by
Rick Bellows

Living
in Northeast Georgia, the name “Broad” as applied to a
stream calls to my mind the pleasant class III Broad River in
northern Madison County. On July 28 however, while attending a
seminar there, I had a chance to paddle Hilton Head Island’s very
different namesake, Broad Creek.


Broad
Creek, which “runs” westward from the middle of the island
to Calibogue Sound, is actually more of a saltwater marsh. As the
tide goes out, the creek “runs” out into the sound, leaving
vast and fragrant areas of mud and oysters along its banks and around
its many islands. As the tide comes in, the current “runs”
upriver and the
exposed mud and oysters are re-covered.


Although
the tide creates a current, the paddling is really much more like
lake paddling than river paddling. I was in a 15 foot Dagger
something-or-other, which is half again as long as any kayak I
normally paddle. I felt like I was driving a bus and I kept getting
the long, long stern in the way of others in my group of nine.


Fortunately,
the weather cooperated. July 28 was the hottest day of year so far at
Hilton Head, but clouds arrived to shield us from the sun just as the
trip started. The weather looked threatening, but we never did get
lightning or rain. The clouds were accompanied by the first
noticeable breeze of the day, which made handling of that long boat a
little trickier but was well worth it for thecoolness it provided.


The
guide was a friendly, interesting and informative
twenty-something
native of Daufuskie Island named Buster. When he wasn’t talking to
the teenagers in the group about music (being what my boys call
“older than dirt,” I don’t know what a Jam Band is, but
Buster is into them), he told us about the area. He explained, for
example, that the 80 to 120 foot long docks we were passing cost an
estimated $1,000 per foot to install, not including the boat hoists,
observation towers and other amenities.


The
real point of the trip, though, was the wildlife. Buster explained
that, since it was shortly after low tide, the fish that hide in the
grass at higher water are forced out into the open. That attracts a
bevy of predators, including birds, mammals and larger fish.


We
saw several blue herons — they looked just like the ones on the
Chestatee, the Etowah or the Upper Chattahoochee except they were
standing in the water eating rather than flying overhead. We also saw
two different species of egrets, which Buster explained is just a
name for herons that are white. We saw several varieties of smaller
birds.


The
most interesting bird was a cormorant that was standing on the edge
of an island, flapping its wings to dry them. According to Buster,
cormorant feathers absorb water rather than repelling it, forcing the
birds to flap their wings while using their long, strong tail
feathers to keep from falling over backwards. It is truly a
hysterical sight.


The
other funny birds were the many brown pelicans.
Though graceful
fliers, pelicans are much less graceful when entering the water to
catch a fish they’ve seen. Rather than diving like eagles, pelicans
basically fall into the water head first and attempt to catch several
fish in their large beaks. They then open drain holes in their bills
to drain the water before they eat the fish. According to Buster,
some pelicans actually go blind as a result of their constant
head-first dives into the water.


A
surprising source of amusement were the shrimp that live in the
creek. One jumped into a tandem kayak with a mother in the rear seat
and her 13-year-old daughter in front. The mother, who could see the
shrimp, was fine, but the girl was a little freaked out and hung her
feet over the side of the kayak for the remainder of trip so the
shrimp wouldn’t get them.


The
most common sea creature in the creek is the oyster — we passed
thousands of oysters in hundreds of beds. Buster told us the county
that includes Hilton Head has over 1,000 oysters per acre, the most
in the country. He also warned us not to touch the oysters, which can
be very sharp.


Another
sea creature common to the creek — crabs — indirectly provided an
unintended highlight of the trip. After cruising back and forth past
us several times, a man in a motorboat followed us into a narrow
creek on an island, stopped Buster and accused him of stealing crabs
from his crab pots. When Buster denied the charge and identified the
actual thief, the man left after showing Buster a document that
indicated the law in South Carolina is that people stealing crabs
from a crab pot are legally the same as trespassers in the owner’s
home and may be shot by the owner.


The
high point of the trip, though, were the dolphins. Drawn by the large
clusters of fish, several dolphins casually swam right past and even
among our group. One pod of three even reversed its course to travel
with us for 100-150 yards, swimming just eight or ten feet from us.
That sight alone was worth the $25 fee for the trip and rental of the
kayak.


One
common sight on Broad Creek we did not see was a shark. Buster told
us a single shark will often follow a small pod of dolphins. The
shark can’t get too close, because the dolphins will turn on it and
essentially beat it to death with their bony snouts if they feel
threatened. The shark will often feast on the confused and
disoriented remnants of a school of fish that were just decimated by
the dolphins.


Water-Dog
Outfitters, which did the trip I went on, is one of at least three
outfitters on Hilton Head that have wildlife-watching group trips. If
you ever find yourself on Hilton Head with a couple of hours to
spare and $25-$40 to
spend, I highly recommend it. Buy some
bottled water at a store on the way, though, because Water-Dog at
least doesn’t have any readily available at its facility.
From
The Eddy Line, Sept. 2006