Sea Islands

muddy waters surround the sea islands near Georgia


When I was a kid, my family would take an epic road trip each summer in our VW Vanagon from Pittsburgh, PA down to Kiawah Island, one of the “sea islands” of the southeastern coast, There were six of us in the bus, and the trip itself made memories as lasting as the beach vacation that followed.

My parents, our fearless leaders, sat properly in the front seats, while us kids vied for the best spots amid the coolers and beach gear in the back. As the youngest and most gullible, my siblings were able to convince me that a narrow spot on the floor was actually the best seat in the house. They called it “the valley”, and they sweetened the deal by lining the space with a sleeping bag. Each summer, down in the valley I went.

These trips contained my entire experience of the coastal south before traveling here on SY Tranquility – the yearly photo op en route at the famous Angel Oak, catching blue crabs, surf casting with my Dad, and chaotic multi-player card games with everyone.

As an adult, this stretch of the trip has inundated my brain with more new information than it can safely process, but I will do my best here.

As Fabio and I approached the harbor of Charleston, SC, our charts showed restrictions against anchoring because the harbor is a designated “minefield”. During the Civil War there was an extended siege, and Charlestonians had even booby-trapped their own harbor as a defense. These obstructions and ordinances are a tangible legacy of “the war between the states” (“…there was nothing civil about it!” typically completes the phrase). As we travel south, the framing of sites and events related to the Civil War lands heavily on my heart.

We spent the last week on the sea islands near Beaufort, SC, which include St. Helena Island, the seat of Gullah culture. The Gullah people (in GA also known as Geechee) are descendants of the enslaved people who grew rice and cotton on sea islands plantations. The sea islands were claimed by Union forces early in the war because they were coastal and remote, and many Gullah/Geechee still live in the same vicinity as where their ancestors were emancipated.

Praise houses, tiny houses of worship where enslaved people met for soul-
sustaining religious and social activities, can still be found on St. Helena. This is an intimate space that I am not equipped to interpret.

Change is the only constant, and that truly applies here. Today the sea islands contain a mix of demographics that I can only describe as singularly American.

There are golf-centric retirement communities, posh private islands, vacation resorts, and major military bases. Migrant workers are housed and employed seasonally at the larger farms that still operate in the region. There are vast wild areas protected for hunting, nature and study.

a road leading through Spanish moss-lined roads in St. Helena
St. Helena

The Kiawah Island that I knew as a kid was wiped out by a hurricane long ago, and redeveloped as a top-notch golf resort.

Tonight we are at anchor close to Sapelo Island in Georgia. As we anchored we were circled by dolphins and pelicans, as a dense fog rolled in over the expansive marsh that surrounds us. I am still thinking of the kid I was down in the valley, and how I never doubted that I was right where I was supposed to be.