Going “Over the Bay”

Bay Boat James Carney, 1905, Point Clear, Alabama. Historic Mobile Preservation Society, William E. Wilson Collection

My sister and I burst into laughter, pointing and guffawing at the uniformed men in Mobile, Alabama’s Bankhead Tunnel, constantly waving “come on” at our cars. We sped through it almost bumper-to-bumper as our father, driving, sped out of the city onto a causeway to go “over the Bay.” Why were they always waving at us? No car was pokey, and if one of us happened to break down, well, it was a narrow two-lane tunnel. It would be one huge traffic jam! For my sister and me, watching these men constantly waving their arms was entertaining.

“Over the Bay” is one of those expressions we Mobilians often use. It simply means crossing Mobile Bay for a visit on the Eastern Shore—to a beach, to visit a friend, a restaurant, a town, etc.

Before 1927, the year the bridges and the Causeway opened, people traveled to the Eastern Shore via bay boat. These boats, like the one pictured above, brought goods to those who lived on the Bay’s Eastern Shore as well as passengers. Toll rates ranged from $3.50 to $6.00 per person. One tragic event happened on a Sunday in 1871 when a bay boat, the Ocean Wave, exploded, killing an untold number of people. Later estimates put the number of deaths at close to 100.

Boat person that I am, I enjoyed using a bay boat as a setting in one of my chapters. Mobile Bay is beautiful, especially at sunrise and sunset!

Later, the Bankhead Tunnel was built. Nowadays, the city has two, more heavily-used tunnels.

As for me, whenever I visit my hometown I always drive the Causeway through the old Bankhead. No longer is it bumper-to-bumper, and numerous fond memories flood my mind. I only wish I’d been able to take a bay boat “over the Bay,” at least once in my lifetime.


Angela Levins. “How to get to the other side? Vintage photos document storied past of Mobile’s tunnels and roadways,” Mobile Real-Time News, Updated March 6, 2019, https://www.al.com/news/mobile/2015/06/how_to_get_to_the_other_side_v.html

Angela Levins. “Quick Facts of Mobile Bay’s Tunnels and roadways with vintage photos,” Mobile Real-Time News, Updated January 13, 2019, https://www.al.com/news/mobile/2015/06/quick_facts_of_mobile_bays_tun.html

Tom McGehee, “What caused a bay boat to explode at Point Clear in the summer of 1871?” Mobile Bay Magazine, August 17, 2020

Michael V.R. Thomason and Carol Ellis, Mobile Bay: Yesterday, Today, and Forever, n.p.: Beers & Associates, LLC. 2009

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