July 2008

Goin' Over to 'Fuskie

Author: Paul deVere

My first “day trip” to Daufuskie was November 2, 1978, before there were regular day trips to the secluded island. I was directing a photo shoot for a record album cover (remember those?) for a jazz group that my company represented.

The cover design called for the background to be a deserted beach. My then gal friend (now wife) had spent several of her teen years on Hilton Head Island in the early seventies and said she knew just the spot. She made a phone call to a friend. “All set,” she told me.

After six hours of hard driving from Asheville, North Carolina, my camera crew, my gal friend and I made it to a place I had only vaguely heard of: Hilton Head Island. And, I learned, we were getting up bright and early the next morning to head over to a place I’d never heard of: Daufuskie Island. And our private beach was called “Bloody Point.” Very reassuring.

Jake Washington met us in his 14-foot johnboat at Harbour Town. My camera crew, with all their millions of dollars worth of equipment, were somewhat nonplussed when they saw Jake’s boat with its watery bottom. Jake took a look at us and said to my gal friend, “Mohnin tittuh.” It sounded beautiful but I had no idea what he said. My gal, who knew Jake, said something in reply that also, to me, was unintelligible. I didn’t know that they were chatting in Gullah, the language—and culture—of Daufuskie.

Jake Washington was already a legend: a Daufuskie waterman who couldn’t swim. But he intimately knew the shifting sands of Calibogue Sound and the Cooper and New Rivers, and Mungen Creek, the waters surrounding the island. Some tagged him the “Mayor of ’Fuskie.” There’s now a road named after him there. Wick Scurry’s new tugboat was christened the Jake Washington.

With all our equipment, plus the costumes we brought (the jazz group wore white tuxedos), Jake probably thought we were nuts. Maybe we were. As we crossed over Calibogue Sound, a school of dolphins escorted us off our starboard side. I wanted my cameraman to get a picture, but his white knuckled grip on each side of the boat made that somewhat impossible.

Once we got to the landing, we hopped into Jake’s little truck and headed cross island to Bloody Point. As we bounced along the sand and dirt roads, the forest around us was breathtaking. A deer shot out from behind a tree and followed us a distance. It felt like we were in another world. I soon learned we were—a world with its own language, and its own customs, and its own life. To me it was magic.

The beach was perfect. Long gone trees stuck up out of the sand like modernist sculptures. The sun was bright and the sky a brilliant blue. I had traveled all over the world but had never seen a place like this. Never.

My crew reminded me we had a photo shoot to do, breaking my reverie. So did the jeep barreling down the beach. Behind the wheel was a guy with a big, curly beard, a big broad smile and bright blue, shiny eyes that could poke a hole right through you. This was the friend of my gal who had arranged everything: Jake, boat, truck ride, all of it. Bud was that kind of guy. He drove a helicopter for the U.S. Marines, was a commercial shrimper, ferry boat captain, and later, opened the first real estate office on Daufuskie, the island he loved. The real estate business was more to help the folks who were his neighbors there, descendants of slaves from the plantation era, so they could get a fair price for their family land, “heirs’ land,” from developers who had also discovered Daufuskie.

Bud said he wanted to make sure everything was alright and he had a message.

“You expecting some other people?” he asked.

“Five models,” I answered. It was the one item I had arranged. We needed models for those white tuxedos. The band was off making music in Atlanta.

“They missed the boat from Savannah,” Bud said and roared off. Not a time to panic. Not yet. Using the crew and myself, we could fake three of the muscians. We needed two more bodies. And here we were on a remote island in pre-cell phone, pre-Photoshop days with no boat and $10,000 shoot quickly going down the tubes.

All of a sudden, my love for that magical island turned sour. We were isolated. Abandoned. I silently cursed myself. I looked up at the perfectly blue sky. I saw an osprey, perched high above the beach in a tall pine. I later learned it was very late in the season for Osprey. It was magnificent. After staring me down, it flew off and my mood changed. Just make do, I told myself. On Daufuskie, you just make do.

That’s when my gal saw them—two bodies walking down the deserted beach. She ran up to them and began talking. She was good at that. Still is. Seemed the couple was sailing up the Intracoastal Waterway from Florida to their home in Maryland and decided to anchor off Daufuskie for some beachcombing. On that day, at that time, walking on a beach. In November, 1978, that beach probably saw two people a week! Magic.

The couple agreed to be our missing stand-ins for the grand price of an autographed album. The shoot and, later, the album, went well.

My feeling for Daufuskie Island has only grown stronger. Yes, it has changed mightily in those 30 years. Bud is gone, leaving all of us way too early. Christina, his artist wife has, however, immortalized that time on Daufuskie in many of her beautiful etchings and oils. Jake is gone, too. Many of the old folks are gone. But the island’s spirit isn’t.

There is development now. Beautiful Haig Point, a private residential and club community with its historic lighthouse, the Strachan Mansion and Rees Jones’ 20-hole signature golf course. There is Daufuskie Island Resort and Breathe Spa at Melrose, with its beautiful inn and Jack Nicklaus golf course. And, yes, Bloody Point, with a Tom Weispokf course.

But the island community also has stepped up to preserve the historical areas that remain and to plan its future.

Your day trip to Daufuskie will be different from mine. You’ll take a ferry or private tour boat. You’ll meet interesting people and see interesting sites. What won’t be different is the magic, that sense of awe and wonder as you travel down the island’s sandy roads. When you walk down the ramp and set foot on the island, and if you’re in the right frame of mind, you might feel as I do when I reach Daufuskie. It’s like walking into someone’s soul.

Getting There is Half the Fun

There is no bridge to Daufuskie Island. You have to take a ferry or private watercraft. Today, there are plenty of choices. First of all, consider how you would like to approach your day trip. Do you want a guided tour? Maybe you’d just like to get there, rent of golf cart and head out on your own (with a map, of course). Maybe you’d like to take a kayak or even a jet ski.

You can head out from Broad Creek Marina (843-342-8687) on the Captain Eulice, a 90-passenger ferry built in the 1920s. The ferry docks at Freeport Marina on Daufuskie, the domain of the J&W Corporation and proprietor Wick Scurry.

The Scurry family has been involved with Daufuskie since the 1960s, and they know a thing or two about the island. Scurry’s father, Dr. Jack Scurry, and Wick built Freeport Marina back in 1984. Over the years, Scurry has added a dry dock, cabins, golf cart rentals, bus tours and the Old Daufuskie Crab Company—a full service restaurant (get the Daufuskie “Devil Crab”) and shop. Scurry will sometimes be your guide on the bus. But island resident and historical society member Rob Kennedy or Peter “Ed” Edinger will fill you in about all things Daufuskie.

If you would like to include Daufuskie Island Resort and Breathe Spa on your day trip, you can catch a ferry at the Daufuskie Island Embarkation Center (843-341-4870). You’ll arrive at Melrose Landing where a trolley will meet you for a ride to the resort.

For a private/custom guided tour of Daufuskie, check out offerings by Outside Hilton Head (843-686-6996) or Live Oac (843-384-4384).

Historic Daufuskie

“Daufuskie” comes from a Native American word meaning point of arrow or feather. If you look at an aerial view of this sea island, that is what it looks like. Makes you wonder how they came up with that several thousand years ago.

Continually inhabited for over 4,000 years, Native American pottery shards have been found that go back 9,000 years plus.

In the 18th Century came indigo and cotton plantations—and slavery. Remnants of tabby slave quarters can still be seen. During the plantation period, parallel cultures developed: one for the planters, the other for the slaves.

When Federal troops occupied the island in 1861, the plantation culture came to an end. But the other culture continued. It is called Gullah. That is also the language and, on Daufuskie and other sea islands along the coast, a way of life. For decades, because of remoteness and value, little changed. Though many of the old timers are gone and descendants have left Daufuskie, the Gullah culture is still part of the fabric of Daufuskie life.

A few sites not to miss:

• First Union African Baptist Church, built in 1885. Still very active.
• Mary Field School, the school where author Pat Conroy taught for the 1969-70 school year. That experience was the subject of his book, The Water Is Wide, which was made into the movie, Conrack, staring Jon Voight.
• Silver Dew Winery, once part of the Bloody Point lights house complex. Turned into a winery by Pappy Burn.
• Billie Burn Museum, once the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church.

No Whining. Just Dance

If it’s Friday night on Daufuskie, and you want fresh shrimp and grits or gumbo or devil crab and atmosphere, make your way to Marshside Mama’s. “I really believe in using fresh, Lowcountry shrimp,” said proprietress Beth Simpson who, for ten years, has provided Daufuskie with great food and live, foot-stomping entertainment. Located near the public dock, it has become an island icon for many. The menu is actually a menu board that the server (or Simpson) places on a chair in front of you. Cuts down on printing costs.

Simpson, who moved to the Lowcountry in 1968, also runs a general store next to the restaurant and the post office.

Marshside Mama’s isn’t your typical restaurant. You get that message from the message hand painted on the doors: “No whining. Just Dance.” Funky, down home, loud, possibly a little bizarre (in the finest sense of the word), are words you might use to describe the place. Never “quaint.” Nope.

You meet all kinds of people there—some from Daufuskie Resort, some from Haig Point, some from who knows where. But all have one thing in common: they are all there for darn good food and fun. There are those who would say Marshside Mama’s is an “acquired taste.” It is. Acquire it.

The Artists of Daufuskie.

It just makes sense. Solitude, unhurried, magnificent island landscape. Daufuskie is now home to several artists, all with interesting stories to tell. Jack Anderson, who has been running the Daufuskie Gallery out of Bo Bryan’s (author of Shag) house for about two years, represents 14 artists—several local, including himself. Anderson, who grew up on Tybee Island, creates his pieces in wood. His fat liter chests are amazing. Anderson, a good friend of Bryan, has remodeled the home, itself a work of art. It was once the undertaker’s house.

“He was married to the midwife. She’d bring them into the world and he’d take them out of the world,” Anderson said.

Speaking of the future of art on Daufuskie, Anderson said, “Maybe in five years, people will come to Daufuskie for art just like now they come for golf. I’d like to see that.”

Among the artists he represents is Christina Bates, who lived on the island for 18 years before her husband’s health required them to move. Her popular etchings and oils sensitively depict nature and life on the coastal islands.

The gallery also has Lancy and Emily Burn’s pottery, but if you want to meet them, make your way over to Silver Dew Pottery and watch Lancy at his wheel, spinning out beautiful pieces. They are patterned like the pottery shards Lancy found on his walks on the Daufuskie beach, designs that are 3,000 years old. Lancy is the son of Pappy and Billie Burn. Billie was the official historian of Daufuskie Island and wrote the book, An Island Named Daufuskie. His family goes back to the last lighthouse keeper on the island, his grandfather. “If you want to know the real history of the island,” Burn said, “read Mama’s book.” Your day trip MUST include one or more of Lancy Burn’s stories and a piece of Lancy and Emily’s pottery.

Just across the road from Silver Dew Pottery is Iron Fish, featuring the metal works of sculptor and blacksmith Chase Allen, who traded the world of real estate for the world of art. His pieces have been featured in Southern Living, Coastal Living, and Charleston Magazine. When Chase isn’t home, you can buy one of his pieces on his porch and leave your money in the “honor box” near the front door.

Just down the road is Sylvia Wampler’s Island T-Shirt and Gift Shop. An islander for over two decades, she also has a few stories to tell.

To find out more about the Daufuskie art scene visit www.daufuskiegallery.com and www.ironfishart.com.

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