MOUNT PLEASANT -- Pepe Hernandez's land was once home to a vibrant Colonial shipyard, so it seems only natural he'd end up with a tall ship parked out back.
The 63-year-old businessman has been playing host to the Spirit of South Carolina while its owners try to figure out what to do with the ship. Hernandez would like to make the arrangement more permanent, and he's happy to let the ship tie up at his deep-water dock in Hobcaw Point indefinitely -- at no charge.
All Hernandez wants is to keep the 140-foot wooden schooner from sailing off to a new set of owners in another state in order to escape its ballooning debts. Too much work went into creating the Spirit to let it go like that, he said.
"Everybody would hate to see this beautiful concept go away," he said. "The Spirit needs to stay here."
The ship normally docks at the Charleston Maritime Center, though it has used Hernandez's facilities at least a half-dozen times in the past. Hernandez said utilizing his property more often could increase the ship's usage and earning potential. But he sees one bothersome impediment in his way: silt -- about 3,100 cubic yards of it, to be exact.
His property along Hobcaw Creek is blessed with water that's 21 feet deep, more than enough to accommodate the Spirit's 11-foot draw. But the entrance to the creek is only 8 feet deep at low tide, meaning the Spirit is stuck until the next high tide rolls in.
Hernandez is hoping to rally the Spirit's
supporters to back an effort to dredge the creek's entrance and add another 6 feet to its depth.
That would restore the depth to what it was in 1786, when Hernandez's property was home to the bustling Hobcaw shipyard.
With better access to the creek, the Spirit could come and go as it pleases to take kids on educational voyages, Hernandez said. The ship could also increase its capacity for overnight excursions because there is plenty of room for camping on his land. That, in turn, would bring in more money to support the vessel, he said.
First, however, his plan would have to overcome some regulatory hurdles, and money would have to be raised to fund the dredging, which Hernandez estimates would cost $15,000 or less.
Byron Miller, spokesman for the State Ports Authority, said Hernandez asked SPA officials last month if they would be willing to allow spoil from the dredging to be dumped at one of the agency's approved sites, which could help the project along. They suggested Hernandez submit a formal proposal for review, Miller said.
Sara Corbett, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said she could not comment on the possibility of dredging at the creek entrance without a formal application in hand. The agency's permitting process generally takes three to six months, though each case is different, she said.
Just how long Hernandez might have to accomplish this mission is unclear. The South Carolina Maritime Foundation, which owns the Spirit, is looking to sell the tall ship to pay off more than $2 million in overdue bank loans and rent obligations that already have left the group $40,000 in the hole.
Elizabeth L. Boineau, the Maritime Foundation's marketing and public relations consultant, said the foundation clearly does not have the money to pay for the creek dredging. Beyond that, the organization doesn't know enough about Hernandez's plan to weigh in on it, she said.
"The conversations have been more casual than specific up to this point, and there is not enough information to see how it might benefit the foundation," Boineau said.
Officials also pointed to some uncertainty about the future of Hernandez's property, which is on the market. He said no sale is imminent, and the proposed arrangement would help the ship get past its short-term crisis.
At the very least, Hernandez said, he hopes his proposal will generate enthusiasm among the Spirit's supporters to find a way to raise money and keep the ship local.
"We can't lose her," he said. "I'm just in awe of everything about that ship."
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or on Twitter at @glennsmith5.