More than most yachting adventures, a trip through the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia is an episodic affair. Places along the way differ vastly in character and scale. From the vast 21st-century carnival that is Myrtle Beach, to Charleston's genteel genuflection to the gods of gastronomy, to a shady retreat beneath the canopy of a single ancient oak, to the beer-soaked revelry of Savannah-you'll find the binding narrative of your southbound passage through this "garden of good and evil" is the dark and winding waters of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Georgetown For a Whiff of Sawdust ICW Mile 403
This antebellum town on the Sampit River is the antidote for the antics of commercial Myrtle Beach, particularly if you have a passion for boats, which, of course, you do. Every October, Georgetown hosts its annual Wooden Boat Show along the city's waterfront and historic district.
About 100 wooden boats of all sizes are on display in the water, and more than a few are older than a century. For excitement, however, nothing beats the wooden boatbuilding competition.
Established by WoodenBoat magazine in 2007 as a circuit of regional boatbuilding contests, the National BoatBuilding Challenge pits up to 18 two-person teams against each other as they build the same 12-foot skiff design in less than four hours, then race the boats. Winners are chosen based on build time, workmanship, and speed against each other on the water. One sawdust-churning team was ready to row in a record-setting two hours, 27 minutes and 33 seconds! www.woodenboatshow.com
Tip: Get to the Kudzu Bakery on King Street early enough in the morning and you can walk out with bread that's still warm from the oven. Opens at 9 a.m. Monday through Saturday.
Capers Island For 'Boneyard Beach' Mile 451
Capers Island is an undeveloped barrier island about 15 miles north of Charleston near the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. The island is three miles long and one mile wide, including two miles of Atlantic beachfront. That's where Capers gets interesting. When Hurricane Hugo hit in 1988, it wiped away Capers's dunes, leaving the forest exposed to wind and waves from the North Atlantic. As trees were broken and roots upended, the beach became a panorama of naturally formed sculptures, like giant driftwood.
Remember looking at clouds as a kid and seeing the shapes of faces and wildlife? "Boneyard Beach," as it has been nicknamed, works the same way except with gnarled and sand-scrubbed wood. One exposed root system, for example, looks like a camel trying to rise to its feet. The effects can be comical, abstract, or just plain spooky. Capers is a photographer's dream, both for its dead forest and the myriad species of birds and other wildlife. Visit www.dnr.sc.gov, click the Managed Lands menu, and follow the links to Capers Island.
Tip: Anchor your boat just off the ICW at Whiteside Creek in 10 feet of water. Take the tender and beach it near the dock on the south side of Capers. Follow the path from the dock to the beach.
Johns Island To Picnic Under an Ancient 'Angel' ICW Mile 497
While Sir Lancelot was vying with King Arthur for the love of Guinevere back in Celtic Britain, the Angel Oak was likely gathering its first little bits of Spanish Moss above this far away, yet-to-be-discovered land. This sprawling live oak on Johns Island is believed to have sprung from the ground 1,500 years ago, making it the oldest living thing on our continent, east of the Rockies. The Angel Oak stands 65 feet high with a trunk 26 feet in circumference; its canopy shades about 17,000 square feet of ground, and the city of Charleston has kindly placed picnic tables there.
Seven miles southeast of the ICW mile marker, up Bohicket Creek, are the docks of the Bohicket Marina and Yacht Club, accommodating vessels up to 150 feet LOA. Marina and creek are near the mouth of the Edisto River, a navigable inlet in fair weather.
This being the "Low Country," pedaling is easy. If you don't carry bicycles on your boat, the Island Bike and Surf Shop will happily deliver them to the marina. Enjoy a picnic beneath the Angel Oak (12 miles away) as part of cycling circuit through marsh and farmland. Visit www.angeloaktree.org, www.bohicket.com, and www.kiawahislandbikerental.com.
Tip: Don't handle the Spanish moss. Chiggers, or redbugs as they're also called, live in the moss and may cause an unpleasant, itching rash on the skin.
Beaufort For Small-Town Fun ICW Mile 536
Small-town festivals are one of the joys of summer in America. In Beaufort, the fun stretches over a nine-day period in July called the Water Festival, an event first begun in 1959. Set against a backdrop of lovely "Beaufort-style" architecture and waterfront eateries, the festival offers a daily dose of friendly competition, live entertainment, and goofy fun: Bingo, bocce, bowling, badminton, billiards, and a bed race, just to cite the Bs. If you've got an inflatable and some paddles, you and the crew can go for glory in the raft race. www.bftwaterfestival.com
Tip: Five marinas are ready host your vessel, including the Downtown Marina, right on the waterfront. But for peace and quiet at the end of the night, consider anchoring just south of the city behind the marsh island. To enter this anchorage, go around the island's southern tip and drop the hook in 20 feet of water over a sandy bottom. Do not enter from the north because of shoaling.
Hilton Head A Beacon For Duffers ICW Mile 565
Since 1970 the now famous red-striped lighthouse at Hilton Head has been a beacon for mariners as well as a backdrop for the PGA. When it was first built, the replica lighthouse was denigrated as "Fraser's Folly," after developer Charlie Fraser. A founding father of sustainable development, Fraser was considered a bit nutty at the time. Now he is regarded as a visionary, and Hilton Head is his legacy, including Harbour Town Marina with its widely imitated circular basin.
Golfers can pull in for a round anytime of the year, but for real fanatics, one particular week in April is best. Reserve dock space early and join the spectators at the annual PGA Heritage Golf Tournament. Golf aside, Fraser's Folly is believed to be the most photographed object on the waterway. Visit www.harbourtownyachtbasin.com and www.verizonheritage.com.
Tip: Pay homage to the late Charlie Fraser by visiting a big old oak near the lighthouse. Fraser once told a contactor he would cut down that oak "over my dead body." Frasers' remains are buried beneath its canopy.