When Garrett Ard started his Eagle Scout project four years ago, the goal was to honor the memory of his late grandfather, Capt. Gloyice Ard, a longtime Gulf Coast charter boat captain.
The culmination of all the work involved in such an endeavor recently sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico – in the form of an artificial reef.
What Ard didn’t realize at the time was when the repurposed boat slipped beneath the waves the project also honored the heritage of another Gulf Coast captain. The shrimp boat, the Southern Heritage, used in the project was captained by the late Paul Rogers.
Garrett said he was sitting around a campfire when the idea of building a reef in Alabama’s unparalleled artificial reef zones popped into his head.
“Growing up on the coast, building a reef made sense,” he said. “We didn’t have to do a project that big for my Eagle Scout project, but we decided to go big or go home.”
Garrett’s mom, Kimberly, said guidance from Lee Kibler, the Scoutmaster from Elberta, Alabama, helped Garrett proceed with the reef-building plan.
“Lee said the project needs to fit the scout,” Kimberly said. “He said not every project fits the scout’s capabilities. We just felt like Garrett’s capabilities were up to this project.”
Garrett then started fundraising for the project. He made presentations to the Alabama Reef Foundation and the Orange Beach City Council. The Reef Foundation chipped in $5,000, and Orange Beach City Council donated $10,000 to the fund. Garrett’s presentations to several more community organizations added to the coffers, and one of his dad’s connections provided additional funding.
“We were having a Gulf Council (Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council) meeting in Orange Beach, and I asked Garrett to come because there was somebody there I wanted him to meet,” said Garrett’s dad, Capt. Tom Ard, who has a fleet of four charter boats. “It was Buddy Guindon, one of the largest commercial fishermen in the Gulf. He has a huge seafood market in Galveston (Texas). He donates to a lot of different projects. I told Buddy about the Eagle Scout project, and he and Garrett had a nice talk. Buddy gave us a very generous donation of $5,000. He realized the reef would help recreational fishermen, charter boats and commercial boats. I can guarantee you commercial boats will be catching snapper off the reef for the public market.”
Although the donations were secured, the Ards ran into an obstacle. Suitable reef material was difficult to find, especially in their price range.
“The original idea was to use a barge, but we couldn’t find one or it cost too much money,” Garrett said. “John Giannini at J&M Tackle was going to donate two big shipping containers.”
Tom happened to call David Walter (aka Reefmaker of Walter Marine) and asked about finding reef material. Walter told him about an old shrimp boat that would make a quality reef.
“I asked him how much he wanted for it,” Tom said. “He said $30,000. I told him we had $25,000, and he said, ‘I’ll take it.’”
Because Walter Marine is so busy deploying reefs all over the Gulf, the Ards had to wait in line. When it appeared the shrimp boat reef wouldn’t happen before Garrett’s 18th birthday, they had to amend their reef-building plans to meet the Boy Scouts’ requirement.
With guidance from the Mobile Boy Scouts office, a smaller reef operation preceded the big deployment, but it was also an operation that would have been so familiar to Poppa Gloyice, a jovial character who was a fixture in the Orange Beach charter industry with his boat, the Boll Weevil, a salute to Gloyice’s days as a cropduster pilot.
“We got two chicken coops,” Garrett said. “We built a platform on the back of my grandpa’s boat, and we tied these huge chicken coops on the back of the boat and got to deploy them by hand. It was really cool.”
Tom added, “He got to see how we used to build reefs in the old days. This will be the Boll Weevil’s 40th season.”
Before the shrimp boat could be deployed, Garrett and several of his Boy Scout buddies had to complete the task of cleaning out foam insulation from the bowels of the boat.
“We had to climb inside the boat and pick up these huge chunks of foam and other trash,” Garrett said. “We had to be careful because of all the rusted, jagged metal. We spent an afternoon in the boat, and we got it cleaned up.”
The day to deploy the 50-foot, steel-hulled shrimp boat finally arrived, and the Ards headed out about 14 miles into the Gulf. The superstructure had already been removed from the shrimp boat, and a large steel cylinder with many nooks and crannies was welded onto the hull for improved fish habitat.
“The barge with the shrimp boat left about 3 a.m.,” Garrett said. “When we got there on the Fairwater II (another of Tom’s charter boats), the crane just picked the shrimp boat up and put it in the water. When it caught water, it just went straight down. It was a huge sense of relief – like, ‘Wow, we actually did it.’ We had been working on this for so long. When Dad and I started talking about raising $25,000 to build a reef, it almost seemed unattainable. Then it happened, and it was like, ‘We just did that.’ It was a huge sense of accomplishment.”
Garrett had previously met with Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon and Artificial Reefs Coordinator Craig Newton to discuss the reef project and get it properly permitted.
“Alabama’s artificial reef program was founded by anglers like Garrett’s grandfather, and Garrett’s project is a testament to his legacy,” Newton said. “I’m extremely proud of Garrett’s achievement, and I’m anxious to watch the reef develop over the coming years.”
Director Bannon added, “I am a big supporter of Scouting and was excited to hear about Garrett’s plan to create an artificial reef. It required a lot of physical and administrative work on his part, and I applaud his diligence to see it through to the end. Watching the video of Garrett’s reaction to the reef being deployed was priceless. His contribution to the Alabama Artificial Reef Zone will be enjoyed by anglers for many years to come.”
When the local news media heard about the memorial reef, Garrett gained a great deal of exposure, which led to the revelation of how the reef memorialized another captain.
When word spread about the reef, Garrett was contacted by the daughter of the late owner of the Southern Heritage, the shrimp boat that the Ards deployed.
The message from Amber Rogers Joyner read: “The Southern Heritage was my daddy’s boat, his pride and joy. He loved that boat, and he loved being on the water. Not sure if you know the story along with the boat, but he passed last January. He’d be so happy to know what you’ve done – the Southern Heritage staying in the water and being a place people will be able to enjoy for years to come. Thank you, Garrett! It’s a place I will definitely be taking my children to enjoy.”
Garrett said, “It was kind of the same deal I had with Poppa’s boat, the Boll Weevil. It started out as a memorial reef for my Poppa and it grew into a memorial reef for her dad.”
Unlike his dad, Garrett will not continue the family tradition of becoming a charter boat captain.
Despite his connection to the Gulf Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, Garrett’s interests are in the wild blue yonder instead of the deep blue sea.
He’s headed to Mississippi State University this fall to study aerospace engineering and play trombone in several of the school’s bands.
Garrett, however, will be back home for a trip on his dad’s boat next year to see how many big red snapper are hanging around the Capt. Gloyice Ard Memorial Reef.
David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.