By Steve Strickland
Wacca Wache Marina was built beside the bluffs at Wachesaw Plantation, where visitors to Murrells Inlet have arrived by boat for hundreds of years., including Indians, early settlers, barges, sloops, steamships, mail boats, and now, transient pleasure craft.
The river’s history in the settlement of our community is similar to all of the surrounding plantations, since canoes, skiffs, and schooners alike were the earliest forms of transportation to this isolated (for hundreds of years) place.
After Wacca Wache Marina started operations, Lawrence LaBruce ran the marina and gave river tours to visitors on the Island Queen, a 41-foot wood mail boat built in the late 1930’s. When he sold the marina to Walter Willard in 1967, the Island Queen continued in service, eventually being replaced in April of 1974 with a modern 65-foot steel cruising boat built in Erie, Pa.
The Island Queen II started off as the River Princess in Erie, and Walter Willard, his son Harris, and his son-in-law Andy Martin traveled to Erie to navigate the long trip home through the Great Lakes, the New York canals and down the east coast to Murrells Inlet. Andy Martin had studied and received his captain’s license from the Coast Guard specifically for this boat so they could bring it back themselves. It was a voyage of firsts for this crew; since this was the furthest they had ever traveled from home (the route home by water was over 1,300 miles). Walter had the ship builder raise the pilothouse two feet before they picked the boat up to ensure they would be able to see over the tall bow, which was designed to break through large waves that were common in the Great Lakes.
On the first leg of the trip, they found out first hand why this was important, since the breaking swells of the Great Lakes sent whitewater across the bow and decks on the first day of the trip. They slept in the pilothouse the first night with a Coleman heater to keep them warm, only to wake up the next morning thoroughly damp from the condensation that formed on the inside of the steel hull.
The River Princess was the first boat to pass through the Oswego Canal for the season (it was shut down in winter due to ice floes) and made news in the local paper. From Oswego, N.Y., the River Princess traveled across upstate New York to Troy, N.Y., where they turned south into the Hudson River and made their way into New York Harbor.
During the two week trip to Murrells Inlet at 10 knots (nautical miles per hour), the crew sailed though the Atlantic Ocean into Newport News, Va., and then traveled the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AIWW) south to her new home port of Murrells Inlet, where she was christened the Island Queen II.
During the course of the following twelve years, the Island Queen made two daily plantation tours, and evening dinner cruises to Bucksport, during the season. The Island Queen took a route down the Waccamaw River, going into Butler and Schooner Creek, up the Pee Dee River, then back to the marina through Thoroughfare Creek. This tour provided visitors a glimpse of the ricefields, river swamps, and plantation homes for the price of $5 per passenger in 1968, which went up to $12 by 1986. The Island Queen navigated our waters under the command of Captains Andy Martin, Tommy Legette (from Calabash, N.C.) John Lentine, Leo Gardner, and Alex Sing, Jr. These captains were ably assisted by cruise guides, who were there to tell the tales and legends of the local history and our flora and fauna. These cruise guides have included Kathy Hamby, Sarah Conkfield, Elizabeth “Betty” Bunting, and Karen Thatcher. The last two, Betty and Karen, were responsible for writing, illustrating and publishing a book about the tour called “Out of Wacca Wache” in 1978.
© 2012 Steve Strickland. Used with the author’s permission.
- Beverly Springs on Murrells Inlet History Project: Bethel Methodist Church
- Marie Layman on Contact Us
- Franny Powers (Van Rooyen) on Meet the publisher
- David Griffin on MI History Project: The Island Queen gave tours and cruises
- Deb Trolsen on The Murrells Inlet Outdoor Arts and Crafts Festival