As a whistle buoy proved the meaning of its name mid-afternoon, outside the Murrells Inlet, S.C., jetties, about one mile from the coastline, a brown pelican dove for a meal, something fishy for sure.
About 12 miles of visible shore stretched northward into Myrtle Beach. The guided Jet Ski journey from Captain Channing’s Watersports & Rentals in Murrells Inlet to this scenic, serene spot afforded views of jellyfish dangling from the top of the water, and dark circles on the surface, actually, schools of menhaden, said Channing Strickland, calling the fish by their nickname: pogy.
Jetting around on personal watercraft such as a Jet Ski, or engaging in other sports such as surfing, parasailing, kayaking, paddleboarding and boating, bring great ways to enjoy the water that lines and crosses the Grand Strand.
The other guide, riding in the back of our single-file line, paused and looked seaward to the south, acknowledging the power a Jet Ski has locked on his life for leisure and love of a marine lifestyle.
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“Ever since high school,” said Rodney Grambo, “I tried to quit a few times, but I always came back.”
The ride back to the marina came with other aquatic scenes, including pelicans and cormorants resting atop buoys, as well as mullet swimming, tarpon taking flips out of the water for a second, and scores of fiddler crabs on the move along marsh edges.
Since welcoming this rookie on a personal watercraft for this group excursion in late July, Strickland asked kindly on the way out if my pace could be picked up a tad past 30 mph, so the vessel – a triple-seat, 10.5-foot-long, Yamaha VX Deluxe – could ski on the water as it’s meant to do once reaching that speed. With patience from the guides, confidence gained, and steady, sure seating and footing, that benchmark wasn’t a hurdle to pass. On the return route, on flat water inside the jetties, the speedometer climbed to 43 mph.
The faster the ride, the larger and longer the rooster-tail stream of water spewing from the vessel’s rear.
Kimberly Johnson, manager and co-owner at Captain Channing’s Watersports & Rentals, said the season for personal watercraft tails after September, but the season for surfing and boating extends into autumn.
Many people might like Jet Skiing into the ocean for wildlife observation. A female manatee gave Johnson her greatest memory from an excursion and that dolphins are “like children” in a playful nature. Other Captain Channing’s staff members chimed in on their favorite moments from a personal watercraft. Clint Johnson can’t forget seeing a ray with a 5-foot span jump from the water, Grambo recounted a 12-foot-tall ocean sunfish, and Brittany Ozment said since taking her post in April, she’s felt at home pretty quickly on the water.
The kayak option
Mike Walker, an interpretive ranger at Huntington Beach State Park, said its Coastal Kayaking program for two hours on Monday mornings from April through October has stayed popular since its inception in the 1990s. This system lets beginners try their hand at paddling in a calm, saltwater marsh.
“From the vantage point of a kayak,” Walker said, “you’ll see things that you won’t from a bike, from walking or in your car.”
A kayak gets people closer to marsh life for “great views” of wading birds and with frequent bald eagle sightings of late.”
Bottlenose dolphins and a manatee have even made uncommon appearances, he said.
Walker also said the tour guides and coordinators, Black River Outfitters of Pawleys Island, has been “phenomenal” with this program, donating use of equipment and time, and with park campouts and beach cleanup efforts as well.
With increases in the numbers of youth taking up paddles in Coastal Kayaking the past years, children 7 and younger gain free admission with a paying parent, for whom the fee is only $35.
For the small children who join in these excursions, Walker said “we try to catch some fiddler crabs” for an entertaining observation of these salt-marsh denizens.
Walker said outings this year “have been filling up ahead of time,” so make reservations – which are due by 4 p.m. on the Sunday before an outing – “as early as you can.”