It’s another Lowcountry Unfiltered Second Saturday, which means paddling with my friends. Last month we traveled up to the Fall Line to paddle Turkey and Stevens Creeks. This month we would be hanging close to home, at least for the majority of our paddlers. We would be paddling the May River, launching from Bluffton. It wasn’t close to home for me, though. I made the four-hour drive down yesterday in time to do some pre-LCU paddling with Tim Brown on the New River. Today’s exploration with the larger group would be quite different.
Our group has developed several traditions over the years. One has been to meet at a unique place for breakfast. This time it would be the Squat and Gobble in Bluffton. I woke up very early after a fitful, mostly sleepless night, and made the drive from Hardeeville to Bluffton. When I got to the Squat and Gobble, fellow paddler Ray was waiting for me. Ray had first joined us last August for our Sparkleberry paddle. This morning it would just be the two of us for breakfast.
The Squat and Gobble is a unique Bluffton fixture. I walked in the door and was greeted by a scantily clad mannequin that startled me somewhat. We sat at a long table because we weren’t sure how many would join us. The menus also featured a scantily clad woman. From what I had seen so far, it was false advertising.
Despite the titillating menu cover, it was a normal breakfast dive with normal customers. I ordered my usual breakfast. The grits came in a bowl with a spoon (gasp!), but I coped. Apart from the non-Southern serving faux pas, it was as tasty as a breakfast like this can be.
After breakfast I headed own down to our put-in point, Alljoy Landing. Ray headed to the take-out, the Bluffton Oyster Company, to meet up with Matt. I drove through the oak-covered streets, wishing I had more time to explore the little coastal town. Every time I’ve come down this way I’ve been on my way to somewhere else, usually Hilton Head. In his novel/memoir The Water Is Wide, Pat Conroy described Bluffton this way:
Bluffton perched above the winding, tide-ruled May River, egrets fished its shores, and fleets of long bateaux explored the blind inlets and creeks in search of productive oyster beds. Bluffton is a town of matchless serenity, a town thick with glinting, towering magnolias, impressive oaks, sloughs glutted with wildflowers, peeling by remarkably attractive houses. A church built from cypress stands beside the river; a structure of elegant simplicity and fine lines built by slaves…. Bluffton is sleepy, magisterially silent, and enjoys a benediction of flowers every spring. Yet it is a town that retains many of the wrinkles and arthritic cramps of the old South.
Bluffton is no longer the sleepy little town Conroy describes, as development from Hilton Head creeps ever further inland. However, some of that old South character still survives.
Alljoy Landing was a busy place. It took a couple of circuits for me to find a place to park. Soon Jerry Crisp joined me, as did Ray. We started to unload our boats when we found that we were in the wrong place. Matt and the rest of the guys had dropped off a vehicle at the take-out, and had parked at a beach launch just up the street. Since we were already in the process of unloading, we went ahead and launched and paddled down to them.
In all there were eight paddlers. Me, Matt, John, Sean, Jerry, Ray, Tim (with whom I’d paddled the New River the day before), and Brian. Brian had paddled down from his own dock upriver.
We paddled out across the May. Our target was a channel directly across from Alljoy Landing. On the other side of the May river we encountered our first group of dolphins. They would keep us company throughout the trip.
Our plan was to paddle out with the out-going tide. We would stop out Bull Island for a bit, then paddle back with the incoming tide. I personally couldn’t tell if the tide were coming or going. The mud banks were still exposed, as were the oyster beds.
The narrow channel we were paddling had another connection to Pat Conroy. In The Water Is Wide, Conroy would launch from Alljoy Landing on a motor boat and would navigate down this very channel in route to Daufuski Island, where he taught. In his novel, Daufuski is renamed “Yamacraw.” Here’s how Conroy describe both the island and the area:
Yamacraw is an island off the South Carolina mainland not far from Savannah, Georgia. The island is fringed with the green, undulating marshes of the southern coast; shrimp boats ply the waters around her and fisherman cast their lines along her bountiful shores. Deer cut through her forests in small silent herds. The great southern oaks stand broodingly on her banks. The island and the waters around her team with life. There is something eternal and indestructible out the tide-eroded shores and the dark, threatening silences of the swamps in the heart of the island. Yamacraw is beautiful because man has not yet had time to destroy this beauty.
In this little channel we encountered more dolphins, but we also encountered a few motor boats. Some of these were courteous and slowed down for us, but others blasted right past. We also so a couple of rather unusual motor boats that looked more like paddle boards with lawn chairs.
We were approaching the inland shore of Bull Island. Like Daufuski, Bull Island doesn’t have a bridge connecting it to the mainland. There was one house on the inland side. The island isn’t developed, and Google Earth makes it look like there is some cultivated land on the interior. We landed below the large bluffs, in the shade of moss-covered oak trees.
We explored the bank a bit. I came across one area where there had been a brick structure of some kind. There were also metal spikes, similar to railroad spikes, as well as other bits of metal.
We also found a few potsherds, including a rather large piece of pottery.
We took the opportunity of dry land to kick back a bit and relax. It would be a long haul before our next stop.
The tide had come in faster that Matt had realized. Water was high enough that we could paddle along the side of several smaller islands, the largest of which was Savage Island, which had several houses on it along the banks. We paddled fairly quickly, wanting to reach a particular sandbar before the tide got too high.
There were more boats, but also more dolphins. Sean got up close and personal with one.
After quite a bit of paddling we reached another junction. Here we debated our lunch options. Originally we had planned to paddle to a sandbar and just hang out. However, the tide was much higher than planned, so most likely it was going to be under water. Brian suggested that we paddle out to a place where there was a retreat and park area for one of the expensive housing developments. He said it shouldn’t be a problem for us the crash the joint. He also said that it was only a quarter of a mile away. As it turned out, it was closer to almost a mile and a half of paddling against a stiff wind.
Unsure of our welcome, we pulled up on an old oyster bar just below the retreat. There we set up our chairs and stove to cook lunch.
I decided to explore a bit. There was a boat ramp and dock, there were also several hammocks and chairs set around a fire pit. There was a covered picnick shelter.
However, the coolest thing was the multi-level tree house.
Of course, we had to climb it. The topmost level looked out over the tops of the oak trees, with fantastic views of the salt marsh and May River estuary.
We had the place to ourselves. Matt decided that we should take advantage of the chairs and hammocks for lunch. By the time John and I got down from the treehouse the rest of the guys had brought the gear over. Even though it had been a long hard paddle to get here, it was one of the best lunch stops we have ever had.
We did have the place to ourselves. Four women rode bicycles over and explored the tree house. They had asked us about our paddling trip, but seemed unconcerned that we were there. One other golf cart pulled up, but they just said hello and kept going.
Suitably rested, we headed out for the return trip. Since the headwinds had been so strong I hoped to deploy my sail. Alas, the winds had died down after lunch. It worked for a bit, but became more trouble than it was worth.
We reached the power lines that had marked our previous turn, but we kept going straight. Soon, though, we turned north toward the Bluffton Oyster Company. There was lots more boat traffic through this stretch, including some skiers.
Eventually we reached our take-out. The Bluffton Oyster Company was a popular place in addition to motor boats launching, there were kayaks and stand-up paddle boards taking off.
We left the boats under John’s watchful eye while Matt drove us back to Alljoy to retrieve our vehicles. Back at the take out we loaded up and headed out.
Some of us weren’t done, though. Matt, Jerry, Tim, and I decided to check out James Brown’s new place. James normally paddles with us, but was tied up this weekend. James is a master brewer, and has partnered with a restaurant to seel his beer. Salt Marsh Brewing, Jame’s business, occupies the upper floor of the restaurant, Fat Patties. There is outside seating, and a band was setting up. I ordered chicken tacos, and Tim got a burger. It was all excellent.
It had been another excellent day of kayaking with Lowcountry Unfiltered. The rest of the guys were already home, but I still had a four-hour return trip. Today we had paddled 11.3 miles. Combine that with yesterday, and I had paddled nearly 17 miles in two days.
For that long of a paddle I didn’t get as many photos as you might think. I was occupied with sailing and with simply paddling to keep up. I had to rely on the GoPro quite a bit. Regardless, here’s the slideshow from the day’s paddle.
Great weekend, but I was beat. It was still only Saturday, and I had a full Sunday yet to come.