I head out of the water to rest in my chair. DF is more energetic, delighted with the beach.

I don’t remain there long, as I am invited out into the surf again. We wander out to where it is finally maybe waist deep. Suddenly something about three or four feet long zips between us. We stand stunned. It was brown. It reminded me of the dog sharks that we occasionally caught fishing in the sea up near the Chesapeake Bay, when I was a kid. It felt unnerving. I’m feeling entirely naked out here.

I head back to shore to grab a camera, while DF romps in the shallow water. She returns to “camp” grabs her goggles and runs back to the surf. I practically fall from my chair in laughter, as I watch her attempting a version of snorkeling.

She looks back to me, “What’s so funny?”

I grab an umbrella and begin a walk. The sun is intense. Even though we have good tans, I can feel the heat on my shoulders contrasting with the sea breeze, which has increased in velocity.

I explore the beach, feeling lovely alone under my mobile shade tree. I try a little personal dance, ala Fred Astaire, “Singing in the Sun.” The umbrella catches wind ala Mary Poppins.

As our plot in the sun begins to become a dot again, I decide to return. This time Robinson Caruso comes to mind.

I spot tracks in the wet sand, as I get back to the roost. This guy I’ll name Sunday, instead of Friday.

There is no one else but DF, who won’t ever be a sidekick, but as I sit, I do get a sense of being watched.

There in the sand a fellow is digging out a hole. It has stopped its labors to look at the strange being in its midst. I watch it, it watches me. It goes back to kicking sand out of its hole, occasionally stopping to watch in possible disbelief at the odd creature that has invaded its space.

After a while, taking in the moment, there is movement up the beach farther out. I thought that we would be alone. We sit in our chairs, our absolute nudity is covered by them.  Out of the corner of my eye, the coloring makes it obvious that there is a naked person in black boots coming our way. His movement seems apprehensive.

When I’m certain, I stand to welcome the stranger as a part of the club. He is looking down, as I wave. I just stand there letting him know that it is safe, that we’re alike, but he begins to walk inland into the soft sand and debris.

I continue to make my nonverbal announcement and he continues to walk around us. It is as if we are clothed and he thinks that we don’t see him, if he walks around us at ten paces.

We have made no friends. He just continues on, oddly enough. Some extreme standoffishness, covid, a desire to be alone, embarrassment, we’ll never be sure.

That old washed up, water logged fishing chair is heavy. We each grab an end and drag it slightly more ashore and set it in the sand. The post sinks well and we are certain that we have created a resting place to entertain travelers for a while to come.

Our beach chairs sink firmly into the sand. They won’t blow away. We decide to do a hand in hand, very bare in the elements, walk along the beach.

Seabirds fly, light and walk in their odd fashion on those stilty legs. A plover zips along, stops just as fast, and then moves away as we pass. Crabs walk sideways in the odd way that they do.

There are broken shells everywhere. Few are intact. There is that something about every beach, every coast, that I’ve ever wandered. It is just a good place.

We decide to make a dip. In the Pacific Ocean, we like to bounce, wave jumping, but this is a less tumultuous shallow place. We get on our knees and squat to feel the tiny waves jostle and float our bodies. It doesn’t compare, but the sensual joy, the rhythms, the occasional splash are all there.

DF timed our walk out and we need to get going to make the boat trip back. Gathering up our stuff, we hike. We have had plenty of sun today, but the umbrellas are difficult. The sun is in the southwest, our faces. The wind is from the southeast attempting to turn the umbrellas inside out. It all feels good. We just do our best.

Two jet skis go bobbing by…and I thought that we were out and away from it all.

It feels like it is about time to get dressed for the crowds, when a ranger comes by on an ATV. He is checking, making sure that nobody is left behind.

There are sodas and nachos at the snack bar and then a refill on the boat. We talk to that birder that we encountered hours before. She tells of 10,000 bird species and the 6,000 that she has found as she has traveled around the world. She has a goal for that tally before she gets too old, or dead. I think of a collection of nude outings….

Seafood tonight, as we watch the sunset.

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