Photos: Ship Island excursion off the Mississippi Gulf Coast _lowres

A privately-run ferry service shuttles day trippers to West Ship Island daily from March through the end of October.

Friday finally was supposed to be the day ferry rides to Ship Island launched after the coronavirus shutdown — but then Tropical Storm Cristobal blew those plans out of the water.

Now the National Park Service is saying it could be weeks before the storm damage is repaired and ferry service to Ship Island can begin for the year.

“The good news is the Gulf beach and the beach in front of Fort Massachusetts are in good shape,” said Louis Skrmetta, whose family operated Ship Island Excursions. “They weathered the storm very well.”

Ship Island excursions to the island off the Mississippi Coast typically begin around St. Patrick’s Day and the boats carry 50,000 people a season to the island’s white sand beaches and clear Gulf water.

Memorial Day to early August is peak season for the company, Skrmetta said. They already missed three months of business — including Memorial Day Weekend — to coronavirus.

“We finally get the green light from the Park Service to open and then we get hit by Cristobal,” Skrmetta said.

The bad news, said Brent Everitt, public affairs specialist for Gulf Islands National Seashore, is Cristobal caused more extensive damage to the ferry landing dock than Hurricane Nate in 2017. During Nate, two sections of the dock were damaged, he said, while seven sections of the pier are missing and decking is damaged after Cristobol’s wind and waves on June 7.

The other barrier islands are now open but Ship Island remains closed and Everitt said it could take weeks before people can return.

“The closure is expected to last for some time due to the contracting process and lead-time for lumber supplies,” the NPS posted on social media Friday. “We are using every mechanism available to accelerate the process as best as possible.”

Everitt said the chief of facilities for the park went out to Ship Island to see if temporary repairs can be made. The NPS has some emergency powers to speed things up, he said, but he anticipates the repairs will take weeks.

“It is our top priority of the park at this point,” he said.

PEOPLE EAGER TO RETURN

Skrmetta said temporary repairs have been done after other storms to get the ferries operating quickly.

“We’re getting hundreds of inquiries a week,” he said, and they had 250 passengers booked for this first weekend that now have to be rebooked or refunded.

His company is offering dolphin cruises to stay in business.

Ship Island is one of the most popular attractions in South Mississippi and is one of the tourism offerings that lets the Coast compete with the beaches of Alabama and Florida, he said.

ISLAND WORK

Cristobol’s waves that damaged the dock actually added some sand to the south side of the island, Everitt said.

The Army Corps of Engineers will start work Monday on additional restoration of the island where the Camielle Cut that split the island in the 1969 hurricane was joined last year.

The month-long project will place about 300,000 cubic yards of sand along the north shoreline of Ship Island, near Fort Massachusetts.

Erosion has reduced the area between the fort and the sound to only a few feet in places, according to a press release, and this latest restoration project will help protect the fort.

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company will use heavy equipment to shape and direct the flow of sediment from the pipeline to that area of the island.