Savannah River: Millstone Landing to Deadman’s Point

Story + Photography by Michele Roldán-Shaw

Secret spot off the beaten path

Savannah River: Millstone Landing to Deadman’s Point

Swollen by recent rains, the Savannah River rolled down in great, undulating surges, agitated here and there by boils like an invisible stick was stirring it. There was no one on the river save for Captain (my friend’s preferred title while boating), Skipper (his dog) and First Mate (me).

“The first time I put in here, I asked an old man what was downriver,” said Captain, deftly easing us away from the dock and into the ripping current. “He said a load of sandbars. I asked what was upriver and he said a few less sandbars, so that’s the way I’ve always gone.”

Today’s mission: navigate below Millstone Landing on the high water and mark a safe track on his GPS. We cruised along slowly, admiring the fresh greens of spring that matted up in such dense thickets along the banks that Skipper’s barks echoed off them. Buzzards circled on thermal currents, and turtles sunned on snags. High overhead, the biggest congregation of wood storks I’ve ever seen wheeled and flashed like schools of fish in the great blue vault. On either shore was nothing but thick, swampy floodplain forest, the type of terrain that makes me shudder to think of traveling overland here, like if you were a soldier or a conquistador or something. Talk about a hellhole! Some places are just better to look at than trek through.

The waters around Millstone Landing offer some of the best fishing in the South.

Apart from navigational markers and old ruined pylons, there was no sign of human enterprise until we passed under I-95, when appeared a derelict drawbridge on a railroad trestle. There was a big nest on top of the bridge and at the exact moment of our crossing, an osprey arrived with a fish to feed its scruffy, chirping chick. We wondered what happened when the drawbridge raised up. “Maybe it just hangs on,” Captain speculated, which struck me as absurdly hilarious. “Can’t have been dumped out since there was an egg in it,” he concluded as we motored away.

We were just wishing for a place to land, when a sign posted at the mouth of a tributary creek announced “CHANNEL CLOSED, BANK-TO-BANK BERM AHEAD.” We anchored up at this sand bank piled with rocks and found a surprise on the other side: a whole river of sand stretching as far as the eye could see, with little tufts of grass planted at regular intervals like a rice paddy. It was kind of surreal. Identified on Google Maps as Deadman’s Point, it was clearly a feat of engineering; dredged sand filled what had previously been McCoy’s Cut to Middle River. (Later I would learn online that it had been done by the Army Corps of Engineers to mitigate harbor deepening and increase salinization by creating more freshwater marsh habitat.) We strolled along checking out all the tracks: turkey, coon, bobcat, large humans with boots, and little humans with bare feet. It would be a great place for a picnic, or I decided, to hunt fossilized shark teeth, at least until the grass grew in; but all I found was a piece of petrified wood.

So engrossed were we in the wonders of Deadman’s Point that we suddenly realized we had been leading the dog past big patches of reeds where an alligator could rush out. Time to go. “I never like to push my luck,” Captain announced as we got back in our craft and headed for home. Just upriver from Millstone, a sunken boat provided a sober reminder of all that can go wrong on the river — but for today we had come out unscathed again. LL

How to get there

From Millstone Landing (Hardeeville) take a left downriver. After crossing under the old drawbridge, look to your left for the “Channel Closed” sign.

Mode of transportation
Motor boat


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