Hilton Head Hop

Join the Porcaro family as they travel by Sea Ray to spend a weekend sampling the island’s charms.

Boat names are a funny thing. They run the gamut from silly to suggestive to downright poetic; for every goofy pun there’s a touching tribute or meaningful turn of phrase. In Michael Porcaro’s case, the name of his Sea Ray offers a little glimpse into the humor, and the heart, of the family who boats on it.

The Porcaros’ 280 Sundancer earned its title, Working for Peanuts, as a nod to Michael’s career in global food commodities with the Charleston Nut Company. He earned his own nickname, “Peanut Man,” for dealing in millions of pounds of nuts each year. But while the Sea Ray purchase may have been funded by the popular legume and its hard-shelled ilk, more than anything it’s a place where Michael and his family can get away from work and focus on the important task of enjoying each others’ company.

Originally from the Chicago area, Michael and his wife, Michelle, have called Charleston home since 2000. It’s an ideal spot to enjoy by Sea Ray with their young son and daughter, Sullivan (9) and Saylor (6). The city’s abundance of waterfront restaurants, fresh seafood, world-class golf courses and mild temperatures were all part of the allure that drew them south. “Michelle and I both grew up with snow every winter,” Michael explains, “so we were really attracted to the lifestyle that Charleston’s weather encourages: the beaches, the golf, all the natural beauty. The fact that we can boat year-round was a huge determining factor.”

The 280 Sundancer, which they purchased last summer from Hall Marine, is the Porcaros’ third Sea Ray, following a 245 Weekender and a 240 Sundeck. “I’ve always been drawn to the classic sleek lines of a Sea Ray, the way they look, how heavy and safe they are,” Michael says. “They’re terrific family boats.”

At their slip at Charleston Harbor Marina on Patriot’s Point, the family enjoys beautiful views of the city skyline across the water. “It’s a nice spot,” Michael says. “There’s a whole community there. It’s great for when we have guests come from out of town. The marina has an adjacent resort where sometimes the parents will stay and let the kids have run of the boat for the night. Or we’ll all take it out for a nighttime cruise and do drinks and appetizers.

The sunlit cabin provides an additional spot to get out of the elements for a glass of wine or a meal.

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“The Sea Ray is so perfect for entertaining with the TV on deck and all the comfortable seating,” he continues. “We find a lot of times friends meet us there even if we don’t take it out. It’s a natural place to gather and be outdoors but still have air conditioning and all the amenities.” The sunlit cabin provides an additional spot to get out of the elements for a glass of wine or a meal.

From Charleston, it’s also just a hop, skip and a jump to Capers Island, an undeveloped barrier island accessible only by boat. The island’s famous “Boneyard Beach” gets its name from the sun-bleached tree skeletons and stumps transformed over the years by erosion into a natural sculpture garden. To drop anchor and swim to shore here is to access a largely untouched world where wildlife including alligators, white-tailed deer, raccoons and loggerhead sea turtles reside. Bird watchers can spy all manner of feathered friends, from long-legged wading birds including egrets and ibises, to rarer sightings like the endangered brown pelican and bald eagle.

Having grown up boating, the kids are right at home on the Sea Ray and the beaches it unlocks. While underway, Sullivan’s favorite spot is beside dad at the helm, helping to scan the horizon and man the stereo. Young Saylor, meanwhile, prefers snuggling with mom or any of their four pups, Harlow, Cozette, Dusty and Napoleon. Of the “fearless Chihuahuas,” Michael says, “Combined they weigh about 10 pounds. But they do pretty well on the boat. The tiny ones stay onboard while the bigger one swims.”

Another favorite activity is boating along the Wando River to nearby Shark Tooth Island, where, aptly enough, a beachcomber can actually find sharks’ teeth. Sullivan and Saylor love to bring friends along and intercut time on the beach with giggly tubing sessions behind the Sundancer.

Longer trips appeal to the Porcaros as well. Michelle is even plotting a future trip to Bimini in the Bahamas, and Michael lists Savannah and Myrtle Beach as part of a plan to “work the coastline.” The latter, technically a man-made island, attracts untold visitors each year with its abundance of sunshine and something-for-everyone mix of nightclubs, restaurants, kitschy tourist shops and musical theater including the acclaimed Carolina Opry.

As for the former, the Porcaro crew will find no shortage of natural charm. Savannah is one of the country’s most picturesque cities, filled with live oaks draped in Spanish moss, beautifully restored 16th-century churches, charming landscaped squares and riverfront real estate overlooking a bustling port. Virtually every square acre holds a dozen or more Instagram-worthy sights. Rumor has it, there are also more ghosts per capita than anywhere else—considered by some to be “America’s most haunted city,” Savannah attracts paranormal enthusiasts from near and far with its many spooky historic spots.

But first, a different kind of spirited destination calls: Hilton Head. At just over four and a half hours away by Sea Ray, the island more than satisfies the family’s desire for a change of scenery and a reason to open the throttles. “It’s cool to pull into a new marina and stay there all weekend together,” Michael says.

A golfer’s paradise.

Known best as a golfer’s paradise, Hilton Head is as big a treat for families who simply enjoy the outdoors. In addition to its 24 world-renowned championship golf courses, the island boasts some 350 tennis courts and over 60 miles of multi-use trails for endless opportunities to roam by foot, bike or boat. Even after tying up your Sea Ray, an array of watercraft available for rent—from jet skis to kayaks to paddle boards—encourages visitors to take full advantage of the water. Private and group lessons are available year-round for beginners to dip a toe, literally, in a new hobby.

For the epicurious, Hilton Head’s 200-plus restaurants serve everything from Low-country favorites like peel ‘n’ eat shrimp and Hoppin’ John to imaginative contemporary spins on seafood, Italian, New American and beyond. And if it’s just plain too hot for real food, a cone of award-winning Butterscotch Bomb ice cream from the Frozen Moo satisfies perfectly.

On their inaugural visit, the Porcaros tucked into their own sampler plate of Hilton Head activities. Sullivan and Michael tested out the Sea Pines Resort’s putting green before rejoining with Michelle, Saylor and furry Harlow to hit the Harbour Town Shops. Lunch and dinner were both complemented by views of the candy-striped Harbour Town Lighthouse. And as the family unlooped the dock lines and began their course back home, two dolphins even showed up to send them off in style.

Appropriately for a boat named after his career, Michael does on occasion let his work creep onto the Sea Ray. “We have a lot of clients and vendors visit us, and naturally they want to see the water, so we’ll take them out for a night cruise,” he says. “It’s a classy boat where you can do that. Plus,” he adds, “it’s a good excuse to go boating.”

But the best outings are the carefree weekend days when there’s no agenda and no particular destination, just miles of Charleston-area waterways to explore and a grinning family with whom to explore them. Michael names an oft-cited benefit of Sea Ray ownership: the therapeutic powers of compulsory relaxation. “I travel a lot for work but get out on the boat whenever I can,” he says. “You do have to prioritize it; when you’re a type-A sort of person, you need something to make you relax. Our Sea Ray has a way of doing that like nothing else.”

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