By Marci Shore, Island Eye News Staff Writer
Rick Morse took his first load of passengers to Dewees Island, as a ferry boat captain 21 years ago this fall. Onboard his first 20-minute ferry trip to Dewees from the IOP Marina, were real estate agents, brokers, and their blueprints. There were only three houses on the island at that time, and construction after Hurricane Hugo was blossoming.
“That first trip, I took the agents and brokers to the Island, andwe did some fishing. Afterward I thought, ‘Gosh, and I’m going to get paid for this?’” Morse “grew up on the water.”
The son of a son of a boat captain, he was born while his parents were living at the Breach Inlet Inn. He was raised on the Isle of Palms, and as a native son, likes to impart local knowledge to passengers on his ferry. A longtime friend, Paul, who was riding the ferry on this particular day, was quick to quip, “He’s not going to give away all his best fishing holes, though.”
Morse particularly enjoys advising fisherman who are new to saltwater fishing about their bait and tackle choices. “Dad used to own Mount Pleasant Seafood. So I spent a lot of time in Shem Creek too.
I used to work in the store, but Dad had a hard time keeping me off the dock,” Morse said as he was getting ready to take the 10 a.m. ferry, loaded with a few passengers, across to Dewees from the IOP ferry dock. My heart wasn’t in retail, it was on the boat.”
Morse did a brief stint as a “starving musician,” playing the drums with various groups that traveled up down the coast.
Highlights from his music career include opening for the Marshall Tucker Band and the Dixie Dregs at a College of Charleston concert. At 66, Morse said his passengers and the wildlife have been the highlights of his 21 years as a ferry captain.
“Every day is different on the water,” he said. “Some days the dolphin put on a show, other days, sharks might be seen feeding in the shallows. Manta ray jump out of the water on occasion, and nesting bald eagles have become a fairly common sight.
“The manatee (or sea cows) are always popular. If someone sees one in the area, people will be asking about them all summer long.”
There are two ferry boats available to take passengers to Dewees. A smaller, 30-foot Island Hopper that holds 14 passengers plus two crew members; and also a 45 foot boat that will carry 49 passengers, plus two crew. There have been seven different boats during Morse’s tenure.
The change in the area during his lifetime has been “unbelievable” Morse said. He fished the Dewees Island area with his family as a child, and remembers the man and woman who lived on Goat Island. The couple, Henry and Blanche Holloway, lived a primitive existence among the palm fronds on Goat Island, and boaters on the Waterway would often stop and drop off groceries to them, he recalls.
“He (Henry) looked like an older Howard Hughes, with long, stringy hair, and long fingernails. He was a good storyteller. She was weathered looking too, and my sister used to have nightmares about her. She loved to hug the children when we stopped to drop off groceries,” Morse said. “They were both nice though.”
“Dewees reminds me a lot of what Isle of Palms used to look like, with the shell pathways. One of the things that has changed the most is the boat traffic. So many boaters ignore the rules of the road out here. Consideration is the key. It can make it stressful for anyone on a boat.”
After a 20-minute ride to Dewees Island, a short stop to allow passengers off and new ones on, Morse and his crew make a u-turn and head back toward the IOP Marina. Life on Dewees Island is “special experience” he said. School mornings start out early for the children who live there, and he’s there at 6:30 a.m. to pick them up to take them down the Intracoastal Waterway. “I feel like I’ve been a real part of their lives, and have seen these kids I help get to school, grow up.”
Morse left the Lowcountry only briefly, when he traveled with different bands up and down the East Coast, but the music of outboard engines and the tides were always calling him home. He said he feels lucky to have a job on the water, where he can be in his own house every night.