Ferry Tales

The art of living on a sea island with no bridge

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live on a private island? Island living has an undeniable allure — separated from the world by water, private and peaceful. Off the coast of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida there are more than 100 tidal and barrier islands. They are known for their fascinating history, beautiful views and rich Gullah culture.

Once home to indigo, cotton and rice plantations, much of the pre-Civil War wealth of the South came from the Sea Islands. These islands have been the site of battles, great prosperity and hardship. They have been home to Indians, European settlers, slaves and now Northerners escaping the cold and seeking some sense of peace rarely found in today’s way of life.  

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Today, there are two types of Sea Islands: those connected to the mainland by bridges, and those without bridges. The bridges are more than simply a convenience; they define the island, its lifestyle and its pace. Hilton Head Island has a bridge, Starbucks, Staples and Walmart — all things we need to live our modern lives. By contrast, Daufuskie Island has none of these things — and no bridge to the mainland. What you trade for the immediacy of a caramel macchiato or a toner cartridge is a “Sea Island attitude.”  This attitude does not have to be one of Bohemian rejection of all things civilized. It is much more subtle. It is a walk on a deserted beach; it is a quiet that is surprising loud, and it is a complete of sense security that the water gives you most importantly, it is a step back in time. When the boat lands on a Sea Island, you have an enhanced attention to your surroundings. You are more aware of the tides, the colors of the marshes, the birds, the weather, and even yourself. 

ferrytales3But how does Sea Island living work in a practical sense? For some Sea Islands, getting the goods and services is a huge obstacle. It can become a full-time job just to live comfortably. There is no quick trip to the store. One community on Daufuskie, however, has made every effort to eliminate the obstacles associated with island living. For the past 30 years, Haig Point has strived to find ways of making living on a bridgeless island work while still meeting the demands of an upscale lifestyle. 

A big part of this effort is the ferry system. A ferry runs each hour, from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., from the Welcome Center on Hilton Head. Another ferry run by Haig Point leaves from Harbour Town in Sea Pines. It runs every hour till 11:30 p.m. and is on call for late-night pickups. This means access to the mainland is always available. The ferries bring Haig Point residents, goods, pets, etc., to an embarkation center on Daufuskie where valets bring everything to your home. Bigger items like refrigerators and large appliances are brought over on a twice-weekly barge. For everyday deliveries such as groceries, Haig Point has worked out an online ordering system in partnership with Harris Teeter. The store delivers the groceries to the Haig Point Welcome Center, which loads the groceries on the boat and delivers them to Daufuskie. The Haig Point valets then take them to your home, and even put them in your refrigerator. With the advent of Amazon Prime, nearly all things necessary for modern life can be delivered to an islander’s door within a few days. You can even have pizza delivered by ferry. An onboard pizza oven keeps it warm for the 30-minute trip. As for movies, Hargray’s high-speed Internet allows for Netflix to be enjoyed in moments. It seems at least one island community has “bridged” the gap between true Sea Island life and the life on a bridged island. On Haig Point, you do not have to sacrifice golf, tennis or fine dining for the experience life separated from the mainland. It is in many respects the best of both worlds. 

Living on a Sea Island also has another benefit: community. Unless you are the only inhabitant of your island, you quickly get to know your neighbors and rely on them. Dining together, sharing and helping neighbors are necessary component of life on the islands. Because of this, island living is not one of being a hermit but one of being a neighbor. You need your neighbors and they need you. Together, you make the island life work.

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Living a boat ride away from many of conveniences of the modern world takes a certain type of personality. There’s a set of organizational skills that Sea Islanders seem proud to possess. A certain satisfaction comes with the perfect trip to the mainland. But there is an equal satisfaction with the physical and psychological separation from traffic, noise, and fast pace in today’s society that walks a fine line from being unplugged but not disconnected.

Sea Island life is not for everyone. There are two types of individuals: those who have to ride the ferry and those who get to ride the ferry. Which camp you fall in is somewhat of a mystery. Some people know they are right for a bridgeless island on their first visit; others take several trips and some never warm up to island life. In fact, there is a phrase on Daufuskie:

“The island chooses you; you don’t choose the island.

Living on a Sea Island is a way of life, not an address. The people who live on the islands love it. It does take a certain amount of discipline and planning, but to those who “get it,” the loss of some convenience is made up by this shifted island attitude and a chance to turn back time.

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The following is an insight into how some of the residents of the Sea Islands have adapted to island living.

MELISSA LEHMBERG

Husband: Opie Lehmberg
Children: Kade, 9, and Maggie, 5
Thoughts on island life: We do all we can not to leave Daufuskie Island. After living in Atlanta with all the activity noise, Opie and I looked at Haig Point and a very different lifestyle. We were hooked on Daufuskie immediately. In fact, we bought our house on the first day. From a mother’s perspective, I love that the kids can safely ride bikes, explore, go horseback riding and just be kids. Our trips to the mainland are few, and each time we return to the island we feel like we’re coming home.  

BARBARA McCALLION

Husband: Kevin McCallion
Children: Alana McCallion, 16
Thoughts on island life: We travel back to Hilton head five or six times a week thanks to school and work. Living on Daufuskie is not like living on a Caribbean island, where you are making constant lifestyle sacrifices. We feel we do not make any lifestyle sacrifices. There is a noticeable quiet on an island without cars, and there is a connection to nature that we’ve never felt before. We’ve made wonderful, lifelong friends, which is an aspect that is very special to island living. There is a Mayberry-like quality to the pace of life at Haig Point.

PH. COURTESY OF HAIG POINT