Several weeks ago I received a Facebook friend request from Deb Mims. Deb and I had never met, but she had read several of my posts here. I’m usually very cautious when I get a request like this out of the blue. However, Deb had some interesting things going on, so I accepted. I’m glad I did, as it led to an excellent kayaking trip and the potential for more exploration.
Deb Mims and Ed Deal are the proprietors of Blueway Adventures out of Bonneau, SC. They also are the organizers for the Tri-County Blueway Kayaking Meetup. I think the three counties referenced in the name are Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester.
It was this latter group that caught my attention. I saw that they were taking a trip out to Ferguson. My posts about that trip remain the most popular on this site and I’ve been wanting to return. Sadly, it didn’t work out for that trip, but I saw that they had one going to Church Island, which had been the second half of my original trip. That one I could do.
I could do it, but it was going to be a challenge for logistics. I would be leading a group from Lowcountry Unfiltered into Sparkleberry Swamp on Saturday, then there was this trip on Sunday. Since they are on opposite ends of Lake Marion it would make sense just to stay overnight. However, I was loaning boats to folks and Jim had kindly offered to drive down to Sparkleberry. So, on Friday while I was loading up my Pungos for that trip, I put my Tsunami on the Subaru so it would be ready to go early Sunday morning. It would do better on the more open waters of Lake Marion for the Church Island trip.
Saturday evening I tried to rest up while also switching gear for the next trip. It was more a matter of recharging batteries (including my own) and tossing the gear into the Subaru. I even had a spare sandwich left from the previous day’s trip, so I didn’t even have to make another one.
Even though this trip was further away than yesterdays and the drive would be longer, they were meeting a bit later. That was a good thing. It gave me an extra hour of sleep which I really needed. By 6:30 am I was rolling out of the yard.
My plan had been to get to Spiers Landing by 9:30 so that I could find parking and get my gear ready to go. A SNAFU with the GPS threw me off-course a bit, so that I got there just a bit before 10:00. The landing was busy and I had to park quite a way from the ramp, but I brought my kayak cart for just such an eventuality. Other paddlers were also readying their boats. I didn’t know anyone, and just assumed we were all on the same group.
I spotted Deb and went over to introduce myself. I also met Ed and Guy. Parked on either side of me were Tracy and Myranda. I would spend a good part of the trip talking to them.
The MeetUp site had nearly 30 people signed up for the trip – a huge group by LCU standards. With cancellations and no-shows it was closer to 20. Still a huge group.
I hauled my gear over to the launch to find many boats were already in the water. Somehow I’d expected a “paddler’s meeting” or something like that. Ed was giving instructions to a couple who were about to embark in a kayak. I decided to follow suite and launch.
We did raft up for a moment for instructions, then headed on out across the lake. As was the case in Sparkleberry yesterday, the weather was nearly perfect. Osprey danced along the low cypress trees.
It surprised me how many boats were the same model as mine. I counted at least three other Tsunami 145s and several shorter Tsunamis. Ed had a boat like mine, and now I’m wondering if these are the boats they carry in as part of their outfitting business. There were also several Pungos mixed in with the group. I knew they were offering rentals for those that didn’t have their own boats.
I chatted with everyone as we paddled along, but spent more time talking to Myranda and Tracy. Myranda is an attorney in Charleston, and Tracy retired from the police in New Jersey and moved down here. Tracy was trying out her new GoPro and seeking advice. Myranda had a bright pink kayak that was hard to miss.
It didn’t take long at all to reach the island. We threaded through cypress trees as much as we could, but when we hit the unprotected water the lake got rather choppy. I was impressed that this large group managed to stay together (unlike yesterday’s group.) Even the folks in the tandem were doing well.
Here’s a bit of video from the GoPro:
Soon we reached the cemetery and landed. The group began to explore.
I won’t go into the history of the Church Island Cemetery, aka Rocks Cemetery. I covered most of that on my last visit. However, there was one grave I was after, that of Joseph Palmer Simons. I missed it on the previous visit and wanted to make a point of finding it this time.
I also made an embarrassing mistake. Simon’s Find-a-Grave listing has the following:
Note: Died by own hand / gun shot.
For whatever reason I took it to mean that those words appeared on the headstone, and said as much to those that were helping me to find it. More on that in a bit.
Joseph Simons lived on Francis Marion’s former plantation, Pond Bluff. The government had appropriated his land for the Santee-Cooper Project through eminent domain. Having exhausted his legal options, Simons stood on his porch and shot himself. His grave was a direct link to the formation of the lake.
Until we found Simon’s grave we looked at some of the other historical markers. As I noted last time, there were several signature stones, including one that looked like it belonged to Thomas Walker.
Ed and I had an interesting conversation about this history of the area. He grew up on this lake, and knew all the history as passed down by his friends and family. Sometimes that history differed from which I’d heard. For example, my information said that clearing the Lake Marion stopped when Hitler invaded Poland. Ed said that he’d heard that it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The dates support the Hitler-Poland story. It wasn’t an argument about who was right (me), but just a conversation about how these stories influence our perception of an area.
I found the Simons family in a back corner of the cemetery, but Joseph wasn’t among them. Finally we found it, down closer to the lake. Joseph was buried next to his parents, Keating Lewis Simons and Ida Gaillard Simons. His stone bore the following inscription:
Son of Keating Lewis and Ida Gaillard Simons of Pond Bluff. At rest.
There was nothing about the cause of death. Of course there wouldn’t be. What was I thinking? Oh well.
Ed gathered us together to ask if we wanted to have lunch here or at a beach further along the island. The group voted for further along, so we loaded up and continued along the edge of the island.
Now our goal was to circumnavigate the island. I stayed close to the front with Ed, who gave a running commentary about the history of the island and its various features. He was a wealth of information, and I wish I could have stuck close enough to hear. We rounded the north side of the island, staying within the cypress tree line that ringed it.
We found a beach on the north side of the island and pulled up for lunch. Everyone grabbed a section of log for a seat. I missed out, so I went back to my boat and pulled out my string hammock. It made for a decent seat for lunch.
After lunch we stuck to the tree line until we reached the eastern side of the island. From there we crossed more open water, watching the ospreys swoop around their low nests. The twin smoke towers of the power plant loomed to the east. Somewhere out there was the channel that connected the two lakes.
I met another paddler, Matt, who said he used to paddle with a group called Lowcountry Adventures. The group is based out of Hilton Head, and my from from both LCU and the Church of the Double-Bladed Paddle, Tim Brown, has paddled with them. It turns out Matt knew Tim well. However, it got me wondering about our group, Lowcountry Unfiltered, and Lowcountry Adventures. Coincidence? A reaction to? I found it a strange coincidence that they were from the same area.
I had one other interesting conversation with Ed. Sometime during the course of the trip Ed said that they no longer allowed human powered craft through the Pinopolis Lock. I’d had the chance to paddle it, but it seemed like that was now a thing of the past. According to Ed, the problem was with a group of Stand-Up Paddlers that wouldn’t listen to the Lock Master. He decided to cut off access for every paddler.
Before I knew it we spotted our take-out at Spiers Landing. Ed pointed out a cove about a mile away where he said we could find some alligators. I asked Tracy if she wanted to check it out, and her response was, “Only if they prefer white meat to dark meat.”
We pulled back onto the bank from which we had launched, then started the process of loading up. I said my goodbyes to my new friends and passed out some of my contact cards. It had been a great trip, and I had met some great folks.
Compared to yesterday, it had been a short one, only 4.65 miles. But, it was still an excellent trip.
I’ll definitely join this group for another paddle. Now I’m glad I accepted Deb’s friendship request.
One thought on “Return to Church Island”
Enjoyed reliving Sunday’s paddle through your words and pictures!