We turned Frances B east in Sapelo Sound and, on the rising tide, slipped over the bar into Blackbeard Creek, which separates Blackbeard Island from Sapelo Island. Anchored in a deeper pool, the boat was virtually invisible with thick forest to the east and west, and more high trees on Sapelo Island. We had found the perfect hideaway for a pirate. Three centuries ago, before colonial loggers cut the old forests and the mud began bleeding toward the sea, this creek would have been deep enough for large ships. With the exception of the persisting name, there is no firm evidence that the badass Blackbeard, also known as Edward Thatch or Teach, set up a base here. The name Blackbeard Island first appeared on a survey map in 1760, four decades after Thatch's severed head swung from the bowsprit of a British navy ship. In 1940, the island became a federal wildlife refuge. Our reconnaissance dinghy ride ended at a floating dock covered with otter droppings, tangible proof of the thriving wildlife. The trails ashore lead into the shadows of a dense forest, the branches curtained with witches' tresses of Spanish moss. The moss, an epiphyte common in the American South, is sensitive to pollution and attested to the clean air. Now and then a deer scampered away, its white tail flagging among trees. We tracked an armadillo nosing through layers of leaves when we heard noisy rustling off the side of the trail. A silent owl with feathers the color of the leafy backdrop followed our passage with its round, yellow eyes. The trail spilled onto the beach in a tangle of fallen oaks and palmettos. Clusters of small oysters covered the roots at the water's edge. Not a trace remained of the quarantine wharf where ships bound to Savannah for rice or to Darien for timber once had to stop — the station was closed in 1909 when the yellow-fever vaccination proved effective. On our visit, only bird tracks and scattered seashells etched the 5 sandy miles of the Atlantic beach.