Have a map, will paddle – Kent Grimes


Give Kent Grimes some nautical and tide charts and you get in return a day’s paddle around an area island, riding the tide most of the way.

Kent and his wife, Pennie, moved seven years ago to Hilton Head Island from Memphis. About three years ago, he took a part-time job as a kayak guide and instructor at Outside Hilton Head.

He and a few staff members took a Master Naturalist class together and became friends. 

Grimes told the group he wanted to kayak around Hilton Head, a 35-mile trek, but he didn’t want to do it alone. Holly Feltner said she would join him on her stand-up paddleboard.

That started the informal island paddle club that now meets about once a month to paddle around area islands.

He said that first paddle around Hilton Head was the most rewarding because it required two full days of paddling.

Grimes, Feltner and a group of fellow paddlers now have 14 islands checked off their list of more than two dozen islands from the Savannah River to northern Beaufort County that can circled in a day, about a 15-mile paddle.

Grimes and Feltner pick a date that works around Feltner’s more hectic schedule, then Grimes gets to work.

“I look at the list of the islands we haven’t paddled yet and check the tide charts," he said.

Then he studies tide charts, weather forecasts, moon phases and nautical charts to decide when and where to launch.

“About eight years ago, I went to a boating safety class put on by the power squadron. I’m a mathematician, so I enjoy vectors and headings,” he said. “The key part of planning is water depth. It’s often very shallow near shore, so sometimes we have to add a mile or so to have enough depth all the way around. You want to ride tide down one side, then wait for it to switch and ride it back. Planning all of that it part of the fun."

Some of the islands are uninhabited, and a couple of them are even nameless.

“There are always surprises along the way. We’ll see something and spend time exploring it. The nature that we see is a big part,” he said.

They came up with the island idea because “if you go from A to B, you have to move your equipment. Since there are so many islands in Beaufort County, it’s a challenge to cover them all. We enjoy exploring the county,” Grimes said.

Sometimes he and Feltner do feel like explorers when they discover a launch spot isn’t on area maps or is on the map but cannot be found.

“The most challenging one was Lemon Island. We discovered the Open Land Trust’s Widgeon Point. There were hammocks and barbecue pits,” he said. “We spent a lot of time looking around. By the time we got back in the water, we had to go against tide and wind. We were exhausted.”

They’ve also paddled around Morgan Island, known locally as Monkey Island, and saw monkeys on the southern shore. The curiosity was mutual, Kent said. Signs clearly identify the island as a federal research area so they didn’t go ashore. 

One island is still on their to-do list, even though they already attempted it.

“Fripp Island was one of the few times that I looked at the county map and thought one of the streams went through, but it didn’t. Went up another stream and it didn’t go through either. We were running out daylight. We had to paddle in the ocean for part of the trip and we didn’t want to do that in the dark."

He saw someone standing on a pier, paddled over and explained their predicament. The person agreed to drive Kent to his vehicle, which was parked at Hunting Island, and got him a pass to get through Fripp security to retrieve Feltner and their vessels.

“We found a new friend,” Grimes said, “but that’s an example of an island that we did not meet the challenge.”

He said it’s unlikely he and Feltner will swap means of travel.

“I tried the SUP, but it’s all about balance. Teenagers jump on it and take off. I enjoy the challenge but I don’t like it like Holly does,” he said.