Press "Enter" to skip to content

Down At The Old Boatyard

I’ve always been of the opinion that guys need two places to remain balanced: one is a place to be alone; the other is a place to be with other guys. In both cases, if possible, it’s best if it involves boats.
The “alone” place is easy: a boat. But for many guys, that’s just not possible and that’s why the world is so full of garage workshops, basement offices, backyard sheds, “man caves” and any number of other forms of refuge where a guy can just tinker and be to himself. I’ve had many such places throughout my life, most of the aforementioned, and the best of them all was a little tin-roofed shack situated out at the end of a dock on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina during the two decades I called the Carolina low country home. I ostensibly called it my “office” and it was to a great extent, but it was also the place where I went to be alone, think, write, play with a length of rope, pour through boating magazines and catalogs, or just sit out on the dock with my dog and watch the world float by.

I had space for several small slips on the inside of dock there and rented them out to a select few… a neighbor, a friend, and the most inside slip was occupied by a 22-foot sailboat in various states of disrepair whose owner’s name was Danny. For nearly two years, Danny would appear once or twice a week and in all that time the boat never left the slip. A lot of friends used to ask why Danny never took the boat out and I always explained that they were missing the whole point. By design, Danny’s boat was a perpetual work-in-progress. It was his private place, his sanctuary, his escape from whatever he needed escaping from. I never really did notice the boat improving, it certainly never looked worse, but Danny certainly improved, and that’s what counted.
Now for my “with other guys” place, The Crab Bank Yatch Club (no, that’s no typo, I’ll explain later).
Situated at the mouth of Shem Creek with a panoramic view of Charleston Harbor and the city skyline, for several years it served as Sea Island Boatworks where local renowned boat builder Mark Bayne built and restored wooden boats. It didn’t take long before his skills were noticed and the next you knew Mark was getting commissions to build million-dollar sportfishing yachts. After the first one was launched it became apparent that more spacious accommodations would be needed in a more appropriate and better appointed facility. So, the whole operation was moved up to the old Charleston Navy Base.
But there was one catch.
As with any small local boatyard (especially one in such an idyllic location) it had become a natural gathering place, the equivalent of a local tavern at Happy Hour where guys gathered after work just to sip beer and discuss anything but their days work. It soon became an unstated rule since this place was, in fact, a place of business first – with the crew often rushing to meet launch schedules – that visitors should not appear until later in the afternoon, a nebulously defined time of day that varied with the seasons and came to be known simply as “beer thirty.” Sometimes it was just a few guys, other times – especially Friday afternoons – a whole gang of guys and dogs were sitting around on sawhorses, examining the latest project, handling tools, sipping beers, telling crude jokes and generally solving the problems of the world. It wasn’t a place to escape from women and in fact, a good number of girlfriends, wives and kids stopped by, too. But all-in-all, it was a place for guys to be with guys and that’s all there was to it. Like so many places in life, it was not a situation or setting that could have been planned out. It was just a natural evolution of becoming a guy gathering place.
When the boat building there was no more, we all lamented at the prospect of giving up our little gathering place. It would be impossible to replace, thus the concept of The Crab Bank Yatch Club was born. All during the boat building days, there was always one little project or another going on in this or that corner of the yard: one guy repairing a skiff, another guy working on an old outboard. The convenience of the tools, materials and expertise there (oftentimes MUCH more unsolicited advice than the recipient wanted to hear!) was just too good to give up. And so it was conceived that the boatyard would live on in the form of a loose co-op of sorts, where a bunch of the guys chipped in for their respective few square feet of working space. But the primary function was, and remained, as a gathering place of and for the finest sorts of boating guys. I’d never listed some of these individuals by name and occupation, but I had too much reverence and respect for the innocuous anonymity we all enjoyed down there as we tinkered and talked the problems of the world away. Trust me, there were literal rock stars and titans of the marine industry in attendance, but it was with their kids who invariably put on their swim gear and charged down the makeshift gravel boat ramp with abandon, and the dogs charging in after them. Glorious times they were.
Absent of the pre-eminent function of the boatyard to build boats, “beer-thirty” became an institution of considerable proportions. At one time a large grill was installed and on Fridays, whatever the commercial shrimpers and fishermen of Shem Creek saw fit to donate to the cause ended up grilled to perfection, to be simply picked off the grill, blown cool between the fingers and washed down with a frosty one, “guy style.”
There was little ceremony or pretense at the boatyard, and all the while boats of every imaginable shape and size make their way in and out of the creek and Charleston Harbor for our viewing pleasure as we took note and made comments, sometimes giving rise to the next little project that would take place under the shed. Back then, more than two decades or so ago, as the sandbar protruding out from Patriot’s Point continued to shoal up the area just outside the northern side of the mouth of the creek, we took odious delight in watching those boaters with no apparent local knowledge drive themselves right up onto the flats with a huge plume of mud in their wake and that telltale gurgling roar of a motor from 1,000 yards away that it’s just been driven high and dry. Sometimes we gauged the height of the tide and then quickly bet whether the hapless boat will hit bottom or not. Yes, guys can be that way.
Some wives or girlfriends may fret in distrust when their man says he’s stopping off somewhere after work, going out for a few hours with the guys, or when he disappears for the better part of a Saturday afternoon. Some of them, I’m sure, should fret. And I’m not advocating that men shirk their responsibilities to spend much time with their families as is possible. But ladies, if your man ever says he’s heading down to the boatyard or going out to work on his boat, encourage him to go, resting assured that the man who walks back in the door a few hours later will be better than the one who walked out.

The Crab Bank Yatch Club part…
When the name of the club was conceived, a local artist who used to frequent the place volunteered to make a hand-carved wooden sign to make it all official. It was an auspicious day when he drove up and took from his back seat a finely carved board, covered with a towel. The board was propped up upon one of the boat hulls under the shed and we all gathered around in a semi-circle for the big unveiling. The towel was pulled back and for a good five seconds or so we all admired the fine handiwork. Then, in the sixth second (and the full laughter started around the 10-second mark), it was noted by one and all that the spelling was wrong! But, not being a yacht club that would ever institute a “Jackets required after 6 p.m.” rule, the consensus was immediately arrived at that the sign read just fine as was: The Crab Bank Yatch Club.