Well, actually, it was more like a flat sea. For the most part. My two year journey in Charleston has been filled with a lot of day to day, with a few adventures thrown in. Gator hunting was a big one for sure, but the topper so far–going out on a shrimp boat.
I’ve seen these boats from the shore many times in my life. When I was an ocean lifeguard, I’d see them rolling out on the blue Atlantic as the sun rose higher into the sky while I set my guard stand up for the day. I’d always wanted to head out on one–because isn’t the sea filled with dreams and dreamers?
We set out at 4:30 in the morning. The air was damp and cool–it was so early, even the promise of the day hadn’t woken up yet. But the boat was bright–lighting up the dock as voices of men getting ready for the day echoed against the sound of the engines, warming up for the work ahead. As we left the dock, I could feel myself relax as I climbed up next to the captain, felt the breeze blow the thick salt air over my face, and listened to the sounds of Jimmy Buffet bounce off the deck. Surely this was a life I’d lived sometime before, because it felt like home.
As we headed out, the nets were lowered into the water. The boat rolled around a little as the power shifted from the engines to the settling nets. It was dark, but the stars were out, and before long–the first hint of daybreak appeared on the horizon. We trolled off the coast of Sullivan’s Island, Morris Island and Folly Beach as the sun made its appearance. I thought of people on land getting ready for work and traffic and noise–and was glad my feet were firmly planted on a boat at sea.
As the sun rose, the birds appeared, and I noticed the dolphins behind the boat for the first time. They were with us all day, swimming behind the nets, catching their breakfast. Meanwhile–a deck hand was cooking up shrimp and grits and biscuits for us in the galley–and the smells were incredible. From the food cooking to the salt air, combined with the birds calling out, country music on the radio, the water lapping against the boat all as the sun came up–I couldn’t remember a time I felt more at peace.
We ate as the sun cut through the sea mist and lit the side of the Morris Island lighthouse. Even the dolphins were reflecting the light of the sun as they surfaced again and again. Before long, we pulled in the first catch–and it was a pretty good one. The nets are pulled up to hang over the deck, and when they were released, the catch poured out. There were a ton of jellyfish, stingrays, a couple of sharks, various fish, and of course, shrimp. The deckhands start sorting through the pile, pulling out the shrimp, and pushing everything else back into the water. The shrimp are almost clear when they come out–and some are huge! As the sorting continued, the nets were put back in the water for another go.
The day was long, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. And I’d do it again in a second. There’s a clarity for me that can only be found when I’m off land. Working the boat that day gave me a chance to hear myself for once, instead of everyone else. We were blessed with calm seas and a good catch–and plenty of pictures that will remain frozen in my mind for years to come.