. . . Coastal Living January 2003 featuring Sailaway Charters!
Miss Janet cruises westward into Longs Bayou and slows to 5 knots as the 53-foot pontoon boat nears an oyster reef.While Captain Skip's narrative booms through the speakers, the guests on board get a good look at Wolf Bay and its diverse wildlife. Everyone shifts to the front of the boat for a "tonging" demonstration.
The Captain's first mate, wife Janet, gathers oysters with what looks like two giant rakes joined together.Tonging is the only legal way to take oysters-aside from using your hands-in Alabama public oyster reefs.After a few test runs,Janet plucks a handful from the bed.While most of the guests declare they've seen an oyster shell,brows wrinkle when Janet explains that this bivalve has the ability to change sex.She offers more tidbits about the creature's life cycle and answers questions from cruisers.
John Beebe,a.k.a.Captain Skip,and Janet opened Sailaway Charters in 1995.After sailing from his home in San Diego through the Panama Canal, stopping in ports along the way-including one in Guatemala,where he met and married Janet-Skip docked in Orange Beach,Alabama.
At first, the couple offered only sailing excursions aboard their 48-foot ketch, Windy Ways. "I noticed the kids just weren't having a good time," says Skip. "And the adults were letting me baby-sit because they thought the cruise was great." To please guests of all ages, Skip bought Miss Janet and expanded the business to nature cruising.
According to Skip, Bottle-nosed dolphins are common sights around these parts. But on this day, they remain unseen. Instead, the passengers admire a variety of birds taking off and landing in the marshes. "There goes a brown pelican," says Janet. "And to your left, that's a Royal tern."
The boat reaches its next destination--a bright orange buoy marked with an "S" for Sailaway Charters. Janet lifts a metal cage containing two blue crabs, each with gigantic pinchers attached to the bars. Fearlessly, Janet grabs one of the skittish creatures and flops it on its back. "This little guy is actually a girl," she says. "She has a round underside, and a male has more of a T-shape." Dodging a grab from the feisty female, Janet lets her loose over the side.
As the boat putters into deeper waters, Skip joins the group at the rear. He reaches into a bucket and produces two wood panels attached to the mouth of a large, funnel-shaped net. Skip explains that the weighted doors keep the net spread, allowing for maximum catch. Janet takes the helm and the net stretches open. Seagulls flock near the boat, anticipating a great snack.
After a few minutes of trawling, Skip hauls in the net and empties its contents into a seawater tank on board. Janet digs her hands into the tank. Everyone stiffens as she sifts out tiny jellyfish and tosses them back overboard. She tells everyone not to worry; they're sea walnuts and don't sting.
Once the tank is free of the sea walnuts, visitors spot shrimp of all sizes, as well as silver eels, ribbonfish, and squid. "Oh, here's a puffer," Janet says with a squeal. "This is my favorite fish. When their bellies puff, they feel like marshmallows." She turns it over to reveal a soft underside that expands when tickled. Janet gently releases the puffer into the water. The guests watch in fascination. Everybody seems to be having a good time, and nobody needs baby-sitting.
Dolphins bound alongside Sailaway Charters' 53-foot excursion boat, the Miss Janet, as it passes through Wolf Bay and Longs Bayou near Alabama's Gulf of Mexico. Seabirds collect overhead as master captain, Skip Beebe, muscles his shrimp net into the boat. Tourists collect behind Skip, politely positioning themselves and their cameras.
Skip makes one last lounge, pulls the shrimp net onto the boat, and empties the contents of his catch into a huge aquarium. He puts the net away and returns to his command post on a plateform high above the boat while his wife and first mate, Janet relieved of her command, desends the plateform and heads toward the day's catch. Within minutes she is displaying unusual creatures like anchovies, catfish, stingrays and ocean gar. Tha "oohs" and "aahs" continue as she holds up a toothy lizardfish, followed by a giant shrimp and a praying mantis shrimp.
Bayou-cruising is not the first subject that comes up when Gulf Shores or Orange Beach, Alabama come to mind. White sand beaches seafood restaurants and championship gulf courses are. This could change with Miss Janet, an untarnished diamond that is starting to show its gleam. I had the opportunity to cruise on the craft this past October. I can't remember ever experiencing so much beauty and so much nature, squeezed into a two-hour period. All this just a dolphin's swim from Orange Beach.
Skip and Janet Beebe are two of the best-conditioned athletes on the planet.The maneuver through the boat like they were doing morning exercises, treating more than 30 tourists to a nature cruise through their backyard estuaries. They are a free-spirited couple, banter with each other in a loving way,work well as a team, and are a joy to spend an afternoon with. Their energy level is contagious and, before long, tourists become deckhands who experience marsh grass, pelicans, blue herons, dolphins, oysters, blue crabs, and shrimp close up and personal. No one gets bored.
While Skip maneuvers the excursion boat, he tells his guests the history of the bayou and what to look for. He is informative and easy to listen to. In time, Janet directs Skip to an oyster bed near some marsh grass. While Skip maneuvers, Janet stands on the front of the boat with 9-foot wooden scissor-like oyster poles that sport long-like teeth on the end. When the time is right, Janet heaves the weapon into the marsh water, clamps the tongs together, and hoists up 2 or 3 oysters. She then maneuvers through her excited guests and gives them a five minute natural history lesson while the guest get to touch and hold the oysters if they wish. After the oyster demonstration, Janet throws the creatures back into the water and directs Skip to another section of the bayou. During the ride, both Skip and Janet are identifying pelicans, blue herons, terns, laughing seagulls, dolphin and whatever creatures choose to appear that day.
Skip maneuvers to another spot and Janet assumes her position in the front of the boat. At a given signal, Janet reaches into the water and pulls up a metal trap. Tourists flock to her end of the boat again to view the half dozen blue crabs crawling along the inside of the cage. janet explains the history of crabbing and allows tourists to examine the catch and take pictures. She then returns the crabs to their natural habitat.
Skip and Janet met 12 years ago at a bus stop in Guatemala, Janet's home country, while Skip was in the process of sailing from San Diego to the Gulf of Mexico. Their combined youth, vitality, and enthusiasm created an explosion that has since settled into a charismatic partnership. To them, Sailaway Charters, is both a business and a fun way to spend time on this earth. And for two hours on an excursion boat through Long's Bayou and Wolf Bay, they share this joy with anyone interested in tonging for oysters, or handling giant praying mantis shrimp.
BIRMINGHAM Magazine : Aug. 2007
BAY BOATING AL. All ages enjoy getting out on Wolf Bay with Capt. Skip of Sailaway Charters in Orange Beach. On one of his nature-oriented "Skips Trips," he'll pull in a shrimp net, which often attracts dolphins, seagulls and pelicans with it's by-catch of, fish, crabs and other marine life. His two hour tour also includes an oystering demonstration.
July 2007 Skip, hopes this finds you well. Just to let you know we had a great time on your boat last Tuesday. My sister is down there this week , and I told her about you. Hopefully she can make the trip. I told a customer , Linda Thacker from Portageville Mo. , about our experience on your boat. I am emailing her your info tonight as she is bringing 12 family members. This Friday. We are planning to come back next year, and look forward to another boat trip.
Best Wishes, Stacy Volkerding & Family
April 2007: Dear Captain Skip:
We were on your nature tour last week, and we enjoyed it so much! Our 2 1/2 year old can't stop talking about the dolphins, crabs, oysters, pelicans, and shrimp that he saw during our outing. Thank you for a wonderful vacation experience. The Cohron family: Wes, Tricia, Cooper, and Carter.
P.S. We grilled the shrimp, and they were fantastic!
Dear Skip and Janet,
I don't know if you remember, but I was in the tour group last Tuesday from 3-5pm. (My mother, sister and her husband and two children were also on the tour). I wanted to specially thank you for the great nature tour. It was quite unique and enjoyable. I especially appreciated your enthusiasm and excellent information you shared with us about the bay and bayou areas, which made for a good tour.
hi sailor skip,
my name is mariah berry. i went on your boat friday, maybe you remeber me. well anyway, i had a wonderful time. you and miss janet really entertained me and my cousins. i loved when miss janet released our catches from the shrimp net. i really hope that the next time i'm in orange beach, i will go again. thank you for the wonderful time. I had a blast!!!!!!! sincerely yours,
2 Hour Nature Tours aboard "Skips Trips
oystering crabbing, dolphin watching....narrated.
Explore Longs Bayou and Wolf Bay on this narrated nature tour with
Capt. Skip. This is fun for the entire family...all
ages. You'll see and identify: oysters, blue crabs, shrimp, and
a variety of fish and birds. You might even see dolphin on the
2 hour trip in protected waters. This is a hands on trip. This
is much more than just another dolphin cruise. It's a fun, informative,
learning experience! Rates: 2 hour trip (including: oyster, crabbing and shrimping) $150 = $25 per person based on 6 passengers. 1 hour (shrimping only) trip $100 = $16.67 per person based on 6 passengers.
Welcome aboard Skips Trips
Skip is a USCG Master Licensed Captain. For departure times and reservations: (251)
974-5055 Skip or Janet. E-mail: email@example.com. Sailaway Charters is at 24231 Gulf Bay
Rd. Go one mile north on Gulf Bay Rd. on right side. Gulf Bay
Rd. runs north off Canal Rd, between Foley Beach Express and Hwy.
161 in Orange Beach