Actor Roger Moore - eluding authorities while buzzing in a speedboat through the Louisiana bayou as 007 "Live and Let Die" - may come to mind when riding on Waccamaw Cooter Airboat Tours in Murrells Inlet, S.C. But Plantation River Tours guides and guests search for wildlife along the Waccamaw River backwaters.
From Charlotte, Murrells Inlet, on the Grand Strand, is approximately 182 miles, about a four-hour drive.
To see and do
"See how quiet it runs?" said Capt. Scott Cook, at the wheel, coasting the Waccamaw Cooter airboat until exiting the no-wake zone and heading north.
He then cranked up the airboat's massive propeller. The sound resembles that of a sports car revving, then - growing in volume - a single- or double-prop plane. Vapor from the propeller exhaust held steady a rainbow.
Wearing borrowed life jackets and complimentary ear plugs, the six passengers looked ahead, around and behind the boat as it started to move.
Cook hugged the side of the river and followed a long, gradual curve. An osprey nest atop a channel marker triggered the first stop. Two inhabitants almost identical in size looked up, yet felt unthreatened by the boat's proximity - about 100 feet.
After the boat resumed its whir heading down the middle of the river, a cormorant a quarter-mile ahead splashed out of the water, taking flight from the middle of the water.
Shutting off the engine again later, Cook pointed out some prominent flora along "old abandoned rice fields" that remain part of land designated for wildlife preservation. Some pink flowers everyone noticed were swamp roses, he said.
Cook counted about six native area plants within easy view, including pickerel weed, with purple flowers; cow lilies and primroses (both yellow); and hibiscus (white).
Seeing a swallow-tailed kite spurred another break downstream,. Then Cook cut down a creek on a stretch lasting several minutes. At times, the width of the waterway narrowed to 5 feet, and Cook zig-zagged through patches of sawgrass taller than the boat. Plants, including wild rice stems, tickled passengers' elbows.
Taking a breather once back on the main channel, Cook explained some nuances about bumps on that path.
"When we went up," he said, "we were driving over dirt."
The airboat returned to the marina dock 55 minutes later.
Cook, 43 and a lifelong area resident, said he and Capt. Dale Prox began giving these rides in May.
Cook said the airboat's speed reaches 50 mph, but averages 25 to 30 mph as the crew scouts for wildlife.
"We try to show them things they've never seen before," he said. The airboat allows access to formerly unreachable sites, even by kayak, Cook said.
"It's hard to believe you're this close to Myrtle Beach and can still hide," he said. "It's the best of both worlds, freshwater and saltwater."