SC Weekend High Tides Help Bring Long-Stuck Shrimp Boat Out of Marsh | SC Climate and Environment news
SOL LEGARE – With a little thrill, a new steering wheel and record tides, the Backman Enterprise emerged from a swampy tangle this weekend.
The 75-foot shrimp trawler remained in a mud drain on the shores of Sol Legare Island for half a decade, driven by the destructive swells of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. It is the last trawler of a fleet of six which was once operated regularly. by the Backmans, a black family who fished and sold the spoils of the sea near Mosquito Beach for decades.
But their business, Backman Seafood, has not operated for five years, since the death of one of the family’s oldest sons. The boat was idle, often above the waterline, for the same period. Various efforts to get him out were unsuccessful.
Over the weekend, the crew of the men involved in the move said, the stars and high tide appeared to line up to free the family’s last boat.
It was the perfect time, Sammy Backman said, as state environmental regulators were eager to see the ship move. He said he received his last extension on Friday from officials who warned him to pull it out of the mud. If the Enterprise had stayed much longer, South Carolina could have fined Backman $ 1,000 a day.
Also on Friday, the nearby Charleston harbor reached a height of over 8 feet, an exceptional example of the high tides that overwhelm the southeast every fall. The water wreaked havoc in downtown Charleston and invaded the Barrier Islands through their back marshes. It also provided the opportunity to help float the ship.
Backman had worked to start the boat’s engine before, knowing that his full weight could not be easily towed. There was also other damage; he had to plug in a smaller gas tank after the main tank rusted, and some unwanted visitors sawed off the flywheel in the spring.
Enter Billy Higgins, dock builder and owner of a small aluminum push boat. He had built a dock next to the Backmans and decided he could offer help “from one waterman to another” to pull the Enterprise at least part of the way.
“There is a lot of history around this boat, and right now, a lot of history is fading in this region, especially with the African American community around it,” Higgins said.
So this weekend, Higgins, Backman and Tom Bierce, a local oyster farmer, went to the trawler. The crew would need two days to fully get the boat out and were completed with the help of another fisherman who had docked at the Backman’s wharf and two of Backman’s nephews.
It was a slow easing on Friday, pulling the boat from bow then stern, bow then stern, Higgins said. The trawler moved about 30 feet toward the water as the tide started to drop, he said. The group has promised to meet the next day.
When they did, winds from a low pressure system crawling along the Atlantic coast had pushed the tides even higher. Charleston Harbor would peak at 8.44 feet on Saturday, the 11th highest on record in the last century.
The same storm system lashed the coast with freezing rains.
“We were wet before we even got out,” Bierce said. “There weren’t a lot of other boats out, that’s for sure.”
Once again, Higgins attached his 25-foot aluminum pusher boat to the Enterprise and began to pull. Backman briefly left the boat to collect more fuel for his makeshift tank and left Bierce at the helm. Soon after, the trawler began to float for the first time in five years.
“I got a phone call like, ‘Hey man, she’s going!’,” Backman said. “We were just surprised he took off.”
From there, there was the challenge of maneuvering the boat through the narrow cove, avoiding oyster beds and a long sunken barge.
“If that wind was in another direction, it probably wouldn’t have worked,” Bierce said.
Now the Enterprise is attached to a set of pillars in front of the Backman’s Wharf. Backman said he intends to refurbish the boat, although he will likely no longer use it for trawling. Matthew also destroyed much of the family’s wharf five years ago, preventing potential plans to turn the property into a cultural or historic site. Backman still hopes to make it an attraction, but it’s still a long way off for now.
Backman Seafood is one of the many family businesses in the Lowcountry that relied on local fishing, although these operations are declining today. Backman’s father, Thomas Backman, started trawling in the 1940s, and his son, Thomas Jr., ran the business until his death in 2016.
Competition from overseas shrimp farms and development pressure on the coast have prompted many lowcountry shrimp vessels to leave the company in recent years. South Carolina issued approximately 1,500 shrimp licenses in the early 1980s; now only a few hundred fishermen are allowed.
But the Backmans faced even more pressure, even early on as a black family, and were unable to obtain an official license for the first decades they operated, The Post and Courier reported in 2017.
Either way, the problem just isn’t what it was when Backman was a kid, he said. His day job today is maintaining heavy equipment like bulldozers, but he grew up in the shrimp world, riding on family boats since he was 5 or 6 years old.
“I remember when we were there and we were dropping anchor for the night, and the next morning you would see 25, 30 boats coming in because they were trying to find out where the shrimp were,” Backman said. “Now you might not see a boat for miles. “
Either way, he’s always happy that the last of the family’s boats is safely anchored again.
“I don’t think I could have done it without the guys who helped me out,” he said. “I will be forever indebted to them.”