No. 30–Personal History and the Horseshoe Crab

As I began work on a column on horseshoe crabs I was taken on a memory ride back some twenty five years to my first unforgettable encounter with the creatures and the series of events that led to it. I ask the reader’s indulgence as I recount the journey that led me onto the waters of Port Royal Sound for the first time.

It all centers around the too soon departed and still missed Sam Boylston. Sam became my friend, in some ways my estuarine mentor, soon after my arrival in Beaufort. In the first year or so of our acquaintance Sam introduced me to the mysteries of the estuary and provided a roof over my head, such as it was, when I needed one.

More staid Beaufortonians will recall Sam as an eccentric, to his friends he was a beloved character. He was a first rate portrait artist who didn’t like to paint, had an IQ bordering on genius, and he was a shrimper.

I had been in town about six months working as a freelance graphic artist, part time entertainment promoter, and art vendor in the waterfront park farmers market where I met Sam. One afternoon he asked if I would help him turn his 20 foot Sea Ox (that’s a boat) into a shrimp trawler. I later learned that every local waterman he had approached had declined being a part of such a crazy idea. Hey, I was from Oklahoma, what did I know?

Over the next three months we outfitted that boat with a center mast, outriggers, winch and tackle and two 35 foot nets. This was in the time before the sounds were closed to commercial shrimping and Sam had reasoned that we could drag where the big boats couldn’t go on low water and with our 200 h.p. engine, we could beat them to the best spots for each day’s official sunrise start time.

We caught shrimp at first but it was an ill-fated and short lived fall season with winterkill having seriously depleted the spring spawning stock. With the boat on the hill, (shrimper talk for not working it) Sam took a portrait commission and Ginga Pingree hired me to do the interior design, remodeling, logo design, and outdoor signage for Precious Cargo (now Lowcountry Real Estate) on Bay St. with Sam helping with the construction. The money from that job put me on the road for the last great adventure in the old psychedelic Rambler some may recall.

I returned eight months later with a half tank of gas, two quarts of oil, and enough money for a vodka tonic and tip for “pretty Linda” at the Yankee. The first month or so back I sold my art work in the farmers market and slept in the Rambler. Even though he didn’t like “hippie” me much at the time, old John Griffin allowed me to use the marina facilities because I was a friend of Sam’s. Downtown beat cop, Tom Henry, said he didn’t have a problem with the arrangement as long as no one complained. Those were the days.

One early morning, disheveled me exited the Rambler to come face to face with a horrified seventyish boat transient woman with blue hair and a pink poodle that was doing its business next to a picnic table at the west end of the waterfront promenade. That afternoon Tom came to inform me there had been a complaint and that my sojourn in the park was over. As fate would have it, dear Dottie McDaniel was visiting when Tom laid down the law and said I could park for a time in her back drive on Port Republic in exchange for doing yard work.

In a short time I had saved a few dollars and was selling enough art work to move into a spacious room at the Beaufort Inn (the old quirky one) at $10 a night. That old building didn’t contributed much to the economy but it had genuine character and gave comfortable shelter to low-renters like me. The morning sun once warmed my limbs where one may now savor morning strawberries and cream in elegance.

Sam had married and become a landlubber in my absence and was yearning to get back on the water. The problem was he couldn’t work the boat by himself. If I would strike for him for the coming season (shrimp boat crews are called strikers because they strike the nets) I could live in the work shed behind his house on Sunset Bluff. I did the math of $10 a day rent equaling $300 a month and agreed.

The fall white shrimp season of ’81 dawned cloudy, cool and damp as we tooled around and amid the big boats towering over us in the fog at the start line. The secondhand struck the appointed hour with a din of diesels and the assembled stacks belching black smoke into the morning light. We responded with the roar of our Merc 200 and a flat out sprint to the mouth of Parris Creek