By Joselyn Watkins
It’s hard to imagine the quiet, unassuming person that Johnnie Auld is commanding ships and roughing eighteen foot waves in the ocean. But he has done just that and more. This is not too amazing considering that our genes carry with them certain toughness and other attributes built through the ages into our DNA.
Johnnie comes from that kind of stock. He tells of his 2nd great grandfather, Jacob Auld, who had to leave Scotland by the skin of his teeth escaping to France. This was because in the war of 1745 he fought on the side of Bonny Prince Charles to free Scotland from England. Thus, he was in danger of being killed by the English. From France this great grandfather came to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania. Then his son Issac Auld brought the family to South Carolina within the following years.
John’s father’s mother’s side of the family dates way back. The family had been given the Joseph Baynard Seabrook property in South Carolina. Joseph became a Charter Member of the 11 gentlemen of Charleston. These gentlemen were also the original founders of the Scottish Rite Masonry.
In fact, St. John’s Island was a part of the Joseph Baynard Seabrook property which encompasses approximately eight hundred acres and its charter states that if the Island was ever sold the property would have to revert back to the Seabrook family. The charter was not adhered to as it had to be reviewed each year and this did not take place.
Johnnie remembers that his early days were spent on his parent’s farm on the plantation on Seabrook Island that is pictured with this article.
Daily, even at the tender age of eleven John had to pack boxes of tomatoes and cucumbers along side all the other workers for shipping. Interestingly enough, it never occurred to him that only a few of the faces he encountered were white. He says even now he remembers thinking that most people were black as this was his experience on the farm or with his playmates from the community of Hamlin which was close to the farm. John’s language was greatly affected by his community and he can readily drop in to speaking Gullah which is the communication of the Geechie people of South Carolina. These people are the descendants of African slaves and at one time were looked down upon. But this is no longer the case as their heritage has become a treasured journey of remembrance. The language has a sing-song sound and is a combination of English and varied African dialects.
In the mid-sixties Johnnie drove trucks when he worked at a service station but then decided to be an electrician when he was mentored by another established electrician at Davis Electric Company. But as many young men who live by the sea find out, the sea keeps calling them and this was Johnnie’s experience too. So he began to run shrimp boats for shrimp boat owners only to buy his own boat in 1976.
But some twelve years prior in 1964 Johnnie took some time out from working to go to a party. It seems that a young lady named Jeanette Long was teaching business courses at the McClellanville High School. It so happened that she was to chaperon the seniors at a party on the Isle of Palms. Tony, John’s best friend, had asked Jeanette to ride to the party with him. The hitch in this plan was that Tony was not going to be able to give Jeanette a ride home. Johnnie said that as a favor, “I carried her home”. Being of a shy sort Johnnie said that the senior party that he took Jeanette home from was in May and that they were married by August. From this marriage the Aulds produced three children: Jeanie, Susan and John.
Shrimping became even more important with a family to raise, and Johnnie and crew found themselves at 6 am each day dragging the ocean for the best of catches. He said that he had land marks by which he determined where to drop the nets to drag for the shrimp. Now they have radar and fish finders to do all of the shrimp and fish finding.
When asked if he had some exciting times in his ventures out at sea he recalled catching a “clam cracker” or what others would call a huge skate. The boat was 19 feet wide and 22 feet long on the rear deck of the vessel which totaled sixty five foot in length and that the skate covered the whole back deck. John said that it took no less than three hours to extricate the fish from the nets. Lost time to the ship’s crew cost them wages.
Another exciting and exasperating day was when he caught an old iron anchor causing the boat to lose drag and this cost the ship three hours of productivity when they had to dump all of the refuse on the deck and clear the nets again.
Johnnie said that when they fished south as far as Key West that they fished at night to keep the sharks from ripping the nets up. It was simply that daylight would reveal the catch in the nets and the sharks could make short work of the crew’s hard work.
In 1980 the price of gas became a determining factor in Johnnie giving up shrimping so he started running tug boats from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Philadelphia and anywhere in between such as Brunswick, Georgia and Morehead City, North Carolina.
Then for five years he had a contract with the Navy to drag gunnery targets and different ships would have to qualify shooting at targets 100 feet to one side or the other of the target. If they missed Johnnie said that they would tear up the targets. One of his recollections during this time period of employment was that he received payment three hundred and sixty days a year, but he never saw the pay check as it went right to Jeanette.
In 1995 the Aulds had a business selling cut flowers from their 14 x 24 greenhouse working from April to November. They did this until 2002. But retirement came calling and so they decided to spend the winter months in Mount Pleasant and the rest of the year on their acreage in Lake Lure. In Lake Lure Jeanette has flowers for fun and Johnnie has a tractor and huge garden with a delightful stream running by. They built a rustic log cabin on the property which houses all of Jeanette’s quilting necessities and where Johnnie can sit in his easy chair and watch the races on TV.
Johnnie leaves the reader with one word of warning that he always held to be the rule of thumb on board ship. “Don’t ever whistle on the ship”. When asked why this rule he said, “Whistling creates wind and you don’t want the wind, it is the worst thing for a boat.”
Johnnie Auld has lots of stories he has not told yet about his growing up and life on the high seas. He welcomes being asked about those years and will readily relate any of these in person he told me. Just ask him!