Disabled shrimp boats still true to a Lowcountry way of life

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comSeptember 17, 2013 

Lady Essie and Dianie deserve better.

From across a sea of marsh grass on Hilton Head Island, the two old shrimp trawlers appear to be resting on their sides.

One was being used to pull the other out of Jarvis Creek, perhaps for one last hurrah on the big water. But they didn't make it. They ran aground in the tight creek. And now a familiar cry goes up to clean up the mess, but we know it will be easier to find a sneaker knee deep in pluff mud.

We might as well call it public art and host a gala reception on the bank. A Miss Dianie beauty pageant could raise money to put a little lipstick on boat boneyards all over the Lowcountry, where the rising tide has never lifted all the old boats.

The town of Port Royal is wrestling with three disabled shrimp boats at the dock there.

In 2006 -- after years of talk -- the state found $50,000 and Hilton Head Island chipped in $123,000 to remove 11 old boats from Skull Creek.

It was said at that time: "If they can find owners, they often turn up broke or dead."

The Lady Essie and the Dianie bake in the sun, melancholy symbols of a struggling industry that once thrived in Beaufort County waters.

The tradition is still alive, but I can remember when the picturesque trawlers were tied three abreast at local docks.

Now you have to read in books like Mary Alice Monroe's "Last Night Over Carolina" about the romance and callouses the caulky old boats represent.

H.H. "Bubba" Von Harten Jr. of Beaufort recently wrote "Little Geech: A Shrimper's Story" to save for posterity a feel for life on the waters of Beaufort and the Sea Islands. My favorite story is about a night he ran up on a boat on fire and tossed the crew a couple more fire extinguishers.

"Daddy told me, if that ever happened again, to ask if they wanted another fire extinguisher or another five gallons of gas," he wrote.

My friend Capt. Woody Collins, who these days plants cabbage instead of dragging for shrimp, has heard that hauling old trawlers offshore, burning them to the water line and sinking them would be a practical answer. He said some states make you post a bond to cover such expenses when you get a commercial fishing license.

But Capt. Woody also said we should preserve our best old wooden shrimp boats, before they all are considered nuisances, or public art.

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