Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Day Trip to Daufuskie Island

Image courtesy HH Island Visitor Guide. Marshside Mama's at the County Dock is closed now, but another
vendor is looking to renovate the building and open a bar and grill.

Over the 30 odd years that I have lived in Savannah, I have visited Daufuskie Island several times, first by Jet Ski, then by pleasure boat,  more than once by helicopter, and more recently as a charter captain. My most memorable charter trips were the ones where I was taking the bands playing at Marshside Mamas to and from the island. I got to chat with many great musicians during these trips for Captain Gary (Gator) Hill. The little deck boat looked like a floating pickup truck packed with equipment and people. We made quite a sight...

Daufuskie is an interesting destination, with a rich history, dirt roads to explore, and quirky places to visit. Writer and humorist Lewis Grizzard played golf here, and the famous author Pat Conroy taught school here after graduating from the Citadel, as depicted in the movie made from his book "The Water is Wide."

If you are a Savannah boater, Daufuskie is a great place to go for a day trip.

Many roads on Daufuskie Island are dirt and golf carts are a primary way of transportation on the island only accessible by boat.
Image courtesy Mandy Matney and the Island Packet

There are hundreds of online sources of information about visiting Daufuskie. I liked this one.

Getting there...

There are no bridges to Daufuskie, so a boat or helicopter is required. In most cases, a helicopter only visits the island to pick up trauma patients, so going and leaving by boat is best.

Sidebar: You should be aware that Daufuskie is "isolated." There is a Beaufort County Fire and EMS station on the island, but while you are on the island you are a long way from a hospital.  Behave accordingly. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

When I flew patients off of Daufuskie in the LifeStar helicopter, it usually involved alcohol and golf carts. Anecdotes and the following article indicate that law enforcement patrols the island regularly.

Here is a bit from the local paper about carts, cops, and drinking on Daufuskie...

From Savannah, you access Daufuskie via the ICW or the Savannah River, thence via "Field's Cut" a man-made part of the ICW. Field's Cut is shallow at the entrance from the Savannah River, so at low tide take care and mind the depth gage. The deeper water is on the west side of cut, closer to the range-marker tower. The ICW is clearly marked to Daufuskie, and the Coast Guard has dropped some additional markers to keep you clear of bars. Remember - it's Red Right Going South on the ICW, so it's green-right-going-north. You can also think in terms of "Red on the Mainland side", but sometimes you can't tell which side is mainland. Allow about an hour each way from Hogan's Marina or Thunderbolt.

The first public-access dock you will encounter on Daufuskie is the County Dock. There is a boat ramp there and enough dockage for a dozen or so boats, but no other services. The dock is not attended. Don't tie up right next to the ramp, as that part of the dock is for boats entering and leaving the water. A sign indicates that there is a three-hour time limit on using the dock, but that doesn't appear to be rigorously enforced, at least not on a week-day. A weekend might be different.

When the tide is running the county dock can be tricky to get onto, and you may have to put your bow into a strong current, use a bit of power to maintain heading and let the current sweep you backward adjacent to an open spot. Just relax, take a deep breath and take your time, Don't bite off more than you can chew; an old helicopter maxim is "if it scares you, don't do it."

I have never seen anyone raft up at the county dock, but if you are traveling with another boat that might be an option if is space is limited.

There are golf cart rental services on the island. I just spoke with Brandy (very friendly) at Daufuskie Island Carts and Services. She told me that they will meet you at the County Dock and rent you a golf cart. It's $75 a day for a 4 passenger cart and $100 a day for a 6 pax model. The renter/operator must have a valid driver's license. With a cart, you can explore the island, go to the beach, and see the sights. It's the way to do Daufuskie. Another option is to rent a cart from Freeport Marina discussed below - 3 hours is $65.

Here is some info for renting a golf cart, and more about the island...

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Freeport is well marked.

The other docking option on Daufuskie is Freeport, a marina with bar and grill a few miles further up the ICW.  There is lots of room to dock at Freeport, and the docks are serviceable -  if a little bit worn. Wear shoes or good flips on the dock and watch where you are putting your feet. The tide runs fast here too, so think about your approach before making it, and have your fenders and lines in position and ready to grab. When leaving, think about how you are going to depart the dock before untying your lines, and tell your pax your plan. I watched a Pontoon boater with a full boat try and do a 180-degree turn inside of two of the fingers yesterday while a strong current was trying to force him into the cross-dock at the end. It was the classic case of poor planning and embarrassing execution and almost ended in disaster. Remember - your motor does have a reverse gear and you can back out against a current.

Freeport is a laid-back jumble of ramshackle structures covering all of your island desires,  with restrooms, playground for kids, and cottages to rent. They have a fuel pump at the store and a portable tank that you could roll to your boat on the dock in a jam. They also have live music on certain weekends outside next to the outdoor "ScapIron Bar."

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Store on site with fuel pump.

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Party in Progress at Freeport!

A recent development on Daufuskie is that the old Melrose Plantation swimming pool, bar, and restaurant are back in business. Twelve dollars will get you a day-pass to the pool, right on the beach and looking over at Hilton Head. This is a beautiful place and quite an adventure. You can show your friends a really good time by taking them to Daufuskie, getting a cart for a few hours, and swimming in a nice pool. It makes for a great day trip!, or you can rent a cottage there near the pool and stay for a while.

Image courtesy Kathy Jones. Her grandnieces loved the pool!

A trip to Daufuskie could end up with you having to return to Savannah in restricted visibility. I wrote about that in another post.. Have a plan for the weather if you go to Daufuskie. And make sure you have drinking water on your boat. Sometimes boats break and occasionally boaters run aground.

A good time is had by all at Freeport Marina

If you would like a great time at Daufuskie with all the details covered, let us take you there with Island Shuttle Boat Tours

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