Spending This Summer on the Water
Many people who live in the Lowcountry agree that the single greatest attraction here is the water. Some are content just to look at it – they relish the simple pleasure of knowing that it’s there. Others, however, enjoy getting out on the rivers, sea, sounds and tidal creeks that make this place what it is. If you belong to this second category, summer is here and there are plenty of boating adventures to be had.
A good day on the water might involve a little fishing, a little cruising, a little swimming, some eating and drinking, maybe even a bit of sunbathing. If you keep your eyes peeled, you’re liable to see some of the spectacular local wildlife, such as dolphins, otters and bald eagles engaging in these same activities.
The first local boaters were coastal natives, who, like native peoples throughout the Americas, increased their mobility along the shoreline and in tidal or swampy ecosystems by constructing dugout canoes. In more recent history, well within the lifespan of many old-timers still living here today, virtually all the boats in the Lowcountry were wooden boats powered by nothing more than the heaving strength of their oarsmen, or perhaps a little sail if there was a fair wind. In modern times, however, the majority of boats rely on some sort of mechanical propulsion, whether it be from a small outboard motor or the powerful engine of a shrimp boat.
The exceptions are kayaks, canoes and a handful of sleek rowboats like the kind used in crew. Of these, the most common in the Lowcountry are kayaks. Kayaking is an excellent way to explore the many small creeks that snake through the marsh, skirting uninhabited islands and leading you to hard-to-reach places harbouring the shyest of wildlife. There are a number of good kayak outfitters and guide services, while experienced kayakers can simply take their boat to one of the many public landings and shove off into the blue.
An excellent way to get out on the water, for those who don’t have their own boat, is to take a cruise. There are types of cruises for every taste: dolphin cruises, dinner cruises, booze cruises, singles cruises, benefit cruises, boat tours, and multi-day vacations along the Intracoastal Waterway. For the sportsmen and women, there are chartered fishing boats that can take the angler offshore for a memorable day on the high seas.
However, there is a more inexpensive way to get out on the water: just make friends with a local boater, many of whom love nothing more than taking people out and showing off the beautiful scenery of the area. They might take you on a sunset cruise or to an all-day party at a local sandbar (strips of land in the rivers that are exposed twice a day by the tide to provide the perfect beach and recreation area for people of all ages). If you really gain a person’s confidence, they might let you try their favorite fishing hole (or maybe just their second favorite), take you to a good spot for crabbing or “deep hole” shrimping, or show you a confluence of creeks where they know dolphins like to hang out and do their famous strand feeding.
Bluffton resident Compton Groff has been kayaking in the Lowcountry for almost 15 years. Living in a house that sits “upriver” on a little creek right off the May River, Groff goes out on the water so much that he occasionally finds himself starting to take it for granted. But he snaps back to reality as soon as he takes someone new out on the river, and their irrepressible awe and wonder remind him how beautiful this environment really is.
“Everyone’s favorite thing is always the dolphins,” said Groff. “Especially the little baby ones. Even a grown man will say, ‘awwww, how cute.’ It brings out their feminine side.”
Groff’s new thing is to play a game he and his kayaking friends called “Aqua Golf,” a kind of waterborne version of Frisbee golf. They started by taking a floating Frisbee, the kind used as drivers in regular Frisbee golf, and throwing it around out on the river.
“So then we’d see a crab trap and say, ‘Let’s see how many throws it takes us to hit the crab trap,’” said Groff. “We’re just having fun, and we’re hardly ever bored.”
If there are kids involved in boating, there is a good chance that you will hear the word “tubing” thrown around. This healthy, exhilarating activity involves strapping on a life-jacket, lying on an inner tube and being pulled behind a boat as fast as one can stand. It’s sort of a down-home version of waterskiing, another popular activity around here.
Bluffton resident, Charlene Gardner, and her family enjoy going out in their boat to places like Bull Creek, the Cooper River and the Bluffton Sandbar. If it’s just Charlene and her husband, they like to go on laid-back evening cruises, or perhaps a full moon cruise with the silvery light reflecting off the water and silhouetting the palm-clad islands. But if the kids are along, tubing is the plan. “They like to go in figure eights, or any way the boat will make a lot of wake for them to bounce on,” said Gardner. “When you’re a kid, the faster and scarier, the better.”
Another activity that goes hand-in-hand with boating is fine dining. With so many great restaurants located right on the water in places like Beaufort, Hilton Head Island, Daufuskie Island and Palmetto Bluff, a lot of people go straight from the dock to the dinner table.
No matter what activities you like to pursue out on the water, always remember to practice safe and courteous boating. Go slowly in no-wake zones or when passing other boaters, especially kayakers. Don’t throw trash in the water, don’t feed the dolphins, and certainly don’t try to bait a shark in areas where your kids are swimming. When in doubt, ask a local boater and he or she will surely enlighten you on what is the proper way to proceed. And remember, the simple gesture of waving to other boaters helps keep the water pleasant and friendly!