On the first full weekend in May I set out with a buddy of mine named Paul on a trip down the N. Santee River that I had been planning for quite some time but which the weather up to this point had not allowed. After dropping a car off at the Rangers HQ in the quaint little town of McClellanville (the boat ramp was not accessible at the time due to a town festival that was occurring up and down the street leading to and at the public landing we intended to use). We drove N. up Rt. 17 to the put in at Poleyard landing about 15 min from McClellanville. We loaded the kayaks and launched.
The paddling was relatively easy and the river was wide and beautiful. It was no more than 10 min before we saw our first alligator, one that looked to be about 5-6 ft. After that we saw them with increasing frequency. About 1.5 hr into the paddle we rounded a bend in the river and apparently disturbed a particularly large alligator (9-10 ft?) from his slumber on the sunny bank and he came charging into the river. He didnt look very happy so we didnt stay around to see what might happen next and made a b-line down the river.
After a few hours we reached the ICW and were careful to steer clear of traffic and shortly after that could see Cedar Island and the Atlantic. The tide was going out and the ocean was calm and the sun was beginning to get low in the sky. Not a bad way to spend a late Sat. afternoon.
Due to a slightly later than expected start, we decided to make camp on Cedar Island instead of Murphy Island which we had intended to do. We beached the kayaks, stretched, collected wood for a fire then explored the beach a bit. There were lots of trees, some relatively large in size, half embedded in the sand with their roots sticking up which gave them an odd but strangely interesting sculpture like quality. After an hour or so of exploration, we made a fire and had something to eat. We looked over our topo maps for the 2nd half of the trip and then turned in. We fell asleep to the gentle sound of small waves breaking on the shoreline and to the occasional porpoise coming up for breath.
In the middle of the night we were awakened by a chorus of deep bellowing coming from behind a 4 ft. berm of sand behind our tent. I peeked out the window in the tent and saw that there were no gators immediately around us so I got up and re-started the fire (bigger this time!). I wasn't schooled on the latest alligator behavior so I couldn't remember if deep bellows like that were for the ladies or were meant as a warning! They kept it up until daybreak so we kind of got used to it and we eventually fell back asleep.
By sun-up we had broken camp and were ready to continue the 2nd leg of the trip. I was able to get a few good photos of some dolphin hunting for breakfast in about 5 feet of water before we left. We launched into minimal surf and had to go a good ways offshore to skirt some breakers further down and paddled in 3-4 ft swells parallel to Murphy Island heading towards Cape Island. The weather was perfect with just enough wind to keep us comfortable. We reached the middle of Cape Island in a few hours and beached once again to stretch and have a snack. The island had plenty of sandy beach but that quickly gave way to a treeless expanse of waist high scrub. The tall lighthouse on nearby lighthouse island was clearly visible from anywhere on the island.
We launched again and continued toward the southern end of the island stopping short of rounding Cape Romain due to fairly large waves and portaged across the island and into Cape Romain Sound. We saw what looked to be an enormous sea turtle on the beach at this point but a close inspection revealed that it was a long dead sea turtle. The tide was on its way out so we had to walk through about 100 meters of ankle and knee deep mud before we could get in and actually paddle the boats. The sound itself was fairly low but navigable. We crossed the sound and entered Horsehead Creek passing lots of oyster beds. We shortly reached Muddy Bay and paying close attention to the topo maps made our way through the estuaries back to the ICW and to the McClellanville boat ramp tired but content.
Then we had to walk the 1.5 miles to get the car and load everything up and drive back to Columbia, SC. This was a fairly challenging paddle but not too demanding. Anyone with moderate paddling skills should be able to complete this trip with no major difficulties. Brings lots of water and DO NOT forget sunscreen!
Barrier Island beach camping.
2-15.5 ft St. Lawrene Sea Kayaks.
From Columbia, SC I-26 to Charleston then North out of Charleston, SC, on Rt. 17 to Pinckney Rd. in McClellanville, across from Rt. 45. Go right on what becomes the main street of a handsome town and ends almost at the boat ramp. There is a fair amount of parking, used by fisherpersons but no gate or fee. From that ramp, back to the highway and right ten miles to the north end of the Rt. 17 bridge over the North Santee river. Here there is excellent access, lots of parking with some shade, no fee or gate either.
USGS Topo maps: Minim Island, Cape Romain, Mclellanville quadrangles.