The shrimp boats that tie up along Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant or those that meander up Jeremy Creek in McClellanville are crusty, creaky and sometimes smelly. They also are beautiful, especially when seen against a dark orange Lowcountry sunset.

It's another shrimp boat, though, that catches my attention every time I drive on U.S. Highway 17 going north. It sits on its side, high up on the bank of Awendaw Creek, where it has rested in much the same position since 1978. It has no name. It never even hauled in a single shrimp. As a matter of fact, the boat has never even been in the water.

After leaving the Navy in 1961, John Dunn and his wife, Mary, decided to settle in Awendaw and start their family. John worked in construction and hung sheetrock all around Charleston. He also learned to cut meat and helped his wife in their rural grocery business they named The Kountry Store.

They lived in one part of the general store while customers came and went in the other. Many of you may know the store I'm talking about. It's a place where the basics like bread and milk are available along with other necessities, including Vienna sausages and potted meat.

While all of this ebbed and flowed along Awendaw Creek, another idea in John Dunn's head just wouldn't go away.

Is that John or Noah?

In 1975, the shrimp business was booming. John's friends in nearby Jeremy Creek were making good money. If he could find a dependable boat for his son, that might be a commendable way to make an honest living.

At the time, prices of shrimp boats were north of $200,000. For reasons that John doesn't fully comprehend even now, he believed he could build such a boat for a whole lost less. And so the project began.

While Mary ran the store, John began to build a boat. Day after day, just as certain as the rising and falling tide in the creek behind him, John Dunn worked on that boat. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. In the cold, in the heat, in the mornings and after dark, John built his boat.

He wanted to call it The Ark. People often would stop by to watch and wonder how he was progressing. It slowly began to take shape. It was 68 feet long and 20 feet, 8 inches wide.

Some store customers would ask Mary if they soon would start putting the animals on board, two by two. She would just shake her head.

For two years, John put everything he had into building that boat. The hull was 90 percent finished. The deck and much of the rest of the interior would never be completed.

After untold hours of watching the sweat drip from the end of his nose and the mornings when he'd wake up with joints that were sore and a back that was aching, he reached a point where he knew his dream was evaporating into the Awendaw mist.

He had spent $50,000. To borrow any more would be crazy because, at the time, interest rates were 21 percent. The money ran out; Dunn was done.

Just walk away

Dunn lives about a mile from where that boat still sits on the ground near Awendaw Creek. Some people wonder how it got there? Did a hurricane wash it ashore? What's the story?

Now, at the age of 75, he admits that sometimes "it hurts my feelings that I didn't finish it." He knows he lost some money, but he didn't lose his family or his house and he's lucky his wife stayed with him.

So the next time you roll through Awendaw and see that big boat on its side, think about John Dunn's dream that just ran out of money. It taught him the value of knowing that sometimes it's OK to walk away from something that's just too big to tackle. In the long run, that's a lesson learned that money can't buy.

Reach Warren Peper at 937-5577 or wpeper@postandcourier.com