Kayaking the Low Country
by Shawn Payment
Having recently relocated from San Diego, California to Charleston, South
Carolina, I suddenly found myself jobless, boatless and friendless in the
middle of what is by most accounts, a “boaters paradise”. However, the
sudden relocation was made more palatable by the fact that I was not completely
new to the area. I had previously made Charleston my home in the mid-'80's
and had greatly enjoyed the people, the climate and above all, the vast
amount of boating opportunities the area's rich coastal areas provided.
Before I could enjoy all that watery fun however, I needed to find a boat.
The cross-country move had forced me to part with my previous
fleet--mousebout, bluejay and D4 dinghy—all of which had been sold to new
owners. Fortunately, it didn't take me long to resolve this problem. I soon
located a lightly-used plastic sea kayak, negotiated a sweetheart deal and I
was officially afloat once more.
(click images to enlarge)
|Now that I had a boat, I knew that I needed to find a group of like-minded
individuals to go boating with! That didn't take long either. While
perusing the bookshelf at our local Barnes & Noble, I found a book called
“Kayaking Charleston” written by a fellow named “Ralph Earhart. The book
described dozens of interesting kayaking routes within an hour of my home and
best of all, referred to a local kayaking club known as “The Lowcountry
|A trip to the Low Country Paddlers website soon led me to their next monthly
meeting. The meeting led me to their next group paddle scheduled for the
following Saturday. The plan was to paddle a section of the Edisto River just
North of Charleston. The Edisto, I learned, is the longest free-flowing
river in North America. The dark waters of the Edisto flow through portions
of 12 South Carolina low county counties eventually flowing all the way to
the Atlantic Ocean.
a Wherry-esque rowboat
I awoke that Saturday morning to sunny skies and 75 degrees weather--fine
ingredients for a day on the water. My adventure began in a supermarket
parking lot a few miles from my home. A bevy of boats and their owners had
gathered and an oddly familiar-looking fellow was busily checking off names
and collecting liability waivers. Due to the recent article about the group
in local newspaper, it seemed that about half of those present were newbies
just like myself.
Meeting the fellow with the attendance list proved to be an odd coincidence.
He was none other than Ralph Earhart, the author of the kayaking book which I
had impulsively purchased several weeks before. Even stranger was the fact
that the parking lot where we had gathered was directly across the street
from the Barnes & Noble where I had purchased his book. Odd coincidences or
karmic fate? Keep reading and you'll see where it gets weirder still. (Cue
Twilight Zone theme music...)
check in with Ralph
At 8:45 a.m. the order to “saddle up” was given and like good little ducklings
we fell into line for a 30-mile drive North to our launch point at Messervy
Landing. Along the way, we would occasionally pass other kayak-laden
ducklings who would hop neatly into the procession. When we finally arrived
at our starting point, I was overwhelmed by the level of turnout for the
event. I counted over thirty boats in a wide variety of colors and
dimensions. Most unique were a Wherry-esque fiberglass rowboat and a classic
70's era Folboat.
After boats were offloaded, Ralph efficiently organized another parade to
transport vehicles to our anticipated end point and then shuttle drivers
back. On the shuttle ride back to the start point, I got to chat with Ralph
some more. It was then that we discovered another odd coincidence. As it
turns out, we had both served on the same U.S. Navy minesweeper, the USS
Fearless, which had been based out of Charleston Naval Station. He had been
the ship's mine sweeping officer in the late '70's and I had held the same
exact position in the mid-'80's. Small world, ain't it?
|Following a brief safety lecture, the launch order was given and the group
took to the water like lemmings on a mission. In mere minutes, thirty-odd
boats were loaded, launched and neatly divided into fast and slow groups. I
have to say that U.S. Marines would have trouble launching a force with half
as much precision!
I fell into rhythm with the fast group and soon was gliding along the gentle
curves and wide turns of the Edisto. The tree-lined shores were just
beginning to show hints of Fall color as fat turtles lazily observed our
passing from perches on shoreside logs and stumps. Occasionally, a
sharp-eyed member of the group would spot a little blue heron or a hawk and
even a kingfisher and point them out to rest of us.
After about an hour and four miles of paddling, the fleet pulled in to shore
for a spot of lunch. Unfortunately, not realizing how long the outing would
take, I hadn't thought to bring more than a bottle of water. I must have
looked hungry since people soon started offering me food--cheese crackers,
half a PB&J, oatmeal cookies—Thanks to the kindness of strangers (or should I
say “new friends”?), I was soon energized for the second half of the trip.
lunch - good hope landing
The latter half of the voyage was highlighted by a side-trip up a little cut
known as Kelsey Cove. The bright, open cove quickly narrowed into winding,
shadowy passages, lined with the folded trunks of dark cypress trees under a
drooping canopy of Spanish moss. Someone reported seeing a large snake
slither into the water near my boat but I was too slow to spot it. Emerging
back into the cove, the fast and slow groups converged as one, blanketing the
silver ripples with splashes of florescent color—Fall had come early to
Returning to the main body of the Edisto, it seemed only moments before the
trip came to an unceremonious end. After a few more leisurely bends in the
river we arrived at our end point at Long Creek Landing, about 8 miles from
where we had begun. Quick “goodbyes” were all that separated us loading up
the vehicles for the drive home.
deep in the cove
|On the drive home, I knew that this trip would undoubtedly be just the first
of many. New home, new boat, new friends and plenty of water to share them
with. Things could be a lot worse. "There is nothing- absolutely nothing-
half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." -- Kenneth
Grahame, The Wind in the Willows.
When he's not dodging hurricanes, Shawn Payment is busy paddling and
re-learning how to speak “Southern” in his new home in Charleston, SC. Y'all
can reach him at email@example.com.