A Beaufort kayaking adventure

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In many ways, it’s only natural to tour the city of Beaufort from the water. The county, which stretches from the Whale Branch River down to the Savannah River, is awash in water. More than 300 islands, some still unnamed, dot the county.

And Beaufort itself, the county seat, is on Port Royal Island, so a water tour makes sense. But rather than be led around on a motor boat with a microphoned tour guide, you might want to try a more subtle, self-propelled approach.

0610_summerfun_adv6Beaufort Kayak Tours, owned by the husband and wife team of David Gorzynski and Kim Gundler, offers a multitude of water tours, from the vast river systems and marshes, to out to the Atlantic, to a history tour of Beaufort and Penn Center.

They offer either half or full-day paddles, $40 or $60 respectively.

“We have tremendous natural and historical resources in this area,” Gorzynski said, who started the company eight years ago. “We look for locations that will have additional points of interest,” such as historic Beaufort or the conservation role model of the ACE basin, a 350,000-acre sanctuary consisting of the Ashepoo, Combahee and South Edisto rivers between Beaufort and Charleston.

The pair has done the homework. Both are licensed Beaufort tour guides and naturalists and Gorzynski is a credentialed kayak instructor.

 

The Beaufort history tour

0610_summerfun_adv1The two-hour paddle and tour around “The Point” starts out amid the power boats launching from the landing off Factory Creek on Lady’s Island across the Beaufort River. Gorzynski awaits the group in the parking lot, having already unloaded a small fleet of yellow or blue kayaks, paddles and life preservers.

The group assembled, Gorzynski pulls out a map to illustrate the area waterways, then goes over less-drippy paddling techniques and how one manuevers a 16-foot kayak. Once the tourists are tucked into their vessels, Gorzynski helps each person launch so there is no awkward beached-whale moments.

On the water, one understands how stable a kayak is. Their center of gravity is below the waterline, so there is no perilous tilting with each stroke that one might find in a canoe. Unintentional tip-overs are rare, Gorzynski says.

Gorzynski directs the group toward the middle of the wide Beaufort River and across the Intracoastal Waterway after carefully checking both ways for boat traffic.

It’s high tide, so the water laps against a mid-19th-century tabby bulkhead that shores up Bay Street on the north side of the 1930s-era swing Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge that connects Lady’s Island and Beaufort. The bridge alone is worth some photos.

0610_summerfun_adv4Once out of the current against the breakwater, Gorzynski gathers paddlers near him for a succinct summary of the arrival of the French in the 1560s, the Spanish, then the British to Beaufort and the importance of the deep Port Royal Sound, one of the deepest inlets along the East Coast. Because European ships could sail into the harbor, it was an ideal settlement, making Beaufort the second oldest city in South Carolina, next to Charleston.

From the tabby wall, Gorzynski leads the group along the waterfront mansions, some dating back to the mid-1800s, explaining that many were just summer homes away from the nearby plantations, in the hope that the breeze from over the water would be cooler.

After a few minutes of leisurely paddling, Gorzynski pulls the group into a knot and explains how Beaufort was the first Southern city the Union army captured in the Civil War. Once word reached town that the Union army had overpowered local volunteer resistance in just a few hours, all the white people fled, leaving behind thousands of slaves to fend for themselves.

Therefore, while the Civil War raged elsewhere for four more years, Beaufort, its population then 80 percent to 90 percent black, was well into Reconstruction, building a Southern society without slavery, led by blacks.

Northerners were intrigued by the idea of teaching them how to run a community and set up schools to help them. Penn Center on nearby St. Helena Island is the first school for freed slaves. (Beaufort Kayak Tours leads an excursion there, too.)

The Union Army, recognizing the value of the fields of cotton ready for harvest, paid former slaves to pick it, the first time slaves possessed money of their own. The effort to create a black-led community was known as the Port Royal Experiment.

0610_summerfun_adv2In between the history lessons, Gorzynski points out birds seen along the way, pelicans, cormorants, ospreys and oyster catchers. He explains how oysters filter water and the importance of delicate land management.

But soon, you’ll cross the Intracoastal and head back to shore, bringing a twofold journey to an end. Yes, you crossed the Beaufort River and paddled a mile or two, but you also had a quick jaunt through Beaufort’s rich past, with a side trip through a nature center. That’s a lot to pack into a couple hours.