Getting to Daufuskie just got easier

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New ferry service offers four round-trip rides each day

Getting to and from Daufuskie Island takes some patience and planning if you don’t have your own boat.

But a new contract between Beaufort County, a private Daufuskie community and a Hilton Head Island marina should make it easier to hitch a ride across Calibogue Sound.

Daufuskie residents and resort owners have long clamored for expanded ferry services to and from Hilton Head. The $370,000 contract approved in June does just that. Round-trip rides will be offered four times a day, seven days a week, between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. An additional one-way run will leave Hilton Head each night at 11:30.

For the Pelorus Group, a Utah-based real estate investment firm that recently purchased the Palmetto Bay Marina on Hilton Head, the new service marks the final phase of its effort to revive Daufuskie’s Melrose on the Beach resort, which it rescued from bankruptcy four years ago. The firm also sees the service as lending an economic boost to the entire island.

“Over the last four years of establishing Melrose, it’s become clear what the fundamental issue is for Daufuskie, and we know this is the answer,” says Brent Hall, a Pelorus partner. “There needs to be island-wide transportation for all residents, visitors, guests, etc. It’s been the missing piece for the success of the island for a long-term strategy.”

THE MISSING LINK

For years, Daufuskie residents have relied on J&W Corp. of Greenwood for ferry service. Its owner, Wick Scurry, has provided transportation between the two islands since the 1970s, but this year, he decided to withdraw his bid for the county’s ferry service contract.

Scurry says his company, Enjoy Daufuskie Island, will continue to provide ferry service between Broad Creek Marina on Hilton Head and Freeport Marina on Daufuskie, with tourists making up the bulk of his customer base. He says he is seeing a 20 percent increase in business each year and says letting the county contract go won’t have much impact on his bottom line. He estimates that during summer, he carries 200 to 250 passengers a day, with round-trip tickets starting at $34. Those tourists also visit his marina, restaurant, museum, winery, general store and other attractions on the island.

“Most people don’t think very many people go to Daufuskie, but they do,” he says.

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Several other businesses provide reservation-only boat trips to Daufuskie — with round-trip prices starting at $45. They also report having a busy summer.

H2O Sports runs 12-passenger Zodiac hard-bottom boats between Harbour Town and Daufuskie each day. Many of the riders take day tours or play golf. Outside Hilton Head also provides various shuttles and tours.

May River Excursions offers a mainland link, with Carolina Skiffs holding up to 12 passengers launching from the Calhoun Street dock in Bluffton. And the private Bloody Point community has a water taxi that launches from The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa.

Scurry says he has also seen a growing trend of Daufuskie visitors using their own boats to get to and from the island. He says he’s added 3,000 feet of dock space at his Freeport Marina in the past few years and needs to add more for visiting boaters.

“We used to have to bring the tourists over there ourselves, and now we don’t,” he says. “They come themselves, which is wonderful.”

But when it comes to residents, resort guests and workers getting to and from the island, many have been telling Beaufort County Council members for years that they feel abandoned. The former ferry contract did not provide enough trips to and from the island, they said.

The infrequent service also made it difficult for the Melrose resort to attract the guests and investment it and the island need, according to Pelorus officials. So Pelorus went searching for a transportation solution, and it believes it has found it through a partnership with Haig Point, a private Daufuskie Island community, and the purchase of Palmetto Bay Marina.

“This is a big piece we’ve been working hard for, with a lot of money and energy and time,” Hall says. “… It’s a key fundamental for economic success and to attract investment and financing that’s important to ourselves as well as others.”

A LENGTHY SEARCH ENDS

Hall says Pelorus spent more than a year seeking a launching point for a ferry before buying the Palmetto Bay Marina property. Until now, the ferry has served only Haig Point residents and guests, and it transports Daufuskie children to and from school through a contract with the Beaufort County School District.

Under the county contract approved in June, Haig Point’s ferries will serve all Daufuskie residents, Hall says. The public can also purchase rides. 

In July, soon after the county contract was approved, Pelorus was fine-tuning the details, Hall said, but he expected the service to be in operation in August. Ticket costs for the general public had not been finalized, and work was underway on setting up a reservations system. Parking spaces will be added at Palmetto Bay Marina.

Hall says the new ferry service is heading into its first phase, and more boats and embarkation points will come on board over time.

“It’s something that will grow,” he says, “because there’s a need.”