Gone Shrimpin' Aboard The Lady Jane

Who wants to hold the shark?

You could have heard a pin drop, even above the sound of the roaring diesel engine. About two dozen of us crowded around in stunned silence as our host held up what appeared to be a small hammerhead shark. I was pretty sure that none of us woke up that morning hoping to come face-to-face with a baby Jaws - let alone be asked to hold it - but then again, chances were high that most hadn't expected to end up on-board a shrimp boat either. With no takers in the crowd the guide went to toss the shark back to its home, when suddenly the spirit of Steve Irwin rose up inside me...

Wait...I'll hold it.

Lady Jane Shrimp Boat
Yes...the proper way to hold a shark is with both pinkies extended.
(The shark was a Bonnethead...Hammerhead lookalike)

As the sun set on what had been a glorious day along the Georgia coast, MJ and I found ourselves trolling the waters near St. Simons Island aboard the Lady Jane shrimp boat. Based in the historic town of Brunswick - think: Brunswick stew - she is the only shrimp boat on the east coast that is certified for passenger travel. With her commercial shrimping days now in the past, the Lady Jane allows passengers to connect with their inner Forrest Gump with bi-weekly shrimping excursions through the Golden Isles.
Lady Jane Shrimp Boat
Slightly better condition than Jenny I

After a somewhat torturous bike ride in the morning, we sought advice from the folks at the King & Prince Resort on how to fill our afternoon. They immediately suggested the Lady Jane as a fun experience that was completely unique to the area. Given MJ's affection for wacky and one of a kind adventures I knew that asking for other suggestions was a waste of time. So, in the end, I agreed on one condition: I wasn't getting my hands dirty.
Lady Jane Shrimp Boat
I'm delighted to be holding this shrimp...

We set sail from the dock in Brunswick and soon were winding our ways through the inland waters of St. Simons Sound. The marshy surroundings seemed to glow in the late afternoon sun, while a line of seagulls trailed behind us awaiting their dinner. We cruised by numerous families of cranes and egrets, and even spotted a pair of dolphins following along in our wake. It was all very relaxing, even the sound of the engine had somehow become soothing, but soon the serenity of the moment was interrupted by a call over the loudspeaker...

Lower the nets!
Lady Jane Shrimp Boat
Bring on the shrimp!

The enormous winch turned on behind us and slowly lowered the net-like contraption into the water. We learned that shrimping nets are outfitted with wooden tongues that help keep them open underwater as they dredge the ocean floor. The Lady Jane runs a single net, however larger commercial shrimp boats are able to run multiple nets at one time by using giant booms which extend from the sides of the vessel and keeps them from becoming tangled underwater. After about ten minutes of "trawling" the call came over the loudspeaker to haul it in.
Lady Jane Shrimp Boat
Here comes the loot...

Naturally, as the net worked its way closer to the boat I couldn't help but wonder which scene from Forrest Gump we'd be reenacting. Would we end up with old boots and toilet seats as with Forrest's first few attempts at shrimping - "I only caught fiiive." - or would the net be bursting at the seams with shrimp like it was following Lieutenant Dan's conversation with God during Hurricane Carmen. It turned out the answer was something between the two.
Lady Jane Shrimp Boat
At least there were no toilet seats.

The guide pulled on the cord which had drawn the net shut, and a plethora of sea life splashed onto the sorting table. He spent the next few minutes explaining what all the various creatures were and sharing a few random facts that I was sure to tuck away for when I needed to sound smart at cocktail parties. For example, we learned that horseshoe crabs are ticklish and that blue crabs can be put to sleep. And in total violation of my one condition for coming in the first place, our guide shared that the head of every single shrimp eaten today is still removed by hand.
Lady Jane Shrimp Boat
MJ tickling a Horseshoe Crab.
Lady Jane Shrimp Boat
En Garde!
The nets were released and hauled in two more times during our journey, and both catches contained the same array of creatures as the first. The one glaring exception was the shark which offered a bit of excitement for our final haul. Of course, as thrilled as I was for the chance to hold a future man-eater, I was more excited by the opportunity to enjoy some of our catch on the ride back to town.
Lady Jane Shrimp Boat
This was my second batch.
As we slowly motored toward the sunset I found myself blindsided by a bit of guilt. There can be no doubt that spending a couple hours on a diesel chugging shrimp boat is far from "eco-tourism," say nothing of the hundreds of shrimp and fish that were in the wrong stretch of water at the wrong time. While talking to our guide, however,  I was happy to learn that very little of what is caught ever goes to waste. All of the crabs, shark, and even the puffer fish were returned to the water alive, and he also pointed out that most of the small fish that kicked the bucket in the process were collected by someone from the local marine sanctuary to be used as food for their recovering animals. All of this helped to set my mind at ease, as I set to peeling my 83rd shrimp of the afternoon.
Lady Jane Shrimp Boat
Holding a puffer fish.
Lady Jane Shrimp Boat
This is why they tag along...

It was during this conversation that I also discovered the charm of the Lady Jane. Yes, this is the very definition of a tourist attraction, but it's one built on a foundation of family tradition. Our guide - Cliff - was not only incredibly knowledgeable, but has been sailing these waters with his Dad - the Captain - since he was nine years old. Cliff was several years my junior, but talking to him was the closest I might ever come to meeting a marine biologist. A walking marine encyclopedia, doing the work of his father, and his father's father, and he will no doubt make a fine midshipman when he sets sail with the US Navy later this year.  
Cliff sharing everything there is to know about a Flounder (which is a lot).

To say that the Lady Jane is a unique experience might very well be the biggest understatement of all time. How often does one get to board a commercial shrimping boat and sail through peaceful waters at sunset? Not only was the adventure unique, but it was also educational and a great time for adults and kids alike. Sure, it might have been a little outside of my comfort zone - after all, I got my hands dirty many times - but there's not a better way to experience the Golden Isles than an afternoon aboard the Lady Jane.

If you go...
  • Feel free to pack beer or wine for the trip.
  • Pack a sweater...the breeze can be quite cold.
  • When asked, hold the shark...
Enjoy Your Stay 

Special thanks to the Lady Jane for having us aboard. As always, all opinions and cliche Forrest Gump references are my own.