Memorial Reef may be completed this week

A large fleet of spectator boats gathered to watch the sinking of the first barge on the S.C. Memorial Reef.

It only took a matter of minutes for the S.C. Memorial Reef to produce its first fish.

Shortly after the turbulence settled from the sinking of a 260-foot barge last Sunday, the crew aboard the Blue Top, captained by Buddy Aimar, elected to drop their lines out. Almost immediately they were rewarded with a strike. James Hurteau, 6, was the proud angler who reeled in the 15-pound dolphin.

The Blue Top, like most of the boats that showed up to witness the sinking, had much larger than normal crews. Aimar said there were 14 people aboard the 45-foot Hatteras. They included members of his family, his brother Charlie's family, Steve Leasure's family and the Hurteau family.

A fleet of approximately 20 boats ventured out to watch the sinking of the first of two large barges adorned with a variety of scrapped material - metal shipping containers, cranes and truck chassis are part of the structure - welded to the deck. The second barge is ready to be towed out by Stephens Towing and deployment has been targeted sometime between Thursday and Saturday, according to Bob Martore of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Aimar said the Blue Hat crew waited for the water to settle after the sinking of the barge, and then three things happened seemingly at once.

"Dem Boys pulled across the area to mark the reef. Little Charlie was driving the boat and Big Charlie was watching the bottom machines," Aimar said. "Jamie (Hurteau) and I were putting the baits out. We drove across (the site), saw it on the machine and hooked up with the fish. It was pandemonium but it was great."

Martore said everything appeared to go as planned, although a few of the containers broke free from the barge as it went down but settled to the bottom within the reef site, which is part of the greater Charleston Deep Reef. The idea for a deep-water memorial was spawned five years ago with the untimely deaths of a couple of members of the Charleston offshore fishing community.

The reef is a Type II Marine Protected Area with the idea of providing protected habitat for highly pressured bottom-dwelling species. Bottom-fishing is prohibited, but trolling for pelagics is allowed.

Aimar said it was a huge weight off the shoulders of those who spearheaded the reef effort, which raised more than $500,000 plus an immeasurable amount of donated materials that help offer more than 100 feet of profile in what is a flat, sandy area in 350 feet of water 52 miles off the Charleston Jetties.

Aimar said that during the past 18 months, he probably spent as much time, if not more, on the phone coordinating the effort to have materials delivered to Stevens Towing on Yonges Island as he did working his day job. The same could be said for others involved with the project.

He said 14 South Carolina Governor's Cup participants wrote checks for more than $10,000, and Leasure's daughter Kendall donated $115 she made from selling lemonade and cookies for the project.

"Stevie, Charlie and I got to be on the boat with our kids. It's almost like building a fort in your backyard. After five years and all the hard work we put in, the experience was incredible," Aimar said.

"The day was not about fishing. Stevie and I told our kids that when they are giving the eulogy at our funerals, this is what we want you to talk about. It was a big deal."