On the edge

My second book, Tracing the Cape Romain Archipelago, came out in September of 2009. It was a big deal for me: Exploring Bull Island came out in 2005, so this doesn’t happen every year (do the math). My full time job keeps the frequency low for these events, now numbering two in my life, and my late start in my 50’s.

To publicize the book release, and to celebrate it, we planned a trip out into Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge on October 4. Chris Crolley (Captain Chris), head of Coastal Expeditions, offered to take a group over to Bull Island as a special event for the book. It was a very generous offer, and typical for Chris. People signing up for this trip got for their ticket both the trip to the island on the ferry Island Cat, and a signed copy of the book.

Chris suggested that to make the event really special I should sail over and meet the group.  We haggled about this, and I wondered if instead I should be hanging out with people on board. He asked me if Mick Jagger waited around Will Call to greet people. I thought the Mick Jagger analogy was ludicrous, but the idea won out. How to sign people‘s books, though, was still a question. It was solved by the plan to tow my boat Kingfisher for the return trip, and sign books on the way.

Our planned landing place on the island was the northeast point, and I started out on Kingfisher early on the outgoing tide so as to not be late – that would not be good form. I was confident that despite the light winds the tide would take me out. It was a calm bay that I crossed heading out to the point, with the wind varying in direction but most of the time keeping me tacking. The passivity of the conditions allowed for a far-reaching broadcast of the sounds of the bay.

The wind died when I reached the island, and I tacked in that direction rather than out into the inlet – I had thought about a side trip to the little sand island on the north side of the inlet with my extra time. But a tack in that direction might push me outside in Bull Shoals, and miss my rendezvous with Island Cat. I hugged the island, at times being held motionless with my course back from where I came by the outgoing tide.

In this holding pattern, I finally sighted the ferry, and with a little wind was able to have Kingfisher sailing (ever so slowly) when we met. We landed together, and I helped greet the disembarking passengers. It was a mixed group, but some invited guests included Kevin Godsea, refuge manager, and Sarah Dawsey, refuge biologist.  In the photo Sarah appears behind the two men in similar outfits.

These McClellanville gentlemen (arms-crossed pose) were two of the people that helped my project: Billy Baldwin (on the left), writer, painter, and man of other inclinations, and Bud Hill, director of the Village Museum. My family was along, and a contingent of work colleagues from the Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs (CDAP). On the beach at the point, the group surveyed a beautiful scene:  a calm Bulls Bay and ocean in full sun and freshened by a very light wind.

Gathering all on this beach, I talked a little about the place: the historic point where the Carolina colonists made landfall and interacted with the local native Americans, the Seewees; the shallow body of water, Bulls Bay, where Hepburn Morrison struggled after a capsize to save the life of his crew and himself; and the islands to the north, a Lowcountry archipelago. We appeared to be on its edge, and I encouraged those with binoculars to look to the northeast to Lighthouse Island where they could easily see its larger tower. It was this set of islands to the north that was the inspiration for this new book.

We planned a guided walk around the point and along the beach to the dike of Jacks Creek. An interior walk was out of the question – Chris estimated the mosquito level in the previous week in the maritime forest as “Oh my God!” I pointed out to our group the path to the interior to see if anyone wanted to survey the mosquitoes, but there were no takers. In the other direction from that path was that direction to the former lighthouse, of which the site lies off the beach somewhere.

The entrance to the dike would be after the first tidal creek cutting across the beach, and before the second tidal creek. And yet I had discovered in a trip a month ago a new tidal creek between the two though close to the more southern of the beach creeks. This new tidal creek would be the site of our ascension to the Jacks Creek dike. It has been a very dynamic location, since about two years ago a new dike was built behind the existing but threatened dike. It was completed none too soon, since the older dike continued to erode away until it was gone.

Today we see where the pond between the old and new dike has connected to the ocean, and even at low tide there is still water to wade through. Several of the group followed my previous walk in through the break of the old dike into the pond area. The incoming tide had deposited sand providing for a little path into this new world. Not far away was the new dike, holding the waters of Jacks Creek separate from the ocean waters. So this is the edge, the boundary where the forces of nature seek to reclaim the impounded waters as salt marsh. It has always been a favorite place of mine on the island, and these new dynamics only enhance what it was, what it is now, and what it will be.

Prior to leading the group onto the dike, Sarah Dawsey told me that there have been roseate spoonbills in the Jacks Creek impoundment. I am surprised, though several years ago I saw a pair in the upper Summerhouse Pond.

For those intrepid souls (a majority of our group) who stepped up for this next adventure, it wasn’t but a few yards onto the dike before we were met by the mosquito greeting party. People pulled out their repellant, and walkers were taken aback by the quantity of biting insects. I wanted our group to just get a quick look at this over 900 acre impoundment, and hopefully we would see an alligator before turning tail back to the beach. Though given the heads up by Dawsey, I still wasn’t prepared on this short walk along the edge of Jacks Creek to see the pink plumage of the spoonbill. And consorting with it was a wood stork. The excitement numbed many of the group to the mosquito attack that did not stop until we reached the safety of the beach. Despite the discomfort, the sighting of the spoonbill and stork duo more than made up for the bites (I think).

Though the new tidal creek and bird pair in Jacks Creek were highlights, the party leaving on Island Cat had the fortune to see some truly acrobatic dolphin action near the island. Kingfisher was tied alongside the ferry for the trip home while I worked away on signing books. But when done, I bid farewell to this wonderful group of people to take my leave, sailing home by a different course. Though little wind, the tide would help me along. Chris later commented on the impression of seeing me leaving the safety of the ferry for my little craft. The irony is Kingfisher has always provided me with a sense of security. And has always gotten me home – this was the first time she had ever been towed. Casting off from Island Cat gave me that intangible I get whenever heading out on the water in this craft – freedom.

(Thanks for photos from Ginny Prevost and Lisa Wimberly).