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Cruising to Sandy Island, SC

January 2, 2020

I met Mike while playing in a tournament of the bean-bag toss like game of corn-hole at the magnificent Riptydz Bar and Grill on beautiful Myrtle Beach that features two restaurant levels offering spectacular views of the beach, Atlantic Ocean and the adjacent 2nd avenue pier. The tournament is just one of many sponsored by Riptydz on their huge second story outdoor deck that are run by my friend Jon the proprietor of Coastal Tailgating who markets the boards and corn-hole accessories around the Myrtle Beach area and nationwide.  Then the next day as luck would have it, I bumped into Mike again while I was walking the beach and he was hunting for sharks’ teeth. He is much younger than I and is a firefighter from my home state of NJ so we have that in common as well as our mutual love of Myrtle Beach to talk about and so we hit off quite well. So, after some chit-chat he said that he was taking his dad’s boat out that afternoon to cruise to Sandy Island and would I like to come along. I jumped at the chance to accompany him on his Rinker 232 Captiva bowrider because I hadn’t been on a boat since I sold my Cruisers 228 CXI just prior to relocating from New Jersey to Myrtle Beach. His boat is powered by a Mercruiser 6.2 Mag I/O that delivers plenty of speed topping out at around 55 MPH.
We began our trip at the free public boat ramp located in nearby Socastee at GPS 33° 41'11.61" N    79° 0'26.65" W, on the Intercoastal Waterway. The facility is located under the Carolina Bay Parkway overpass and offers duel concrete ramps with plenty of parking, a USCG life preserver lending station and clean restroom facilities.
Socastee is an Indigenous American name referred to as "Sawkastee" in a 1711 land grant to Percival Pawley. The earliest history of the area documents a skirmish that occurred between American and British troops near Socastee Creek in 1781. And subsequently, by the 1870s, the Socastee community became a significant center for the production and distribution of naval stores such as turpentine and tar. Additionally, the area included a saw mill along with turpentine distilleries, a cotton gin, a grist mill, cooper shop and a general store. The Socastee Historic District became listed in 2002 in the National Register of Historic Places.
It was a stunning South Carolina September day with bright sunlight reflecting off of the water and with a temperature of around 80 degrees with only a light breeze; perfect boating conditions. Once we had splashed the boat, cranked up her engine, cast off the lines then cleared the dock we headed due north on the Intercoastal towards Sandy Island. This was a pleasant surprise and the beginning of an adventure for me since I hadn’t ever boated on the intercoastal in this area and had planned on visiting Sandy Island but I didn’t expect to do so via private boat. Of course, a private boat is the most popular way to access the island however there are tourist excursion vessels that pass nearby it or offer onsite tours via kayak to the island.
Soon Mike pushed the throttle up to near red line and we were skimming across the flat surface at near 50 MPH with him at the helm and I seated in the bow seat, the wind tousling my hair and the sea spray moistened my face as the bright South Carolina sun rays wafted over me. The Rinker performed well maneuvering the curves and bends with ease and offering a comfy ride with surprisingly low engine noise at that high RPM. We cruised along passing by the modest homes, most having boat docks, some with boat lifts installed, having a cornucopia of makes and models of pleasure and fishing craft including wave runners, and even canoes in some instances. And, one of the most distinct and fun things we saw was “Poppy’s Hot Dogs” a floating hot dog stand that was closed for the off season otherwise we may have taken a respite from our journey to sample a dog or two. Oh well, maybe next time. Too, we saw the school boats that transport the children of Sandy Island to and from school during the weekdays. But this being a Saturday they weren’t in operation.
 The Island is located at GPS 33.55606° N, -79.13002°E and we approached it first from the southern side but it has only a few viable landing spots and our first choice was full. So, we headed around to the easterly side and were lucky enough to find a spot to beach. Sandy Island is home to an  unincorporated community in Georgetown County, South Carolina, United States that is situated between the Pee Dee Waccamaw Rivers that have been preserved as a refuge and nature center.
The island is about 9,000 acres of a prehistoric sand dune. And it is bounded east and west by the rivers on the north by Bull Creek, and on the south by Thoroughfare Creek.
The northern part of the island is higher and is mostly a longleaf pine forest that provides a refuge for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and numerous other species of plants and animals. The Nature Conservancy has designated the island for permanent protection from development.
On the southern, lower end of the island are the remnants of old rice plantations with the watergates and earthwork canals built by African slaves skilled in the rice culture. Such development was used to manage the water supply for irrigating the rice fields. A small community in the south is made up of a few families who are descendants of former slaves. The island is only accessible by boat, and workers and school children commute to the mainland daily for work and school.
Because of its resources, the island is regularly visited by naturalists, planters, archaeologists and geologists. Brook Green Gardens runs daily "scenic" boat rides close to the island and ours of the southern end are available by a private tour company.
We deboarded then climbed up a steep sand hill that overlooked a cove. There were a variety of boats beached there with family and friends enjoying the beautiful day while swimming grilling, imbibing and conversing together. Then we noticed the sign that read “Larry Paul Trail” which is a 2-mile hiking loop located on the southern end of the Sandy Island Preserve. The trail begins here at the beach near Thoroughfare Creek Landing, and offers views of Longleaf Pine and Pocosin Bay communities. The trail also includes interpretive trail signs about the island's abundant plants and wildlife. Sandy Island Preserve also offers two other easy-hiking nature trail options the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Little Bull Creek Trails. But, having left our hiking shoes back home Mike and I opted not to follow the trail on this trip to the island
As the lore of Sandy Island goes many Palmetto Moons ago, the Waccamaw River met the Great Pee Dee, thereby creating a sweeping stretch of sandbar called Sandy Island. Steeped in mystery and wild beauty, the island is owned by Nature Conservancy, which oversees the 9,000-acre wildlife preserve, a rich ecosystem where rare plant life as well as screech owls, great blue herons, swallowtail kites, endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers and other animals live. If you enjoy bird-watching, fishing, hiking, environmentalism or just seeking a quiet respite from the oft-frantic pace of the mainland, Sandy Island should be on your bucket list.
It is also home to about 50 descendants of enslaved Africans, master cultivators who worked the rice plantations that once thrived on the island. These heirs now own the land of their ancestors and proudly carry on the Gullah way of life handed down to them, an ethic defined by hard work and simple living. Though they carefully guard their privacy, some islanders offer private tours of their homeland for those interested in the Gullah culture and local history. Visitors are also warmly welcomed for services at New Bethel Baptist Church, founded in 1880 and the only church on Sandy Island

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