Why Hilton Head is a Must-See for Cruisers

With hurricane Matthew in its wake, this South Carolina destination is back in business as a must-see cruising spot.
Hilton Head lighthouse

Iconic Light

Harbour Town lighthouse is unlike its government-backed brethren in that it was privately funded. Developer Charles Fraser paid to build it while constructing Harbour Town Marina and the Sea Pines Plantation.   Fraser’s Folly is what naysayers called the development, but Fraser got the last laugh, setting up a golf tourney that, today, is known as the RBC Heritage. The lighthouse is open to the public for tours seven days a week, with a $4.25 fee to climb the thigh-burning 114 steps to the top. The walls are lined with memorabilia and historical images. iStock/SeanPavonePhoto

A year and a half after Hurricane Matthew pummeled the Carolina coastline with brutal blows, Leslie Whitener can vividly recall scenes that, even today, seem surreal.

“I had the fuel docks five days after the storm, but there were a number of days that I didn’t have a dock at the fuel dock,” says Whitener, who is the assistant harbor master at Harbour Town Yacht Basin on Hilton Head, South Carolina. “Guys would have to tie up to the pilings.”

Oh, how things have changed. The marina is just about rebuilt, she says, after being closed for nearly nine months and then reopening piece by piece.


“Not all of the docks were replaced, but about 65 percent of them were, with all new power pedestals, dock boxes and everything,” she says. By the time you read this, the marina is expected to be ­fully reopened — with the same transient rates as before the storm, encouraging cruisers, anglers and superyacht owners to come back.

“The biggest we’ve ever put in here was a 172,” she told Yachting in January. “And we’re dredging as we speak right now, so we’ll have 9 to 10 feet [of draft] at low tide this summer.”

Transients get full access to the Sea Pines Resort, with its restaurants, tennis courts, outdoor entertainment, golf course and events.

Hilton Head

Swimmers Always Welcome

Hilton Head has 12 miles of public beaches, with the official beach season running from April 1 to September 30. Keep an eye on the signs: During those months, activities such as fishing, surfing and even riding boogie boards are prohibited in designated swimming areas. iStock/FangXianuo

“We have the RBC Heritage golf tournament in April,” she says. “It’s a huge draw, a great way to entertain clients. We fill the marina up with corporate boats looking to entertain clients. As far as we’ve been able to determine, we’re the only marina that’s adjacent to a PGA course. I’m looking at the 18th green.”

And because the storm caused a shutdown last year, cruisers went elsewhere; that means reservations for slips today can be made later than usual, sometimes with a few days’ notice thanks to the shortened waiting list. Boaters may still see some rebuilding in progress along the coast, she adds, but “it’s certainly better than it was this time last year.”