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Wateree River Pirates
ship and mates
Matt McCaskill (left) and Colt Shirley have been working on their boat, nicknamed Black Heart, since January. The two hope to start a Wateree River touring service by mid-June. - photo by Michael Ulmer

The Wateree River has been hit with somewhat of a pirate spirit as two Camden men have almost completed construction of a 50-foot-long, pirate-themed boat on a sandbar located along the river under Interstate 20.

Colt Shirley and Matt McCaskill, who refer to themselves as the “Wateree River Pirates,” have been working on the project since January and say they are nearly finished with the boat’s construction.

“We came up with the name for the group about five years ago. We were all hanging out and somebody said y’all are the WRPs,” McCaskill said. “We asked him what that meant and they said the Wateree River Pirates and it stuck. That name has been with us ever since.”

Shirley added that several people have stopped by and many car drivers honk their horns when they see the boat from the interstate. “We actually had a kid come down here the other day. He was probably about 2 ½ years old and had pirate stuff all over him. His dad pulled up and said that his son had been freaking out about the boat and wanted to get a picture in front of it. We actually walked him all through it,” Shirley said.  

The two hope to start a touring service with the boat for use along the Wateree. “We’re about 98 percent done,” Shirley said. “We’re going to get some more canoes and hopefully get some more people to check it out.”

They want to officially launch river tours in mid-June.

McCaskill added that he wants to have everything ready as soon as possible. “We’ve actually had a couple people come down and we’ve walked them around. We’re just seeing how it goes. We’re pretty much ready, but we want to be totally ready.”

They constructed the boat by floating tools and materials down the river in canoes and motor boats and setting up a building site on the sandbar near the interstate.

McCaskill said they essentially built the ship without electricity. “We just used things like snips and handsaws. I think we accomplished the whole pirate look after working on it for about five months when we got time off from our regular day jobs.”   

The group has done its best to fit the boat, nicknamed the “Black Heart,” with all the regular trappings of a pirate ship including a plank, a couple of captain’s bunks, old-timey maps, coins, and flags.

The name of the boat came from a trip through Santee where the two figured that since everyone was calling them pirates they would buy a bottle of rum. The brand of rum was called “Black Heart” so they painted a large black heart on the boat and decided the name had a nice ring to it.  

While Shirley runs a custom sign shop and McCaskill works in the construction business, the two have arranged their schedules so they can work more on the boat and plan more activities for the tours.

Shirley added, “The main goal of what we’re doing here is to allow people to love this river like we do. Every time I bring somebody new who hasn’t been down here, they say that this is awesome.”

Weekend tours are expected to cost around $150 and will likely begin Saturday mornings and end Sunday evenings. The group also plans to provide a fresh fruit breakfast and games like chess, checkers, and volleyball during the weekend’s activities.  

McCaskill said the cost of the tour would be similar to the cost of going on a trip to the beach. “For people to enjoy a whole weekend with what it would cost them in gas to go to the beach and they wouldn’t have to worry about food, accommodation, anything, it would be worth it,” he said.

He added, “I think any river trip is awesome. We just wanted to provide one in this part of town. Right now, we’re kind of taking it day by day. We’re just trying to figure out what works the best.”

The group has plans to set up its Facebook page with available dates for booking and added that the sign shop at 209 Broad St. in Camden almost always has someone working there if people want to contact them.