Captain Jolly Roger's
This trip was focused on Captain Jolly Roger and his life as a fisherman, fishing guide, and seaman. Located in Murrells Inlet, Captain Jolly makes a living from his backyard – a creek and a boat. Not many can say that. Although the creek is there, it runs into the Atlantic Ocean, which per the captain, is life and death, the future and the present.
Upon our arrival, we walked around the outside of his home to sit on a dock, which was, as Professor Hensel said, “better than our usual classroom.”
Captain Jolly Roger enjoys something of a celebrity status, having been the subject of many articles and exposes. He is also the recipient of several prestigious professional awards, and winner of various competitions involving fishing and marsh life. His biggest accomplishment, though, is that he has been able to utilize his aquatic environment, wherever he was, to sustain a good living. And not only does he live and work in a truly great environment, but he has vast numbers of professionals, sportsmen, and fans, who call him a friend.
Besides being a fishing expert and guide, in a sense, he is an entertainer, a psychologist, a teacher, mentor, a political and charity advocate, and so many things that makes him a unique asset to his community. And he can tell a story, “has a million of them,” that will keep someone or a group delighted and intrigued for hours. He has been known to drink a cold beer, and offer the same to visitors and friends. He is not the proverbial “crusty sea captain,” yet he has a downhome, approachable personality that tends to make people want to lean his way while he tells tales of his interesting seagoing life.
We spent a few minutes on the dock discussing some of the wildlife around the area, and Jolly told us that spartina grass was the base of the food chain. Without it, there would be no other life in the inlet. Then, after a brief crash course on what creatures live in the area--crabs, fox, sea otters, raccoons, minnows, flounder, and more—Captain Jolly told us to pay attention to what is in front of us.
“You look out to the horizon and you’re looking for something. People are always looking for something,” he said. “People are always looking for something in the distance. Stop. Look closer at what is in front of you.”
Suddenly we were able to see the crabs and mud minnows. We were able to see the little movements of the fish in the water. We were able to see things that we overlooked because we were searching in the distance for something.
Putting a piece of sliced bread into a minnow trap and throwing it out, Captain Jolly got our attention by telling us to look how quickly minnows were all over it. Sure enough, the minnows swarmed the trap like this slice of bread was their five-star meal, and within two minutes, Jolly pulled up the trap to find hundreds of minnows where bread had been.
“Nobody believes me when I tell them a piece of bread is the best bait, but it’s just that simple,” Captain Jolly stated with a grin on his face.
When we were out on the dock, Captain Roger also spoke to us about climate change and sustainable living. This is something more people need to learn and pay attention to. If we keep living the way that we do, our ocean levels are going to rise and there will be an extreme change to our wildlife. He said it himself, the ocean levels are rising, and he can see the change. There are visible changes to the water level each year and he doesn’t need to look very hard to see that. He doesn’t have to go diving to see the impact of the rising sea level. He doesn’t have to look at the sad pictures of polar bears dying to see that there is a problem. All he has to do is stand on his dock.
Captain Roger explained that he had to rebuild his entire dock in 2016 because Hurricane Matthew destroyed it. When Florence came through this year, he was prepared. He knew that his dock would still be there when he got back because he built it to withstand the changing water levels.
He then gave us a detailed description of how he puts together and executes a guided fishing trip for the tourists and avid fishermen that keep his calendar filled up. Besides the preparation of the boat, bait, supplies, and equipment required for a successful trip he has to judge the tides for the right time to head out and return, and he has to know the best areas, times and water conditions for catching the kinds of fish his clients want.
After catching the minnows, Captain Roger invited the class into his home. At first glance, one could immediately tell that a fisherman lived here, just by the décor that was throughout his living space. When you first arrive to Captain Jolly Roger’s home, you walk into what seems to be a fishing museum. From swordfish spikes to fishing hooks he had pulled out of his arm, Captain Jolly Roger has it all.
He had laid out many of his artifacts before we had arrived, most of which he had caught himself. Captain Roger proceeded to tell us the many stories of these findings; the stories mainly ending in him nearly dying.
One of the more interesting stories was one told about the shark eye Jolly cut out of a shark who almost ended his life while he was out with his friend George one night. Not only is Jolly a great fisherman, but this story showed that he is also a great storyteller and an even better character. The day spent in this fisherman’s headquarters was full of education and inspiration for stories left to be told.
With Captain Roger you are not just hiring his boat and his time to take you out to fish, you are paying for many years of practical experience to assure safety on a wild unpredictable sea, a successful catch for pictures and trophy mounts, and that special intuition and instinct that comes from having spent a lifetime on and around the ocean, marsh, and habitat, of the coastline he loves so much. Ostensibly, you are paying to know what it is like to be able to walk alongside and experience someone undeniably unique and special: a true man of the sea deserving of the title “Captain.”
Surrounded by freshly built houses, shops, and pancake houses, one could easily pass by the otherworldly sight that is Ingram Dunes.Once inside, though, it’ssandy hills. Crunching leaves. Nothing but birds chirping. Nature surrounds you as you stand in the trees. Squirrels running along trees, bees buzzing, and spiders spinning their webs. While in Ingram Dunes, you can’t hear the world around you whirring, only the sounds of nature.
As a place with free public access, the dunes house wildlife ranging from small insects and poisonous plants to snakes, bears, and foxes. Within the 9.4 acres of land are a vast array of trees including: cherry, magnolia, dogwood, juniper, pines, and a large abundance of cedar in one area--earning this part of the dunes the name “Cedar Paradise.”
The magic that was in the dunes was explained to us by Derrick Bracey, CCU English Lecturer and our tour guide who walked us through the narrow paths of the dunes. Derrick’s love for Ingram Dunes was apparent as soon as he began to speak.He explained how at night, the dunes are even more peaceful. And he told us about how and why the area is so important to preserve.
Without the Ingram Dunes, in situations like hurricanes, the dunes act as a shield to all the homes in North Myrtle Beach. If the Dunes were destroyed and homes were built on the land, it would not be long until they are damaged or ruined.
We started down one of the main paths that led us to a steep sand dune which was quite difficult to climb because of its incline and sandy makeup. There were hills and embankments and the trees were growing out of the ground at bizarre angles. The walk culminated in an area at the top called Baldhead Dome adjacent to Eagles Nest, named because, he said, the elevation was so high.
As we retreated to lower ground, the cicadas broke through, and within each step their chirps got significantly louder. It was as if they were noticing that wewere there. Soon after, the birds and frogs joined in.Bracey also said you could sometimes hear owls hooting nearby.
Professor Hensel reached down at one point and pulled up a sassafras root which smelled divine and evoked lazy days on a grandmother’s front porch, and Bracey referred to the “large sweep of geological time that built the dunes” and that, if allowed to be destroyed, these dunes would never recover and be gone forever.
Although its importance is obvious and its beauty is mystical, Ingram Dunes has still suffered from the fear of being removed. With plans to build thirty townhouses, Ingram Dunes was going to be cut down and flattened--the homes of all its wildlife obliterated, and its protection of surrounding areas revoked.
As a price of two million was placed on the dunes, local activists began raising money and collecting grants until they made enough to make a down payment and begin paying for Ingram Dunes to be preserved. Without this small group of people putting all of their effort into a single cause, the mystical landscape and protector would most likely be lost forever. As Derrick stated, “Once it’s gone, its gone. It doesn’t come back.”
How could anyone who experience the primal magic of an ancient place such as this ever fathom the possibility of an exchange for concrete and asphalt?
Huntington Beach State Park
On the Grand Strand, about two miles from Murrells Inlet, in Georgetown County, South Carolina, is a small coastal preserve and state park of about 2500 acres. Originally owned by Archer and Anna Hyatt, who wanted to create different and lasting habitats for birds and other animals, Huntington Beach State Park is one of forty-seven South Carolina State Parks.
When you first arrive there, you turn off of a very busy highway and enter what seems to be paradise. Coming in on the Causeway, on the left side is the salt-water marsh, and on the right, the brackish water or freshwater.
We spent our first half of the trip by the saltwater marsh, observing egrets, barn swallows, blue crabs, and fiddler crabs. One of our guides, Gina, briefly explained that the saltwater marsh is known as the nursery of the sea, for the simple fact that the sea creatures will come and lay their eggs and have babies here.
Male fiddler crabs were also submerged in the mud, except for a single claw which they waved excitedly in hopes of attracting female fiddler crabs for mating. Oysters are found in abundance here also. At one point we stopped at an observation booth where dozens of swallows flew around and about playfully. One of the guides brought a telescope with which she focused on a Bald Eagle and fledgling of about six months old in her nest situated along the treetops across the marsh.
After this, we went to the freshwater side and observed the alligators. The American alligator in its ecosystem is a keystone species – meaning that, without it, everything would fall apart. The alligator creates mud wallows, a pool in the ecosystem that may be dry in other seasons or even in a drought. The gator will also protect birds from other predators by nesting close to them.
There were also little cutouts in the tree, little openings in the brush which were known as “gator slides.” These slides were used by the gators who went from the ocean side of the park to the brackish water side.
We spotted one large gator which she said was about 10-feet in length and had a baby that was about 3-feet long.A guide explained to us that alligators stalk their prey, and this alligator was most likely waiting for an opportunity to eat the bird.
After taking time to observe and admire this alligator, our group turned around and headed towards the last stop of the day--Atalaya Castle.
Archer Huntington had it built in the early 1930s as a retreat for his wife Anna, who was suffering from tuberculosis, and which her doctors said the ocean air would be good for her health. Archer used local labor to build the castle to help the local community during the Great Depression. It continued to be used as a winter home for the Huntington’s till 1955 when Mr. Huntington died. The castle has a Moorish-Mediterranean architecture style consisting of 30 rooms and an enclosed courtyard studio where Anna worked on her sculptures.
We learned that she was an artist and would bring animals over to the outdoor sculpting room to sculpt and she cared deeply about the animals. This compassion led her husband and herself to be conservationists, which contributes largely to the upkeep of Huntington Beach being left as they wished. The compassion of the Huntington’s extends further as they helped the economy during the Great Depression by hiring all locals for work, including the building of Atalaya Castle. Their legacy still lives on in Huntington Beach State Park and in Brookgreen Gardens, where many of Anna’s sculptures are displayed.
It is easy to feel a kinship with Anna. She was an animal activist and artist. All around she left her mark on the property. Anna made sure that the castle would remain a source of nature and a safe place for animals.
The landscape goes from the highway to trees and dirt roads almost immediately. At first glance, the site might seem like a regular boating dock. But captured by forest and a single, lonely canal, this is the way to get to Sandy Island, which sits between the Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers.
Our guide, Rommy Pyatt, stretches his hand out to help us onto the shaky pontoon, and we set out into what seems to be a swamp at first, making out way past moss-laden cypress trees, turtles, and many birds.
But after five or so minutes of trudging through the black water, it is like a system of water roads. These water roads are what is left over from the old rice fields, and they are still used today by boaters, and the Gullah community of Sandy Island.
Captain Rommy explains how Sandy Island is about forty square miles in size: eight miles long and five miles wide. It was inhabited by Waccamaw Indians before being converted to grow rice for the plantations. They called the area “Yahanaco,” which meant “land of the ancestors.” The rice was referred to as “Carolina Gold” not only for its color but because it brought great wealth to the plantation owners.
Sandy Island is still populated by descendants of the slaves who tended the rice fields and younger generations continue to build homes there. At present, there are 32 residents who live on Sandy Island year-round. It remains accessible only by boat and there is a school-bus ferry that takes the children to the mainland to attend classes every school day.
Straight ahead of us, a new scene emerges. A bright, yellow building stands out on the island in front of us as we get closer to the dock.Written in large red letters on the building is “PYATTS GENERAL STORE.” There, Captain Pyatt’s mother gives us further history on the property, telling us about past hurricanes that affected life on the island and important points in history like when they first got electricity.
After our time in the General Store, Captain Pyatt loads us into his SUV to take us around different parts of the Island. We start at an old gravesite that is located outside of their fire department. According to Captain Pyatt, CCU student were on the island trying to locate where different burial sites may be, and Captain Pyatt told us there could be up to forty five graves in that one area. He then told us that there are other areas on the island that were also used for burial grounds.
It feel strange to be walking in burial sites of strangers on an island with a tour guide, but he talks about how rich the bodies make the soil, and towering above are the hickory trees and several types of oak trees. The Turkey Oak, he points out, is so named because its leaves look very similar to a turkey foot.
In the two-room schoolhouse, Rommy tells us more about their close call. Many years ago, Craig Wall and Roger Milliken attempted to buy lots from the people at Sandy Island. These two businessmen told the people that, if they would allow them to have a piece of the land in order to harvest timber and build a bridge to the mainland, then the people of Sandy Island could use the bridge when they needed to get to the mainland, as well. Although this deal sounded reasonable to the people of Sandy Island, it was soon discovered that building the bridge would cost more money than the timber harvest was worth, and Wall and Roger Milliken must have had something else planned.
Around this time, the Nature Conservancy also discovered red-cockaded woodpeckers located on the island. Due to the birds’ endangered state, Milligan and Wall were not able to cut down trees in the area because it would break laws in place to protect the birds’ survival and repopulation. It was later discovered that Milligan and Wall intended to create a private golf resort on Sandy Island--a plan never discussed with the people living there. This would have pushed the residents out of their homeland and destructed all of its unique culture and history.
Our last stop is New Bethel Baptist Church, which boasts a membership of over three hundred members, most of whom come over periodically from the mainland. The church had light blue stained-glass windows and a soft, dark colored carpet. The windows filled the main room with a blue light that was almost ethereal and seemed to cast a heavenly glow. They had a two-manual Hammond Organ with an A.G.O. (American Guild of Organists) pedalboard that sounded like it could rock the house, and Rommy mentioned the religious spirit at times became so overwhelming the congregation would sing, dance, and jump around.
Sandy Island is a very tight knit community that has been in existence for over one hundred years. They have had obstacles throughout their time on the island, but they seem to always bounce back and find a way to make life on the island work.
The day began with a nice cool breeze and bumpy van ride but was soon transformed into a hot afternoon. When our class arrived at Cox Ferry, we were greeted by a goofy guide with shoulder-length brown hair and a big brown hat on top of it. He instructed us to sign a waiver so that if we were eaten by an alligator, we couldn’t sue him.
Before the tour officially started, the CCU photographer who tagged along to take pictures of us, spotted a snake. Our guide immediately went over, determined what type of snake it was, and picked it up. The guide went on to tell us that the snake was a non-venomous water snake. It was about eighteen inches and most likely male.
After the snake show-and-tell, the guide had us suit up with our life vests and carefully board our vessels for the day. We pushed off of the shore and into the deep, black water and began heading down the river.
Trees engulfed the area on both sides. The wildlife and plant life were amazing to us city dwellers not used to seeing snakes, alligators, frogs, and indigenous moss laden cypress trees in their natural habitat along the shoreline. The sound of the birds, insects, and frogs seemed accentuated by the silence of the snakes and alligators slithering through the water or submerged just below the surface. It was hard to tell if something moving in the water was a floating tree appendage or something alive, moving stealthily along, awaiting an opportunity to pounce on or wrestle an unsuspecting meal to its demise. The overhanging cypress branches offered a buffer zone between the land and the river which many creatures used to their advantage to maneuver from place to place and to assist in augmenting their diet.
Where we would look and see nothing, our guide would paddle over and pick up two tree frogs. He had a very keen eye, and paid attention to detail, and heexplained to us that although tree frogs are near water, they do not swim in it. When the tree frogs touched the water, they started to climb up the guide’s arm. Then we paddled back out to the more open water.
After several minutes spent paddling through the lake, our class entered a more closed off space one by one. This area was surrounded by trees much like the others, but was more narrow and contained a richer abundance of life. Here we discovered multiple more snakes wrapped around the branches of trees and almost blending in as a part of the tree itself. Poison ivy was also present along with a plant that had cactus-like needles on its branches that would latch onto anyone who touched them. After exploring this enriched area, we all turned around and went back the way we had come to return to shore.
We went through this thick swamp for twenty minutes or so before our guide jumped off of his kayak and waded towards the shallower waters and bushes. He saw a snake that he wanted to catch, so he did everything in his power to get it. He was very close but at the last second the snake made a move for the water.
Even though it was difficult paddling through the little area, it was the best part of the trip. All around us we heard birds singing and tree frogs chirping. The tour guide pointed out a couple more frogs and snakes and even a baby dragonfly cocoon. He told us that dragonflies are vicious meat-eating insects and the main predators of smaller insects such as ants.
As we crossed over to the other side of the river to begin our return trip, we could hear what Paul identified as the call of an osprey, also known as a river hawk—a fish-eating raptor which operates during the day with specialized physical characteristics to assist in hunting and catching prey.
We wondered what other evolutionary specialists of the river exists here that normally goes unseen? And then, about thirty yards from our launch area there was a baby alligator swimming by, and farther down the river was the bigger one.
It occurred to us that thus is a place of becoming through unbecoming. A small reflection in our world of how the whole universe continues to exist.
Hobcaw Barony sits along the South Carolina coast close to Georgetown. It is a 16,000-acre research reserve that received its name from the local Native Americans who called the area “Hobcaw,” meaning “between the waters.” For many generations, it was a plantation and used mostly for rice cultivation and as a home to thousands of slaves.
Hidden by trees and full of winding paths, the only way to visit and take tours of the estate is by booking with a guide. On our tour of Hobcaw Barony, the day began with a cool, brisk air and the sun shining through bus windows to accompany us on our 45 minute ride. When we arrived, we were greeted by a well-educated guide named Lee Brockington.
Lee led us down a winding dirt road that caused dust to fly off the back of our wheels while trees arched over our vehicle as if they were greeting us . The shade began lessening as trees thinned out, and eventually we began to see buildings in the place of trees. We arrived at what seemed to be an abandoned village at first.
The worn-out houses had once been slave cabins, where families of slaves would go to live and raise children after finishing their daily chores around 3 or 4 in the afternoon.
Central to the community was the small church which was the social focal point of those who lived there. On Sundays and special occasions, they would gather to sing religious songs, listen to the preacher, and cement their bonds of family and friends. Lee said there were many such communities carved out of the wilderness belonging to the 16 such plantations up and down the south east coast each comprised of around one hundred slaves at any one time.
The early houses had no front porches and no glass windows but kept them warm and the harsh elements out. Lee also made a point to tell us that when the slaves were done with their assigned work for the day, they were free to work on whatever they needed to. Friendfield Village was a self-sustained community that had its own livestock as well as a garden.
Even after emancipation in 1850, the slaves remained at Hobcaw Barony to work in the fields for meager wages. They had ample food supplied by the nearby Atlantic Ocean, small gardens, local natural vegetation, and small wildlife such as ducks, rabbits, raccoons, and opossums for meat.
As we walked into one of the houses, the floors were hogging and the walls looked weathered, but the space had so much natural light. A black dusty door in the ceiling to access the attic stuck out. Lee told us that sometimes the children would go into the attic where they could be alone to have fun, and she compared it to the upstairs section of a house today.
When Lee heard that the class was supposed to be focusing on observations, she gave us a challenge. We were to find something that was unusual. After some guidance, we noticed an oddity near one of the door frames. It looked like there was an extra door attached. Lee confirmed that there was indeed a door there. She explained how when the teenagers reached a certain age and began to start their own families, they would make the front room into to smaller rooms that way the new families could have some privacy. Lee also made a point to mention that each age group slept in a different part of the house. The younger kids typically slept in the attic, the teens in their private section, and the younger children slept closest to their parents.
Concluding the tour, we ventured down the dirt path to the coast of Winyah Bay, where you can see paper mills, and behind the bay is the Hobcaw House. The Hobcaw House was used as a vacation home by Bernard Baruch during the winter when he would go duck hunting. His daughter, Belle Baruch started her outstanding horse riding career at the stables near the estate
Belle Baruch, Bernard’s daughter, loved the area and spent many winters of her childhood there. When she got older, she bought the plantation and surrounding land. She was very interested in scientific research and eventually created a foundation to manage the land as an outdoor laboratory. When she died, she created a trust that currently contributes around $300,000 yearly for continued research, management, and maintenance of the barony. Her main interest was continued scientific research of the plethora of eco-diversity the barony has to offer.
These Trip Reports are collaborations. Each student contributes to the blog post.