At the end of our road is South Island, one of the barrier islands that separates Georgetown from the Atlantic Ocean. The only way to get to the island is over the water.
South Island was first home to a rice plantation, then, for more than a hundred years, to a community of former enslaved families and their descendants.
In 1919, New Yorker Tom Yawkey (owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team) inherited the island from his uncle and used it as a hunting camp for himself and his wealthy northern friends. When Yawkey died in 1976 he willed 31 square miles of coastal lands including all of South Island to the SC Department of Natural Resources, creating the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center Heritage Preserve.
The island is an important protected refuge for seabirds, alligators, and waterfowl with only a few full time human residents and an ever-changing part-time community of seasonal students and wildlife experts. It is open to visitors only occasionally for history and wildlife tours but the outer boundaries are accessible to anyone. Since birds know no boundaries, we are frequent visitors.
The Intracoastal Waterway is a 3,000-mile waterway from Boston, down the Atlantic Seaboard, around the tip of Florida, along the Gulf Coast to Brownsville, Texas. It provides a navigable route for mariners safer than the open sea and separates South Island from mainland Georgetown.
The word “ferry” conjures up a different scene than the actual one at the end of South Island Road. The barge Miss Ellie, visible along the shore at the back, is about 800 feet long and was brand new in 2015. She spans the water by pivoting to bridge the gap and connect the road at both ends.
There is no regular ferry schedule. Children going to school, families with appointments on the mainland, island day workers, park their cars at the landing and use a DNR motorboat to cross the 900 feet of water. But when there is large equipment, heavy loads, or large vehicles to cross, Miss Ellie is put into service.
On this day, a DNR pickup arrived with a heavy piece of machinery as well as mother and children with a car-full of groceries and other supplies. The DNR pickup cab was loaded with the family’s supplies and the ferry was activated.
When it had connected with the mainland road, the pickup was driven onto the ferry and across while the family and some interns going to the island to stay walked across with their backpacks. Another man, just getting off work, crossed the opposite direction to the parking lot with his lunch bag, got in his car and drove away.
What an unusual commute to work!