You could accuse me of oversimplifying, but I want to say that essentially the waters around Charleston provide habitat for four types of boaters. Two types prefer motorboats and two types prefer sailboats.
I know, I know, some people like to parasail or kayak or ride a jet ski. Good. Good. But I focus on ships large enough to accommodate at least a few people at a time.
In Charleston’s motorboat ecosystem, you have your anglers and your pleasure seekers. The former finds a perverse pleasure in enduring bouts of loneliness and enduring periods of missed opportunities. The latter don’t care about the fish at all; they are there to drink beer and hang out with friends, to drop anchor and swim, and to drown out the sounds of nature with loud music.
Among sailors, instead, you have your cruisers and racers, two completely different races that share a certain obsession with the wind in common. The former consist of waterborne nomads happy to hop from port to port, marina to marina, anchorage to anchorage, with the aim of seeing the wettest parts of the world. The latter are adrenaline junkies who love the exhilarating thrill of beating an opponent at the upwind mark.
About these anglers: they aren’t always alone (often they go out with friends or family or paying guests) and they don’t always wait long for the action to begin. Charleston’s waters are well stocked with fish of all kinds: black drum and bass and coastal redfish; mahi and grouper offshore.
The fishing is good enough to warrant tournaments and attract a disproportionate number of large center console three- and four-engine boats to Lowcountry waters. These vessels, with their rows of 300 horsepower outboard motors, can reach speeds of 50, 60, even 70 mph, and make it to the Gulf Stream in less than 90 minutes.
There you might catch a tuna or a wahoo, a trevally or a really big red snapper.
Near shore, all you really need is a skiff, or even a johnboat with a modest outboard, and you can slip into a creek trough, against cordgrass, and hunt redfish, sheep , sea trout or drum.
About these sailors: The cruiser community includes young couples and families – self-reliant misfits who can fix a diesel engine with one hand while nursing the baby with the other – as well as retirees seeking of adventure before sunset, and some of the grizzled middle-aged men who generally prefer seabirds and dolphins to humanity.
Cruisers can motor cruise the Intracoastal Waterway and then island hop in the Bahamas, or they can engage in major crossings, hopping not between islands but between continents, spending long periods in ports distant, frequenting a few other boaters.
Racers, instead, look for any chance to push a sailboat to its limit. They hope to reach speeds of 5, 6, 7, or even 8 knots, and maximize the power of the breeze. They feed on the stress and curses of a captain. They revel in the beating of a witness. They grind on winch handles like they’re looking for crude oil. They draw a line as if their life depended on it.
The runners are concentrated. They watch the surface of the water for signs of puffs of wind. They take care of the boats in front of them in order to anticipate problems or adjust their speed. They shiver when the boats approach.
Cruisers want to cross the oceans; riders are content to navigate in small circles. Cruisers want to gain access to foreign cultures; runners want to win plastic cups with a burgee printed on them. Cruisers search for exotic marine life along coral reefs; runners look for buoys, day markers and maybe a dolphin sighting.
Serious anglers are on a mission. Boaters are more or less aimless. Cruising sailors are patient. Regatta sailors are less patient than cruisers, but more patient than yachtsmen.
The split between motor yachtsmen and sailors is pronounced. Most power boaters think sailboats are too slow and too quiet. Most sailors think motorboats are too fast and too loud.
But in Charleston Harbor and the coastal waters of the Lowcountry, there’s room for everyone.