Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Oatland Island's Storied Past is a Story Worth Telling...

Image courtesy Oatland Island

 Who knew? 

Oatland Island, which can be viewed from Richardson Creek on an Island Shuttle Boat Tour, has a long and fascinating history. In the 1700s and 1800s, it was a plantation, undoubtedly worked by slaves. In 1927, it was the location of a home for retired Railroad Conductors. (In "Once Upon an Island" by Elizabeth Carpenter Piechocinski,  Walter "Cork" Shaaf recounts those old conductors fixing nets and fishing rigs for him and the other children living on the island.) In 1941, it became a home and research facility for women and children with syphilis and other STDs. In 1945, penicillin eliminated the need for that function, and the old building became a component of what we now call the CDC. 

And it was there that the No Pest Strip (marketed by Shell if memory serves) and the flea collar for pets was invented! After the CDC consolidated facilities in Atlanta, the property was deemed excess and was given to the local school system. School children have enjoyed learning about the natural world there since the early 1970s, and I have picked up groups at their dock on Richardson Creek with Michael Neal and Bull River Cruises in conjunction with Kelly Tours. 

As I wind through these backwater creeks, I learn more and more that every place you see has a story. Chasing those stories down, and sharing them, is great fun!

Click here to learn more...

Shrimping Life...

Continuing a proud tradition! (image by the author)
During the middle decades of the 1900s, an entire fishing industry grew up in our region. Hundreds of shrimping trawlers were built and put into service--many of them from the DESCO boat company in St. Augustine Florida--and thousands of men were provided employment as they brought food to the nation's table. Our favorite Captain, Clyde Carrell "Buddy" Lee spent about twenty years of his working life aboard these vessels and tells of legendary characters who plied the waters and lived the life. Here's another account of that life, from another "Buddy,"
"In summers, I had the opportunity to accompany Hugh Burrows out on the Pinta for all-day shrimping in the offshore Atlantic waters. These excursions were always memorable, but we worked hard. Bobo was not into providing pleasure cruises, if you went fishing with him, you earned it.
We helped with the nets, headed shrimp, hosed down the deck between catches, and cleaned the galley. During the drags, we took cat naps on the bow in the warm sunshine. The long extended double outriggers towed the nets, and the vessel's powerful Caterpillar Diesel engine towed the accumulating bags and catch along the seafloor.

Image courtesy U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries
The "Try Net" in the middle is pulled in mid-drag to see if there are shrimp present.

These trips were always made enjoyable by the food. The local shrimpers definitely knew how to eat. Usually, the striker prepared breakfast just as dawn broke and the sun rose over the horizon. With the first drag of the morning begun and a two-hour lull before hauling in the nets, there would be strong steaming coffee served up in thick crockery mugs with sugar and canned milk, hot grits with butter, and scrambled eggs with ham or bacon.
Lunch came in the early afternoon. It was often shrimp creole, prepared with shrimp that had been in the ocean an hour earlier, simmered in a thick-and-spicy, made-from-scratch, perfectly-seasoned tomato sauce, with onion, bell pepper, and a dash or two of oregano. This blend was served over real white rice, with sweet iced tea to wash it down. It was a grand, almost romantic life..."(from "A Georgia Tidewater Companion" by Buddy Sullivan)

Today; over-fishing, high fuel-prices, and pond-scum-shrimp imported from China have pretty much ruined this once proud and prolific industry. I could gross you out telling you what those pond-owners feed those shrimp they are raising, but let's just say that you can't make chicken salad out of what they eat.

Image courtesy Josephine Johnson: music and photography!

Video courtesy of The Shrimp Alliance. Click here to visit their site
The boat-haul rails and winching-machinery at the old Sasser docks on Wilmington Island are now rusty relics. There are no boats to haul out. The shrimp-boats are going away. Many of them are abandoned, burnt, or sunk.
Image courtesy Diesel Engine Sales Company (DESCO)

You can still see a few shrimpers at work, and Nelson's Shrimp Company in Thunderbolt still sells Wild Georgia Shrimp caught right here (and the best shrimp to have for a Low Country Boil). For an easy and fun way to enjoy the taste of our place, go sit at the Flying Fish Bar and Grill. Tell Heather we sent you!

Situated on Highway 80 just east of the Bull River Bridge, The Flying Fish has great seafood and a great atmosphere to match. The newly covered deck and big outdoor bar, complete with 85 inches of big-screen sports action, make for a memorable visit.
Please tell them you were sent by!

Georgia's shrimping industry is not what it used to be, but don't despair. Life has taught me that the tides of fortune go out, and then they come in again. Sooner or later our shrimping industry will recover fully as people learn the truth about imported shrimp.

Image via My Georgia Coast
The sun will rise again for Georgia shrimping. You can do your part by refusing to purchase imported shrimp. When you go to a restaurant, ask your server if the shrimp has been harvested locally. Every dollar we put into our community passes through the hands of several of our friends and neighbors. Let's support them, and ourselves!

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