PALMETTO BAY MARINA HISTORY
Established in 1959, Palmetto Bay Marina is the oldest marina on Hilton Head Island, The marina became home to the island’s first charter boat when Captain Buddy Hester began the island’s first sport-fishing charter company.
In 1965, the owners, The Dunbars sold the marina to Sea Pines in 1965 but the marina remained a second home to an extensive gallery of unforgettable characters.
Captain Woody Collins pulled up to Palmetto Bay Marina’s docks in the mid-1970s. His days were spent shrimping and fishing the local waters; in the evening he sold the day’s catch on the dock.
John Rumsey arrived on Hilton Head in 1977, the same year Ted Turner won the America’s Cup. He came with a brilliant young architect named Carl “Bunky” Helfrich. Bunky had been a friend of Turner’s since their boyhood in Savannah. At the time Turner owned a smattering of billboards and a small television company in Atlanta that broadcast the Braves. Rumsey crewed on several of Turner’s many yachts, including the 12-meter American Eagle and 60-foot Tenacious. In 1977 he, Helfrich and their friend Gary Wheatley decided to purchase the marina. They installed more dock sections and a larger travel lift that would handle much larger boats, including Turner’s.
Apparently Turner was as quotable then as he is now. “I hate the sea,” Ted Turner once said to Rumsey. “But I hate land worse.”
The marina continued to change hands down through the years, with new owners improving the facilities to varying degrees. “Every now and then entire sections of dock would float away in the middle of the night with boats still tied to them,” Collins recalled. Inevitably, the marina’s footloose atmosphere slowly slipped away with each capital improvement.
When the marina again changed hands in the mid-1980s, it wasn’t certain that the new owners would allow Collins to sell his shrimp off the dock. Rumsey suggested that he set up a little shop a few yards away from the marina office. In that moment an institution was born. Collins and his wife Lynn set up a couple of tables to clean the shrimp. Soon the shrimp cleaning moved indoors and the tables were surrounded by chairs to seat customers. Over time the outdoor space evolved into Captain Woody’s Bar and Grill, the restaurant so near and dear to the hearts of Hilton Head Islanders.
Robert Graves arrived in the late 1970s and began building sport-fishing boats in a shed on the premises. Meanwhile, Helfrich went on to design the Chart House and the Yacht Club of Hilton Head, just a few yards away from the marina. Fuzzy Davis, a legendary inshore fisherman, based himself at Palmetto Bay Marina, working the local creeks and sounds. Within a few years condominiums and businesses began to spring up around the marina.
In 2006 The SERG Restaurant Group opened Black Marlin Bayside Grill and their outside bar Hurricane Bar in Hilton Head Island’s Palmetto Bay Marina.