By Tom Neale, 1/19/2012
Several years ago we were heading north in early May after a winter in the Bahamas. We anchored in Bull Creek one evening, a favorite spot. This creek stretches away from the Intracoastal Waterway channel, where it follows the great Waccamaw River in South Carolina, and seductively disappears from view around a bend of dense trees. It was wide enough to anchor, but we could see old trees along the shore, their carcasses extending far out into the water. Occasionally a snag drifted down on the current, protruding from the water, giving a telltale sign of a large log or even an entire tree underneath. We’d heard there were logs on the bottom that could trap anchors, but we stopped anyway.
The skipper of a Canadian sailboat, anchored just up the creek from us, lazily flicked a fly rod, hoping to bring in supper. I watched his art as the twilight deepened and the eerie night sounds of the swamp began to fill the air. A few seconds after his third cast the still surface of the creek erupted just where his cast hit the water. A huge gator launched upward as if it was trying to fly. I couldn’t see well because of all the splashing, but I think its entire body cleared the surface. The fisherman sat stunned for a moment, staring. The large ripples spread and dissipated into the cypress knees, as he watched silently, his mouth hanging open. Night fell in the deep swamp of the Waccamaw River. Finally, he hastily reeled in what was left of his line and crept below — I guess for another can of Dinty Moore.
One log blinked. Another moved. Another swim out into the deeper water ahead and submerged. We were in a swamp of alligators. I was very glad that I had an aluminum dinghy. I was afraid to turn around because by then the creek was very narrow as well as shadowy and I didn’t know what I’d find along the shore. We continued on, hoping for a wide area. Instead it grew more and more narrow until finally we gave up, did some very cautious backing and filling, with our eyes darting in all directions, and got turned around so we could head out through the logs with eyes, to find our anchorage.
That anchorage was very desolate and we were glad to soon be heading to more “populated” areas. But we’d been put on notice on the trip down as we entered the Alligator River much farther north, anchored at the north end of the Alligator Pungo Cut which seems like pure wilderness, and then traversed that cut where, one year, we’d encountered a bear swimming across ahead of us. You don’t really expect alligators as you take off on a trip on the ICW. But you should. I’m not sure exactly where you might begin to be concerned; I just know you should.
Tom’s Tips On Keeping an Eye Peeled
1. Don’t take for granted that police, big brother, fire and rescue, the town council or whomever is watching out for you on the ICW.
A well known resort Island along the way is high class and high civilization. There are numerous marinas on the island, excellent golf courses where yachtsmen like to stop for the play, tennis courts, fine restaurants and shopping. People pay a lot for their fine homes in planned neighborhoods behind gated boundaries. One such couple was enjoying the late afternoon in one of the finer homes, in one of the finer communities. It had lakes and creeks, surely very desirable in the “right” kind of neighborhood. They heard a knocking on the front door.
Actually, it wasn’t the normal knocking to which they were accustomed. The door bell wasn’t being rung, the expensive brass knocker wasn’t being used. The knocking was more of a thumping, and it just didn’t sound right. They looked out the peephole and saw no one. But the knocking-thumping continued. Feeling a bit irate at this point, thinking perhaps that a neighborhood kid was being mischievous, the gentleman swung open the door ready to confront the rudeness that he knew was there. He looked around and saw absolutely no one. But he was looking around at his own level—the level where you might see the upper part of someone standing there. He heard a shuffling at his feet and another noise he couldn’t identify in that split second that passed like lightning as he looked down…..and saw the huge alligator.
He yelled, his wife screamed, and they both ran, stumbling and tripping over themselves, back into the house. By the time the guy realized he hadn’t closed the door it was too late. The gator had ambled in and was checking out the digs, apparently beginning to feel at home. The couple, still yelling, ran through the house and out the back door, slamming this one shut behind them. They called the police. As they stood listening they heard crashing and banging and rips and tearing inside. Their new house guest was confused, ticked off, looking for food or something. Bottom line is as they waited for the police and then waited for the officers to decide what to do about the situation, the gator had his way with the fine furnishing, draperies and other luxuries inside. Finally some gator expert got him out and the neighborhood returned to some semblance of normalcy, although without the couple who had understandably decided to take up temporary abode on the top floor of one of the island’s fine hotels.
And then there are the alligators in Florida. But that’s another story. Actually it’s many, many other stories. Whether you’re out in the boonies or in high civilization, there are certain parts of the east coast where you could find yourself up to your backside in alligators, not only figuratively speaking but also literally. This doesn’t discourage us. It shouldn’t discourage you. These are but a part of the interesting experiences when you travel the east coast in your boat. Just be careful where you walk your poodle.
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