may come off like a wildly unsubstantiated sweeping
statement, but I’m willing to bet that the
overwhelming majority of New Yorkers have never been
to the Statue of Liberty or hopped the express
elevator to the top of the Empire State Building.
In fact I’m betting a similar percentage of
Parisians have never gazed down upon the City of
Light from the Eiffel Tower, startling numbers of
Los Angelinos have yet to pass through the
turnstiles of Disneyland, and perhaps millions of
native Romans will never tread in the footsteps of
gladiators by visiting the Coliseum. As a species we
tend to take our surroundings for granted, which
explains a lot when you think about it. I lived in
Seattle for several years and I’ve got to go back
for about a month with a wad of cash just to catch
up on all the “touristy” stuff I never did. Hey,
I’m told the Space Needle is overrated anyway.
With the specters of these missed opportunities
in mind, I am resolved to take full advantage of all
the Lowcountry has to offer. And the best way to get
a fresh perspective of a river town with a tourist
trade is – of course – by water.
Dick is happy to oblige us with a cruise up the
Beaufort River. Capt. Dick and his wife, Linda, have
been ferrying folks on various Lowcountry waterways
since the early ‘90’s aboard what he refers to as “a
big double-decker monstrosity called the Beaufort
Belle.” Today we’re departing the Beaufort City
Marina on The Prince of Tides, his new 30 passenger
canopied tri-hull. This tour departs the marina each
afternoon and usually runs about an hour and twenty
minutes. Private charter tours are also available
aboard both the Prince and the six passenger
Carolinian. Why not consider a Gilligan’s Island
theme for your next birthday? Which brings up the
obligatory question: if they were just going out on
a “three hour tour,” how come the Howells had all
Once again, I digress.
On this particular day I’m standing in the marina
parking lot with Neil Simon lines running through my
head: “Man it’s hot. It’s like Africa hot. Tarzan
couldn’t take this kind of hot.” I grew up in this
climate. I know from hot. But June’s barely begun
and the heat index is 105 degrees. All you have to
do to break a sweat is stand still. As I mentioned,
I’ve spent the last three and a half years in a
place where severe weather advisories are issued if
the mercury creeps past 80. No kidding. Indeed, to
paraphrase Mr. Simon, it seems we are a mile from
the sun. However, this makes for the perfect excuse
to seek relief in the natural air conditioning the
river has to offer. As Capt. Dick points out early
in the cruise, these balmy breezes lured the wealthy
planters to town during the summer months and helped
old Beaufort to prosper.
Once we’re out of the marina and headed up river
the breeze is cool, constant and salty. The Captain
explains that the Beaufort River really isn’t a
river at all, it’s pure salt water freshened twice
daily by the tides. Capt. Lawrence – a recent
addition to the crew – chit chats with passengers,
points out landmarks and answers questions. Yes,
we’re likely to see dolphins up river. Capt. Dick’s
glad to have him aboard.
“I got real lucky. Obviously with two boats you
need a second captain. I’d been looking around here
for captains for quite a while. Lawrence was born in
Beaufort, grew up in Beaufort and moved away to
Virginia for thirty years or so, moved back, bought
the house next door to me and had his captain’s
license.” Now that’s serendipity.
We emerge from the shadow of Wilson Memorial
Bridge running parallel to the Old Point on the port
side (that’s “left” for you landlubbers). Capt.
Dick explains that the most famous of Beaufort
neighborhoods is so named because it sits on a piece
of land that juts out into the river “kind of like a
point. And, well, it’s old.”
please. Chuckles from the passengers.
Ah, it’s good to find a nice dry sense of humor
in the middle of a river in all this humidity.
We’re a couple of days past the new moon and the
extremely low astronomical tide exposes more of the
river’s hidden features than usual. A sandbar just
below the surface blocks the Prince’s usual route
around the Point so we backtrack rather than risk
running aground. Capt. Dick explains a bit about the
use of tabby (coastal concrete) in the old sea wall
and some of the homes. By the time we clear the
sandbar we’ve learned that A) oysters must be
exposed to air and light in order to survive, and B)
Sally Field rented Mayor Bill Rauch’s former home,
“The Castle,” while in town filming Forrest Gump.
“The Mayor left town for a couple of weeks.” I
wonder if Sally Field needed all five and a half
baths during that shoot.
Beaufort’s film history continues to highlight
the tour as we cruise past the Edgar Fripp house,
Tidalholm. The wealthy plantation owner built the
house in the mid-nineteenth century to escape the
heat and mosquitoes of his St. Helena’s plantation
and cash in on those balmy breezes. This is also one
of the most famous movie homes in the Southeast.
I’ve been in love with this house since The Great
Santini. The Big Chill just made me even more
envious. Nothing’s changed.
At the mention of the films one of the teens on
board actually stops texting for a moment.
As the Old Point disappears in the Prince’s wake,
Capt. Lawrence advises us to keep an eye out for
dolphins. “They’re usually some up ahead by this
next sandbar,” he says. Now the teenager ceases
texting all together and flips his phone to camera
mode – just in case.
An Audubon Guide book’s worth of shore birds
wade in the creeks and pick among the exposed shoals
of oyster shells. Stoic great and snowy egrets
mingle with herons, cormorants, various gulls and –
appropriately enough – an American oystercatcher.
His long beak is bright orange in the afternoon
sun. Just past the old neighborhood of Pigeon Point
(originally conceived as a golf resort in the
1930’s) the star of the cruise shows up: the
Atlantic bottlenose dolphin.
better part of an hour or more we encounter several
pods. Capt. Dick maneuvers the Prince to allow
maximum observation while maintaining a discreet and
safe distance between human, boat and dolphin. Capt.
Lawrence points out the dorsal fins as they rise.
The sleek grey creatures eye us with reciprocal
curiosity, especially some of the smaller youngsters
and mothers with new calves cruising in tandem. Who
knows? Maybe we’re the main attraction of a cetacean
river tour. Maybe one bottlenose is saying to the
others, “hey, keep an eye out. This big noisy floaty
thing full of land mammals usually comes by this
time of day. They’re so cute.”
As cameras (and cell phones) snap away Capt.
Dick explains that the Beaufort River is prime
dolphin habitat because of the water quality. The
entire ecosystem depends upon the marsh grasses that
convert solar energy into nutrients, die off, are
flushed out by the tides to break down and feed the
plankton. They are the reason for the river’s murky
color and the basis of the sea-going food chain.
the mouth of Albergotti Creek within site of the
Marine Corps Air Station, Capt. Dick decides against
continuing up the Intracoastal to Canada and we
begin the homeward leg of the voyage. We pass by
Pleasant Point Plantation, a stately white columned
manse built by Jack Barnwell in 1927 and apparently
the scene of many a raucous party patronized by
Florenz Ziegfield and bevies of female entertainers
from his famous Ziegfield Follies. The home boasts
the first indoor swimming pool in the state of South
Carolina. A giant “for sale” sign is bolted to one
of the home’s two docks.
A hundred yards down river the bones of the
Clifton, a 19th century merchantman, poke out of the
water, visible only because of the unusually low
tide. According to Capt. Dick the ship, heavily
loaded with grain from plantations up river, “sprang
a leak and the grain swelled and burst the bottom
out of the boat.” The boat ended up on a sandbar
just yards from shore. “The crew probably walked
home.” This could be the least disastrous, most
convenient (and embarrassing) shipwreck in the
Once again we pass under the Woods Memorial
Bridge. Capt. Lawrence points out an Osprey nest
built atop one of the timbers. We passed the parents
a mile or so back, riding high on the wind in
concentric circles over the marsh. The two chicks in
the nest are big enough to be left alone now.
They’re days away from fledging and, like the
dolphins, a thrill to see up close. I ask Capt. Dick
if this ever gets old. There is no hesitation. “No,”
For more information on
Capt. Dick’s Beaufort River Tours visit
or call Capt. Dick at 843-812-2804.