By Suzi DuRant
One huge advantage boaters in South Carolina have is that there is absolutely no reason to put the boat away after Labor Day. In fact, the late fall into December offers some of the best conditions for enjoying your boat, whether for fishing or just cruising around.
Unlike in the spring when the water temperature is cool enough to make boating a bit uncomfortable, fall usually brings mild weather. The water temperature is still in the 70s and the cool mornings and evenings combined with warm days makes being out on the water very enjoyable. An added benefit is that the bug population dwindles to almost nothing.
Capt. Brad Prescott from Belle Isle Marina agrees: “Fall is a fantastic time of year for boating from South Santee to Little River. No heat and no humidity are just two great reasons.” Not only that, but there are “no horseflies, yellow flies and other pests that prohibit you and your family from enjoying the remote beaches only accessible by boat.”
In addition, “the birds are on the move. There is nothing more beautiful to watch than the geese in “V” formation heading south, or the purple martin coming to roost in swarms that blacken the sky.”
Capt. Doug Ford from Intracoastal Yacht Sales in Little River points out, “A number of northern boaters winter their boats here rather than haul them out at home. Even when it’s cold here, it’s much better weather than the Hudson River Valley!”
Other than the snowbirds heading south, there are also far fewer boats out so it’s a great time to explore and enjoy some of the normally crowded places as well as watching or participating in holiday events. Two events to consider are the Lighting of the Landing on November 19 at Barefoot Landing in Myrtle Beach and the Intracoastal Christmas Regatta on November 27 that starts at the Little River Inlet and ends at Dock Holidays Marina in North Myrtle Beach. The boat parade has been a boating community tradition since 1984 and usually includes several dozen boats decorated for the season. In addition, it raises funds and collects toys for children throughout Horry County who might fall through the cracks of traditional agencies that provide assistance.
For a beautiful cruise and anchoring spots, hardly any place beats the Waccamaw River. Consider going to Conway, one of the oldest towns in South Carolina and well worth the trip 15 miles up the river from Enterprise Landing at ICW Mile 375. The town was created in 1734 and became an important river port by the 1820s. Lumber, turpentine and cotton went down river while supplies for the town and area residents came upstream.
The downtown area was mostly built in the early 1900s and a revitalization program began in 1986, preserving much of the history and making Conway a delightful town through which to stroll. Pick up the Historic Sites Trail map (a guide to 39 significant sites, homes and buildings including 17 on the National Historic Register) and other brochures at the Conway Visitors Center (903 Fourth Street). A river front boardwalk winds along the dark waters and converted warehouses, dotted with well identified trees. Conway is part of Tree City USA, cited not only for protecting the old trees (many of which are named) but also for its extensive planting. Another informative site is the Horry County Museum that features local historic exhibits dating back to prehistoric times, as well as one on animals of the Lowcountry.
There are shops and antique stores to explore and food choices ranging from homestyle food to fine cuisine. The Side Wheeler Restaurant Grille, right on the riverfront with al fresco dining, is housed in the former headquarters of the Waccamaw Steamboat Company, built in 1890. It features a wood-fired grille and Southern and seafood specialties including pulled pork, fried tomato sandwiches, and sweet potato chips.
The Waccamaw is tidal even that far upstream with a 2’ range in its 13’ to 20’ depths. The Conway Marina has a 100’ transient dock with 11’ at the dock. The river walk also has several floating day docks for public use.
If you’re travelling through the area, Myrtle Beach is a welcome diversion from lazy days on the ICW. This is the action spot, whether it’s golfing on championship courses or themed putt-putt courses, entertainment in the form of nightclubs and music halls, amusement parks, shopping, or dining out in over 1,500 restaurants. All this plus the 60 miles of beaches that make up the Grand Strand has made Myrtle Beach, as Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America” decreed, “the #1 family vacation destination in America”. Boaters can access the wealth of activities from any of the marinas in Little River, North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach itself, although the Marina at Grande Dunes is the only full service marina actually within the Myrtle Beach city limits.
Another favorite area is Georgetown and Winyah Bay. South Carolina’s third oldest city, and an important port, the town was founded in 1729 and became an official port of entry in 1732. The confluence of the Waccamaw, Black and Pee Dee Rivers at the head of Winyah Bay, once the main avenues to carry plantation produce to market and supplies to the plantations, now provide a wealth of waterways to explore. Rice and indigo plantations were established along the water, some of which can still be seen from a boat.
Boaters can thank W.D. Morgan, a New Yorker whose family moved to Georgetown before the Civil War, for easy access from the ocean to Georgetown. His ideas to improve the town included keeping the harbor dredged, digging a deep water channel from the inlet and building rock jetties at the entrance to Winyah Bay to keep a sandbar from blocking the inlet. The jetty construction was completed in 1904.
Great fishing holes abound in the area and are easy to reach in your own boat but you can also charter a fishing boat and/or guide in Little River, Myrtle Beach and Georgetown. Capt. John Horton, the harbormaster at Georgetown Landing Marina, says that, depending on water temperatures, “the red drum usually spawn til the end of November. These larger fish are schooled up for easy pickings.” He also noted that “the offshore bottom fishing is good and seems to take precedence over other offshore activities.”
Capt. Brad agrees. “Fishing is astounding as many species are following the currents and temperatures on their annual migration, just like the birds.” He also recommends red fish, “they’ve definitely made a comeback and provide great fun and table fare. The king mackerel offshore are voracious and will probably hit a dirty sock on a line as they move south.” He forecasts, “Bottom fishing for grouper and other species really turns on well into December as the water temperature cools down.”
He notes that “South Carolina allows, with proper permits, shrimp baiting and this year has been excellent with great catches from Georgetown to Bulls Bay.”
So put on a jacket, get on your boat and enjoy some of the best moments of your life.