In a city where "rustic" is part of the local charm, a special collection of dilapidated waterfront eyesores is about to be pulled up and sent to the scrap heap.
Charleston officials are preparing to remove about a dozen derelict boats -- mostly along the Ashley River -- that are not much more than mud-caked plastic hulks littering the marshes.
The first wave will be pulled up this summer as part of a $60,000 state and city grant effort designed to clean up the coastal boat mess. The recovery follows similar beautification projects already undertaken in Georgetown, Mount Pleasant and Folly Beach.
Charleston Police water patrol Sgt. Chad Womack said the project was months in the making, largely because removing abandoned boats is not as simple as it sounds.
"When someone has a car dead on the side of the road, you can take care of it," he said. But boats are not like cars. Legal notices are advertised that include a description of the targeted boat, along with its global positioning system coordinates. The goal is to see if the owner will step forward or protest.
Seven of the 12 boats being advertised for removal are in one location near the James Island connector; five of the targeted boats are 40-foot or longer. None appear salvageable. Most of the valued items and electronics were stripped or stolen long ago.
During a recent tour of the river wrecks, Womack pointed out several aspects of the city's waterfront that are seldom seen by most landlubbers. For example, numerous boats appear intentionally abandoned, even those at anchor, and in some cases their registration numbers are filed down.
Also, some of the boats at anchor haven't been moved in years, becoming permanent homes or waterfront hangouts for their owners. One man living on a collection of three derelict boats stuck together near the lower Ashley River bridges into Charleston said he liked his life of living free on the water.
"It's a good place," said the man who identified himself as Bob DeCola. "A lot of people want to be here."
DeCola's residence is not one of the ones being targeted in the initial July cleanup, but city officials are trying to find a way to deal with his set up. Many boats, abandoned or otherwise, also appear to be seeking legal storage protection by mooring in recognized Coast Guard anchorages.
Since the state's boat removal grant program began several years ago, more than 65 hulks have been pulled from waterways, mainly on the coast. All likely are destined for trash heaps since they often break up during the crane lift-out. The state part of the bill is about $45,000, with the city putting in about $15,000.
Womack said cleaning up the river easily could become a full-time effort, given the number of boats that are abandoned, damaged or cut loose in and around Charleston waterways, becoming stuck on land after the tide recedes.
"The reality is we could have 10 more next week," Womack said.