Overnight at the Old Morris Light

Les Stringer at the Morris Island Lighthouse, 1970.
Les Stringer at the Morris Island Lighthouse, 1970.

by Les Stringer

About 1970, I was working as an ‘engineer’ at the Channel 7 (SCETV) transmitter site which was located at 15 Charlotte Street behind Channel 5 studios on East Bay Street. That meant I turned the transmitter on and off, read 5 gauges and inserted a 10 second station ID every hour.  In those days, we signed off at 10 pm, and I would go over to WCSC afterwards sometimes and hang out with the Channel 5 folks. That’s where I got to know Courtney Taylor and Bud Thomas, a Cinematographer and Director/Producer, respectively.

Take a little trip

I had recently gone up to the Old Morris Lighthouse with my brother Rick and placed a flashing signal light at the top. Why? Seemed like the thing to do at the time.

I ended up telling my newfound friends at WCSC about the intrepid exploit (they seemed impressed), and we resolved to go visit the site. So one spring day we set off in the family boat that my Dad had built (similar to a Renkin) from plywood. It had a 35 HP Evinrude motor that ran great.

We had provisions: Budweiser, Boone’s Farm and some sandwiches. We set off rather late in the day, and the tide was rising. Being ignorant about such things, we didn’t realize that the ’Spring Tides’ would change our navigation plan quite a bit. About halfway there, was a sandbar that required a sort of dogleg maneuver, but the tide was so high at that point that I couldn’t see the landmarks (oysterbeds) that I usually used to make the tricky turn. So we hit something and lost the propeller.

No big deal, I had a spare prop and a spare nail (too cheap to buy shear pins); a few gulps of wine, some rusty pliers, and we were soon on our way again. We reached the Lighthouse and set up ‘camp’ in the base of it and built a small fire with driftwood.

Rusted base at the Morris Island Lighthouse, 1970.
Rusted base at the Morris Island Lighthouse, 1970.
The long and winding road

The next morning we weren’t too hungover, and we figured it was time to leave. The tide had gone down overnight, and the boat was on the beach next to the Lighthouse. That meant that we had to launch it into the surf which proved to be difficult and…we lost the second prop!

We had 2 oars, but the boat was not the type that was easily rowed; nonetheless we persisted long enough to get ourselves into Lighthouse Creek, and on the way to make the left at the end of Rat Island. At this point we all agreed that there must be a better way.

Courtney Taylor was an avid sailor and advocated rigging a sail out of an oar and the half-tent we had brought. We did this and the results were promising, but our progress was painfully slow. At this point he said that we should remove one of the wooden plank seats for a ’sideboard’ to give us leverage for the sail to push against. It sounded like good physics, but I really couldn’t see altering the boat, so we continued down the creek on the backside of Rat Island.

Inside the Morris Island Lighthouse, 1970.
Inside the Morris Island Lighthouse, 1970.
Ride Captain, Ride

Finally, we came to the place in the creek where a finger of Long Island was pretty close and I realized that it was the area where we had lost the first propeller. I told them that I thought it was…over there! We paddled/sailed to the spot and there it was, in crystal clear water, 2 feet below us! After that, it was a simple matter to work another nail (shear pin) out of the seat, replace the prop and triumphantly return to our point of origin!

During our overnight stay at the Lighthouse, I took some slides with my Kodak Retina 35mm camera. My two friends helped me put a Video together at Channel 5 from those slides. It was a very complicated process to put anything together in those days with dissolves. Since we only had one ‘film chain’ camera, the odd numbered slides were videotaped and then the playback was mixed with the even numbered slides and music. It was my very first Video Production and you can watch it yourself. Channel 5 was a wonderful place in those days, and I really enjoyed my early days in Broadcasting.

Click here to see more photos.

Les Stringer grew up on Folly Beach. He is a Broadcast Professional who started his career in TV in 1967 after serving in the U.S. Air Force for 4 years. He is a Director, Director of Photography, Lighting Director and Still Photographer, still active in all things Television. He has worked locally for WCIV, WCBD, WCSC and WITV, and nationally at PBS in Washington, DC. Currently he is a Free-Lance Director and Videographer.

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