The summer sun rises above the steaming marsh and the morning soon turns to hot.
The air is still and not a ripple of wave stirs the creek as your kayak threads the pluff mud and spartina grass banks into a wide channel leading to the whispering breakers of the Atlantic Ocean.
You are kayaking along Station Creek and the Harbor River near St. Helena Island on a journey to Trenchards Inlet and a remote barrier island beach where the day promises spectacular views of wildlife, the Lowcountry heat and a little mystery in the ever-shifting barrier island sands.
The coastline of Beaufort County consists of as many as nine barrier islands. These stretch like green emeralds, and with the exceptions of Hilton Head, Daufuskie and Fripp islands, most are largely uninhabited or are privately owned with only remote fish camps and beach homes to show the mark of humans.
But does someone or something else also inhabit these islands?
A distant local legend speaks of a mysterious creature that may have made its presence known to visitors to at least three of these small islands.
In his book “Adventures in the Woods and Waters of the Lowcountry,” J.E. McTeer recounts outdoor life in and around Beaufort County in the early 20th century. In his spirited accounts of fishing, hunting and wild hurricanes, the legendary “High Sheriff of the Lowcountry” recalls evidence of a mysterious creature inhabiting the woods and beaches of Fripp, Capers and Pritchards Islands.
Spotting a human footprint in the sand that was over 18 inches long, McTeer became curious.
Over the years he heard other stories, including one from M. L. McLeod who claimed to have encountered someone or something while walking the woods of undeveloped Fripp Island in the 1950s. He spotted large footprints on the path.
“The tracks, about 18 inches long, had started following me … and must have observed me but not let itself be seen,” McTeer wrote.
This little-known local legend seems to have been long-forgotten in modern times, but given the remote nature of the coastal islands, the curiosity is certainly aroused.
Recently, a group of friends and I paddled out to Capers Island with a mind to enjoy a day on the water and a few hours on the beach — and we kept an eye out for any large footprints in the sand that might be encountered.
Capers Island is a privately owned island between wild Pritchards Island and St. Phillips Island — the former private getaway of Ted Turner and newly acquired by the South Carolina State Park Service.
You must travel to Capers Island by boat, but you will not be alone. The sandy beach of the island and Bull Point is a popular destination for boaters, and on a sunny Saturday local families will be enjoying beaching.
For a kayak trip, you can launch at Station Creek Landing for the six-mile paddle to Trenchards Inlet. Be sure to time the tide and weather right for safety and enjoyment. Along the way, you will see active dolphins, egrets, herons and other marsh dwellers.
The beach at Bull Point at the island’s southern tip and the mouth of the inlet is wide and serene and will provide unforgettable views of the surrounding islands, including Bay Point and Hilton Head islands in the shimmering distance.
When you walk the beach you may not encounter “Bigfoot” but you will find another large curiosity: a large, steel trackhoe sits upright and half-buried in mud on the wide, deserted beach. Part of a project to save a nearby beach house from erosion it became stuck in old “pluff mud” and abandoned. According to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, it was quickly made environmentally safe as fluids were removed and the chance of pollutants prevented. Now it is a home for barnacles and a fish haven at high tide and is an object of fascination for visitors.
A trip to the beach at Capers Island will provide a wonderful Lowcountry expedition for pleasure boaters and experienced kayakers — and the promise of a bit of mystery. Does the legendary “Bigfoot” inhabit this remote island and its neighbors? No one knows.
One thing is certain: there is no mystery as to why Capers Island and the beauty of other wild, remote barrier islands of our coast make living in the Lowcountry such a true blessing.
Capers Island is a privately owned barrier island that is not open to the public without permission. However, if you wish to paddle or travel by boat to pull up to the beach and explore the shoreline you will likely be joined by others who enjoy this local beaching tradition.
For kayaking, a favorable launch site is the public landing on Station Creek off Seaside Road on St. Helena Island. The landing is located at State Road S-7-77 and is easy to locate. This will be a six-mile paddle out to Trenchards Inlet and six miles to return. Though this is not a trip for beginners, it is not difficult under the right conditions. It is best to launch just before high tide and ride the strong current down Station Creek and Harbor River to the inlet.
The weather can be a factor, too. Windy conditions can make for a challenging time of blowing more than 10 mph, or against the tidal flow to make whitecaps. Beware of storms and adverse weather conditions as there is little shelter in this open, marshy area.
Arriving at the beach at falling or low tide makes for enough time to enjoy a little exploration before the tide turns and you must begin your journey home. No camping is allowed on Capers Island and you must be respectful of the natural surroundings.
For more information on life on these wild islands and information on the local “Bigfoot” legend, you may wish to consult J.E. McTeer’s book, “Adventure in the Woods and Waters of the Low Country” or “Tales of the Barrier Islands of Beaufort County, South Carolina” by St. Helena Island native Pierre McGowan.