July 2008

Live Oac: The Lowcountry’s Outdoor Adventure Company

Author: Frank Dunne Jr. | Photographer: Courtesy of Live Oac

What is it that brought you here?” asked our captain and tour guide toward the end of a late morning cruise up Skull Creek. The question alluded to the fact that so many of us Hilton Head Island “locals” are transplants from elsewhere around the country, and in most cases it was a matter of personal choice—a lifestyle choice. That is, we didn’t come here because our company transferred us. We came here for the area’s sense of place.

Although each passenger aboard the boat gave a unique answer, a common thread existed: references to weather, water and natural surroundings. Our two-hour floating tour served as a reminder of those things, which is exactly what our guides, Blair Willis and Scott Mooneyhan, of Live Oac intended.

Live Oac is Hilton Head Island’s Outdoor Adventure Company. What they offer is the opportunity to see and experience Hilton Head the way it ought to be—from the water. In this case, aboard a quiet, comfortable deck boat named Odyssey, whose suppressed motor noise allows her to purr along the inland waterways without too much bother to our finned and feathered friends. That’s not to say that Odyssey isn’t also built for a little action, though. Live Oac’s mission is to provide whatever outdoor adventure on the water strikes you, and that might be water sports such as wakeboarding, waterskiing or tubing, or something more Hemmingway-esque like shark fishing.

Blair puts it this way, “As a guide in the Hilton Head Island Lowcountry area since 1996, I’m still amazed on a daily basis by the beautiful waterways, full of life, that surround us. Live Oac was founded with the intention of sharing this fascination with others.”

As one of many locals not in possession of my own boat, I usually jump at any opportunity to go out on the water if invited. Usually it’s aboard a friend’s speedboat for fun and sun at the sandbar or a cruise down to Savannah. Occasionally I’ll rent a kayak and go for a paddle, but even that is admittedly more for the exhilaration than for communing with nature. That attitude changed a little after my excursion aboard Odyssey.

Having lived here for almost eight years, I can’t say that I’ve ever taken a nature tour. Setting out from the marina at Jenkins Island, my first thought was, “Well, it sure beats working.” But it turned out to be a much more valuable experience than that. While most of what we saw were things that I have seen before, you gain an entirely new perspective and appreciation when somebody knowledgeable is there to explain the whys and wherefores.

Early in the trip, as we headed up Skull Creek, I was reminded of the Hilton Head that I used to see on my first visit over 25 years ago. On one side of the creek were the marinas, restaurants, residential developments and resorts of today; on the other, the serenity of Pinckney Island, natural and undisturbed.

Scott directed our attention to a group of sharks feeding at the shoreline. Despite the terrifying images that the word “shark” conjures up, they appeared so harmless. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the largest among them could not have been more than three feet long. Scott explained that the nearby oyster beds pose a greater threat to humans than do those sharks. “They’d much rather eat smaller fish,” he said. The razor sharp oyster shells, on the other hand, can do some serious damage should you find yourself stuck in the mud on one of the beds.

Further along, we stopped to drift near a rather expansive shell bank near the mouth of the creek at Port Royal Sound. We learned that the bank is built so high by wakes from Skull Creek boat traffic. While this might be considered mankind’s influence on nature, Blair explained that this is not necessarily a bad thing, because the high shell banks provide a safe habitat for the oyster catcher, an orange-billed bird that feeds on the abundant nearby oysters and builds its nest atop the shell bank, safe from many predators.

Cruising out into Port Royal Sound near Dolphin Head we encountered a few of those familiar friends from whom that particular slice of shoreline draws its name. This pair was too busy to swim up alongside our boat to say hello, as they sometimes do, but we were content to observe from a distance. Dolphins are always fascinating to see. As often as they are seen in local waters, both offshore and upstream, I was quite surprised to learn that there are only about 50 or 60 dolphins calling this area their permanent home.

We then proceeded down McKay’s Creek on the mainland-facing side of Pinckney Island for what I think was the best part of the trip—the escape. Although minutes away from the bustle of modern civilization, in these waters it is almost as if all of that does not exist. Here, you are surrounded by Pinckney Island and other islands designated as wildlife refuges, so there is no development of any kind, just nature’s serenity. It was here that Blair posed his question to us, “What is it that brought you here?” At this point, the answer was pretty easy.

Soon we were back within sight of the bridge, the high tension wires and all other things civilized, cruising around the lower tip of Pinckney Island and back to the dock at Jenkins Island where the next group waited to board for their own Odyssey adventure. For me, it was back to work and back to life’s daily ritual. Yes, even here, where life is better than most other places, it is still possible to get so caught up in work, family and obligations that we forget what makes our home special. Why not take a couple of hours to remember what it is that brought you here?

For reservations and more information, call Live Oac at (888) 254-8362 or visit online at www.liveoac.com.

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