This month the Lowcountry Unfiltered group decided to explore the Charleston Harbor. It was a great day, but not without its challenges. We battled wind, rain, tides, tricky currents, and crazy boaters, but still got to see some interesting history from the water.
Our plan was to meet at Remley Boat Ramp, paddle under the Cooper River Bridge to Patriots Point, then take out on Shem Creek. We found that a major swimming event was happening in that area and that one of our regular paddlers was taking part as a safety kayaker. We decided to push our launch time back to 11:00 am so there wouldn’t be any conflict with the swimmers.
I made the three-hour drive down to Charleston with no incident, and no Lizard Man. I was the first to arrive at Remley in Mount Pleasant and found the landing hopping. Some of the safety paddlers were taking out and others were pulling in the buoys from the swim meet. On top of that, there was regular weekend traffic with boats launching.
The water in the harbor was calm and glassy and the skies were as blue as can be. Spoiler alert – they didn’t stay that way.
The others arrived shortly thereafter. We decided that instead of taking out at Shem Creek we would just do an out-and-back and arrive back here. With that off the plate, we got our boats ready to launch. Six of us would be paddling.
We headed south toward the Cooper River Bridge. As many times as I’ve driven over this bridge, it was interesting to see it from a different vantage point.
Once past the Ravenel-Copper River Bridge we approached our first target for the day, an obscure landmark in the harbor simply known as the concrete boat.
Commissioned as the “Col. J. E. Sawyer”, the ship was built in New Bern, NC, in 1919 and was the first of nine concrete ships in the “Quartermaster” series. It was a 700-ton, 128.5-foot ship, and was able to carry 500 people.
The Sawyer was named for a Quartermaster of the US Army who served from 1909 to 1910. Other boats in this passenger ship series were also named for prominent quartermasters. In this photo the Col. J. E. Sawyer is shown with its sister ship, the Archibald Butts.
In 1923 the Sawyer was decommissioned and moved to Charleston. It sank in 1926 and the hull remained where we found it on this trip.
Just south of the concrete boat loomed another decommissioned ship, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, now part of the military museum at Patriots Point.
We paddled up to the aircraft carrier and posed with it, wishing we had one of our Lowcountry Unfiltered stickers to slap on the side of it.
In addition to the Yorktown the museum features the destroyer, the USS Laffey, and a sub, the USS Clagmore. We paddle around the ships, probably getting a view that most of the visitors wouldn’t see.
The Clagmore is located in the Charleston Marina, along with yachts and other pleasure craft. The marina was busy, and we had to get out of the way and and hold back until traffic passed.
From the marina we crossed the busy channel to Shute’s Folly Island. The wind and waves really picked up and with the boat wakes the water was quite rough.
We landed on the north side of the island, a spit of land made up of old oyster shells. We figured this would be as good a place as any for a stop and to cook our traditional lunch of bratwurst and sauerkraut.
As we waited for our lunch the weather took a sudden turn for the worse. A storm front rolled in from the east dumping rain on our party. I broke out an emergency poncho to shelter the stove, but we got soaked and ate in the rain.
After lunch the rain let up and we launched on the west side of the island. The water was still rough, but not quite as bad as the first crossing. We paddled to the south end of the island, the location of Castle Pinkney. Several of us landed near the old Civil War fort, but there were signs everywhere saying “Island Closed. Do not come ashore” and “No Trespassing.” I took a couple of shots and got back into my boat without venturing further onto the island.
We headed back north, this time toward the peninsula. Boat wakes made the trip a challenge, but we eventually reached the East Bay area near the Charleston Aquarium.
Once again we passed under the Cooper River Bridge, this time on the west side of Drum Island. Through this narrow channel along the industrial side of the Charleston Peninsula the water was incredibly rough. Most of this was from boat wakes. Party boats came whizzing by oblivious to us or the chaos their wakes were creating.
Apparently these boats were headed to the northwest side of Drum Island. A wide beach area was party central, Charleston’s equivalent of the Redneck Riviera.
That wasn’t our target, though. Our last stop for this trip would be the old Southern Railway Coal Tipple, built in 1915. A long rail trestle ran out to the tipple, where coal was unloaded from the cars onto boats. For part of its operating time it was the only coastal coal tipple in operation south of Virginia. The tipple ceased operation in 1952 and now sits abandoned.
On the other side of Town Creek from the tipple we first encountered another old decaying brick structure.
We crossed the creek heading toward the tipple, proper.
At this point we were ready to head back to Remley Landing. We paddled through the channel north of Drum Island, trying to avoid the crazies on the boats. On the east side of the island we had to wait for a massive cargo sheep and an armada of small sailboats, in addition to the regular complement of motor boats.
We survived the traffic and made it back to the landing. We paddled 8.8 miles around the harbor.
After loading up the boats we had planned to head over to Shem Creek to get some seafood. It was so crowded that we couldn’t even get parked. Instead we opted for BBQ at a place called Melvin’s. It was tasty, but much, much more expensive than the hole-in-the-wall places we normally frequent.
Even with the waves, rain, and the crazies, it was another enjoyable, epic Lowcountry Unfiltered paddling trip.
One thought on “Exploring the Charleston Harbor by Kayak”
Wow, what an adventure! I would love to see the Yorktown up close, from the water! I met you a few weeks ago at the Edisto River, at the Walling Landing takeout. Thanks for posting this.