As the inshore shrimping season opened last week, one shrimp boat withstood the risk of losing thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment due to a large object getting caught in their net. The tale of their adventure is one of camaraderie among the shrimping fleet, fright and determination.

The shrimp boat, Lady J, was purchased two years ago by Dean and Pauline Blackwell, residents of the Old Village in Mount Pleasant. Their captain, Lockwood McCants Freeman IV is a first-year captain this shrimping season.

On Friday, May 24, the crew aboard Lady J left the Simmons dock on Shem Creek and traveled past the jetties to catch shrimp off of Morris Island outside of the three-mile limit. When the boat was just outside of the three-mile limit around 10 a.m., the crew started experiencing the beginning of a day full of unexpected events.

The Lady J’s steering went out at the same time the crew realized they could not get the shrimping gear back on the boat because the teeth on the gear was broken. The gear, which is located on the starboard side, had broken the teeth of the lower drum from the winch.

“I got a phone call from Lockwood sometime around 10 o’clock that morning. My wife and I basically grabbed our stuff, hooked up to our little boat, filled it up with fuel and then hit Shem Creek,” Dean said.

The Blackwells called Freeman as they were coming out of the mouth of Shem Creek to find out exactly where the shrimp boat was located. They proceeded to the three-mile limit.

“When we first got out there Troy Cooper, our deckhand, got on our little boat with my wife and I got on the big boat. We spent the next three or more hours trying to figure out a way to get our gear back on board still not knowing what was on the bottom,” Dean said.

The Blackwells estimate if they had to replace the gear that was attached to the cleat completely they were looking at around $5,000. The gear included the boat’s shrimp net, the bag, a turtle exlcuder device (protects turtles from getting caught in the nets), the doors and the tickler chain.

At the time, the gear was still attached to the boat, which had spun around to the windward side taking on the force of the wind and waves causing the boat to list hard toward the starboard side.

Dean said it was listing so hard to the point where he didn’t want to lose the boat so he had to make a decision to cut the cables that were attached to the doors and nets. The crew had a line attached to the gear, which they tied to the cleat on the rear of the Lady J.

“What that allowed us to do is let the tide spin the boat so instead of taking on the brunt of the wind and the waves we were more stable and I wasn’t concerned of capsizing,” Dean said. “At that point Wayne (Magwood) had finished his drag and came over and rescued us. He tied onto the bow of the boat and we started heading back to Shem Creek. We returned to the harbor through the jetties. The focus was to get back to calmer waters so we had a better and safer opportunity returning the gear to the boat.”

The Blackwells said everything was calm once they got the gear cleated to the boat; the boat was more stable and Magwood was able to hook up to them and bring them in. They guess that at this point it was already 3:30 p.m.

“It was definitely scary for everybody involved. It was not an easy thing to do or easy decisions to make. You had to keep your cool,” Pauline said.

“In a situation like that it’s extremely important that you stay calm because you’re out there and anything could happen at any moment. Somebody could go overboard or somebody could get hurt,” Dean said. “The focus was to try to hold onto the gear at all costs but not the cost of the crew or the boat.”

“The unfortunate thing is when we got back into calmer waters, we were basically right off the (Southern) tip of Sullivan’s Island. When we got back there the decision was made to go ahead and uncleat the gear, take the line off the cleat and hook it up to the winch and start trying to bring the gear on board of the boat,” Dean said.

As the crew started the winch, there was so much tension that it pulled the rope off the winch, through the block and straight out the back of the boat. Dean said they couldn’t hold it against the tension and they lost the gear.

“At that time Troy was on our little boat behind us and he was able to get over to where the rope was and pick it up. Miracle number one,” Dean said.

But as Troy drove the boat up to the Winds of Fortune to give them the line to pull the gear up, the wind and waves were extremely rough.

“He was not only trying to pilot the boat, hold the rope, grab the other rope and unfortunately he got caught up in the tow line which almost flipped the little boat with him in it. So, he had to let go of it which I understood completely,” Dean said.

Pauline said it was too much for one person on a boat by themselves and that he did a fantastic job keeping his cool and didn’t need to be told what to do.

“Troy was a blessing to have at that time because it is so chaotic. It is so scary because literally someone could drown or get hurt. But Troy did an amazing job,” Dean said. “And Wayne ended up towing us all the way back to the dock and put us back into our berthing area. Wayne was a godsend.”

Troy and Dean stayed out doing circles on the tip of Sullivan’s Island searching for the polymer rope that was tied to the nets. If not under tension, a section of polymer rope will float up to the surface of the water. They spent the next hour and a half circling the area trying to find the line.

“We found it amazingly enough along the left side or port side of the boat. I told Troy ‘there it is’, we turned around and we lost it that fast,” Dean said.

They spent another hour or so searching for the rope before they saw it again.

“This time when we found it, I told Troy ‘There it is off to the left.’ And Troy jumps in the water and grabs this rope and is literally hanging onto it so we don’t lose it again,” Dean said. “I took over the helm of the boat, spun around and got him in the boat, tied it off and we hugged each other so tightly I swear I told my wife I thought he broke a couple of ribs.

At this point they still assumed the rope was only connected to their gear that had come off of the Lady J at the three-mile limit. They secured the line to the little boat and called Magwood who came back out of Shem Creek on his boat to rescue their gear.

Freeman was aboard the Winds of Fortune with Magwood and they took the line. Using three ropes and the winch of the boat they began working to get the gear out of the water. Dean said they were having a lot of problems but still only thought they were pulling gear out of the water. Suddenly, out of the water emerged a massive anchor caught up in the tickler chain. Dean said when the anchor first started coming out of the water with the gear everyone was in elation, taking pictures as it came out of the water appearing larger and larger.

“Everyone thought it was worth thousands of dollars. Everyone’s brains were going a mile a minute. Like oh my gosh, this is going to be like winning the lottery. Unfortunately that is not the case at all but that would have been nice,” Pauline said.

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Wayne Magwood (left) captain of Winds of Fortune and Lockwood McCants Freeman IV, captain of Lady J (right) work to pull the anchor out of the water.

Dean explained the anchor was getting caught on the rail as they tried to pull it over the side of the boat, so they used plastic sorting boards to pry the gear off the side of the boat. Magwood, Freeman and the crew pulled it all the way onto the Winds of Fortune and carried it to the dock.

Magwood went shrimping with the anchor sitting on his deck the next morning. Dean and his father-in-law went to meet him at the old Magwood dock in Shem Creek that is now the boat storage area off of Haddrell Street. Dean said the guys that put boats in the water were nice enough to move the anchor off the Winds of Fortune and laid it onto a trailer.

The Blackwells said they are especially thankful for Freeman, Troy, Magwood, Jordan Miller (deckhand on Winds of Fortune), Wayne Pye and one other gentleman on the Winds of Fortune for their help rescuing their boat and gear. Dean said they were instrumental in three areas.

“Number one being safety and they got the Lady J back to the dock. Number two, Wayne used his crew to get our gear up on his boat. Number three, he came back out to us to help us get our gear back. His fuel, his time, his guys,” he said. “Without Wayne’s help we would have been stuck out there. We would have to call the coast guard. My little boat probably could have pulled us (the Lady J) in, but not hooked to the gear, much less to this anchor. We would have lost everything.”

“That’s basically the value of this anchor, is that story,” Pauline said. “It’s cost us money, but the repairs that we have to do even with saving the equipment is running around $2,000 versus the $5,000 that we could have lost.”

The Blackwells have to go to Florida to see Billy Burbank to fix their turtle excluder device.

“If we had lost the gear completely we would have been out of the water for three weeks minimum because it would take them that long to fabricate the doors. Unlike a lot of the other shrimp boats, the Lady J has metal doors instead of wooden doors,” Dean explained.

The big items the Blackwells have to fix are the broken gear and the broken hydraulic ram for the steering of the boat. They have a spare turtle excluder device, net and bag that they will use while the other gear gets repaired. They’re hopeful if they get these things fixed by Wednesday, they will be back in the water by Saturday, June 8.

The anchor made the Lady J unable to catch shrimp during the first week of inshore shrimping season. Pauline explained that it’s not too uncommon for a shrimp boat to pull these anchors up. They have been hearing lots of ideas about the history behind the anchor and she laughed that everyone in town is becoming a historian.

They have reached out to the Charleston Museum, the Hunley, the Maritime Museum in Georgetown and other outlets to try to find out the history of the anchor. The Maritime Museum in Georgetown has almost the same anchor, but the Blackwells said they don’t have the floor space for another nautical piece this large.

The anchor is nearly 12 feet long from the top to bottom; 77 inches from side to side and the eyelet is 21 inches in diameter from outside to outside of the ring. Dean estimates that the anchor weighs 1,500 pounds or more. The tickler chain along the bottom of the net is what got caught around the anchor, initiating the complications with the gear.

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The anchor aboard the Winds of Fortune.

Dean found an anchor online that looks similar in size and weight to what they found. He said this is just the basic research they have done and that the website says that anchor is from a 16th or 17th century sailing ship.

They are awaiting a response from an archaeologist at the Charleston Museum who has forwarded on the anchor’s information to others.

“I was really hoping to get somebody out here to take a look at it to give us some solid history on it. But it just doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case,” Pauline said.

The Blackwells don’t have any plans for the anchor at this point and it’s sitting on a trailer at their home. Dean said preservation of the anchor is extremely expensive and either has to be done under a charge in freshwater or put back in saltwater. They would like to find someone who would pay as much for it as their equipment repairs are costing them. Or, they said if they found someone who wanted it that could incur the cost of preserving it to put it on display, they’d be interested.

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The anchor, estimated to be from the 1600-1700 era is now in the Blackwell’s garage on a trailer.

“To have the opportunity to pull one of these up and hear some of the other shrimpers out there who have said ‘I’ve worked my whole career and never pulled one up’. Or ‘wow that’s huge I’ve only pulled this up’. Or the stories of the guys who were hooked on something and didn’t know what it was but it could have been a big anchor like that,” Dean said.

The couple has enjoyed showing the anchor to neighbors and friends. They said kids love looking at it that lots of people have come by to take pictures of it.

“To have a piece of history, if it is from the 16th or 17th century, sitting under my carport in 2019, well that’s just amazing,” Dean said.