She was surf fishing when she saw the boat, its nets trawling the water, its running lights bright in the ever-darkening sky, and its size made her pause, then hurry from the beach.
Terri Chabot lives in Kure Beach, N.C., close to the pier the shrimp boat was nearing Saturday, and she gambled she’d be able to run home and back before the moment passed.
The sun was setting and birds circled the boat, which, with its outriggers deployed, looked much like a pelican skimming the sea. It was under a half-mile offshore, Chabot estimated. She could not make out its name.
When she returned to the beach she brought with her a “long” lens, a recent birthday present, one she’d wanted for wildlife photography. But she’s always admired shrimp boats, and the picture she was about to take would be admired by many. She raised her camera and viewed the ship — one with Beaufort County roots — through the lens.
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She saw the boat’s name, “Catina Renea,” written in white script on its blue hull. The name sounded familiar. She thought she’d read something about it.
She had, she later realized as she edited her photos and researched the vessel.
The Catina Renea is captained by Skip Toomer, whose family has been shrimpers for generations in Bluffton and the surrounding area. The ship calls Hilton Head Island home — when it’s not criscrossing the Atlantic, it’s docked at Hudson’s Seafood on Skull Creek.
And this past summer, it almost sank.
“It burned pretty bad in July,” Toomer said during a phone interview Tuesday as he fueled the boat’s tanks in Fernandina Beach, Fla., ahead of a 12-hour voyage home.
“It was an electrical fire that ruptured the fuel lines,” he said. “It took the fire department six-and-a-half hours to put it out. It almost sunk.”
The fire on July 25 at the dock behind Hudson’s proved to be “a tough time, mentally,” for Toomer — months earlier he’d remodeled the Catina Renea and positioned himself to take a few weeks off to be with his family.
Instead, he spent about two months fixing his boat.
He’d had the boat for 14 years, having purchased it from someone in North Carolina after it was handmade by a man in Mississippi in 1989. It’s 67 feet long, Toomer said, with a steel hull and a freezer system. He’s taken it as far north as the Virginia line and as far south as Key West, and he’s sailed past the Keys and up Florida’s west coast, all the way to Apalachicola in the panhandle.
“SAVANNAH, GA.” is painted on the ship’s stern, for it used to call Tybee Island home when the shrimping was better there, Toomer said.
Now, he travels to the estuaries that produce the most shrimp, then comes back home.
On Tuesday, as he filled his fuel tanks, Toomer said he wasn’t aware of Chabot’s photos of his boat — nor how well they’d been received.
More than 500 people have liked the images of the Catina Renea she shared on Kure Beach Pier’s Facebook page. Almost 100 people shared the photos from that site.
“It was magnificent,” Chabot, who operates TLC - Tender Loving Care Photography, said of the ship. “I just couldn’t resist.”
Toomer said he had a lot of help getting his boat up and running after the fire. The community effort was “humbling,” he said. He was back on the water in September.
“Everything came together very well,” he said. “I’m doing well. The crew’s doing well. Our family’s are doing well.”
When asked Tuesday morning why she thought her pictures of the Catina Renea resonated with so many people, Chabot paused.
“In my head, it’s one of the prettiest boats I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It was larger. It looked prettier. ... I just think it’s the beauty of the boat coupled with the time of day.
“The nets. The birds. The running lights.”