We spent three days in Charleston and saw a fraction of all she had to offer I’m sure. We spent the entire day Saturday at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum; a collection of floating WWII memorabilia consisting of the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier loaded with vintage airplanes, the Clagamore submarine, the destroyer USS Laffey and the Treasury class Coast Guard cutter Ingham. This was Veteran’s Day weekend (the US equivalent of our Remembrance Day) and the place was jumping, especially with at least 500 boy scouts who were camped in various areas of the USS Yorktown. Can you imagine being a scout leader on an overnighter on this aircraft carrier? Better yet, can you imagine losing one of them on this huge ship! The kids were having the time of their lives from the looks of it.
We spent an afternoon at Boone Plantation, a 320-year-old plantation, where we were privilege to a Civil War Re-enactment of the Battle of Seccessionville, a battle that the south actually won in the Civil War. We’d seen these re-enactments on television but it’s quite an event in person; it’s loud, it’s confusing and it definitely gives you a good idea of how up close and personal this fighting was. At the end of the battle, the troops lined up in front of the audience and upon command, inserted their bayonets and charged towards us. En mass, every one of us turned and tripped over ourselves to get back a safer distance. Later on, we met the soldier in this photo who’s a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (to join you must be a male descendant of a veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces). He was quite a character and insisted that although the north called this war the Civil War, southerners still call it the War of ‘Northern Aggression’ or War of ‘Southern Independence’. He was quite adamant that “there was nothing civil about it!” One of the highlights was a young black woman telling stories under a huge canopy of Live Oak trees. She had a captivated audience of mostly adults and told old stories rooted in the Gullah culture. Gullah (pronounced more like gull than gulag) is a little bit creole, a little bit African and definitely well-preserved in South Carolina. Even though we have little room for souvenirs on this trip of ours, I did buy one of the sweetgrass baskets so integral to the Gullah way of life; it was small but absolutely perfect.
At the Charleston Harbour Marina, we were docked quite close to the marina entrance so each morning we had a good show as the “overnighters” rolled in. These boats arrived, like us, from Cape Fear or even further north, Beaufort, North Carolina or sometimes Norfolk, Virginia if they’d had a long enough weather window. Without exception, the sailors were bundled heavily against the cold with toques, heavy gloves and full foul weather outfits top and bottom. It’s warm here during the day (18°C) but the cold nights tell us this warm weather is not going to last long. So, we’re headed further south, into the winding, more narrow South Carolina and Georgia ICW where the marinas are smaller and the anchorages are more remote.
We rented a car for a day in Charleston and explored the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, barrier islands on South Carolina’s Atlantic coast. South Carolina is known as low country and these were definitely low lying islands. So low that they were under water during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. We were sent to Shem Creek Bar & Grill along the way and for shrimps cooked in all manner this is the place to be – shrimp creole, shrimp Ã‰touffÃ©e, shrimp and grits and if you’ve ever had some thoughts about okra, this is definitely where to order it. It was delectable; lightly tossed in fine breadcrumbs and sautÃ©d in butter.
It’s nice to rent a car periodically, although the cost varies widely depending on where and who you rent from. Charleston was cheap at $40 and touring by car was a nice change from the megadock marinas which seem to be the standard fare since we entered Long Island Sound. These huge marinas hold hundreds of boats and the washrooms and laundry facilities are a good 20-minute walk away. In the most extreme case at Harbour Village Marina, Blair roughly measured the distance from Strathspey to the showers at a half mile. Way too far to get there only to find the shower already occupied! The fuel docks are different too. As soon as we hit the US, the dock boys started simply handing us the gas nozzles to fill up the tanks rather than doing it themselves. In Yorktown, Virginia, we docked at the fuel dock, used the self serve pumps after swiping our Visa through the card reader and motored away, not having seen anyone at all (just like being in a car and definitely very odd).
Beyond Charleston, it was indeed low country that the ICW wound through; low and marshy. The houses are tucked deep into thick woods and sometimes the long docks stretching from the shore to the channel’s edge is the only sign of civilization on shore.
Not only is the land low, the water is skinny in this area too. South Carolina and Georgia have little funding for dredging the ICW and consequently quite a few boats are getting stuck in places that a few years ago provided fair passage. Even though we followed Skipper Bob’s advice going through one such section, we felt that sluggish slowing that meant we were in soft mud. Running into this soft mud is a bit like the old Chinese finger puzzle though – the more you squirm, the worse you’re stuck. So, we elected not to squirm and just wait for a higher tide to continue. Seabird, who draws a foot less than us, was stuck briefly but powered on through to deeper water (10 feet deep and only about 8 feet away- so close and yet so far). About 1 1/2 hours later, we floated free and continued on our way. So, we can say we’ve seen both sides now; the freedom and the fatigue of sailing outside and the scenery and the shoaling of the inside passage. One thing for sure is that the grass is usually greener on the other side. When we’re sailing all night, I wish we were anchored and fast asleep. When we’ve motored 10 miles yet only covered five miles in a southerly direction because of the winding channel, I wish we were sailing on the outside. Either way, I know that the grass is greener in the south so we keep moving.
We’re in the heart of Gullah country now. On our port side are the long line of closely-packed Sea Islands that shelter us from the Atlantic. These are islands mainly because of all the rivers that skirt around them, draining from the low-lying marshes out to the ocean. The ICW follows the rivers and we wind back and forth, at one point cruising down a wide river, five miles later in a narrow canal dredged to connect us to the next river. These Sea Islands were the birthplace of the Gullah culture as the black slaves tried to carve a little bit of home, religion and society out of the rice fields they tended. The rice grown down here, Carolina rice, is small, round and when cooked is sticky; perfect for sushi. We bought a bag of this rice at the Boone Plantation and quickly realized it had little or no resemblance to our favourite Basmati rice.
After leaving Charleston, we stopped for a night at Bull Creek and in this isolated little anchorage, Blair changed both the transmission oil and engine oil. Yes, it’s easier to do these kinds of jobs while at dock but because that happens so seldomly, we want to use our land-access time to tour the area, get groceries, send emails and stretch our legs. The following evening we spent anchored in Beaufort harbour. Beaufort was old and southern; Spanish moss-festooned oaks, shaded narrow streets, huge (huge!) mansions with wrap-around porches, gardens, narrow paths and white (white!) fences, gas-light front-porch lamps, wrought-iron window screens and curved sweeping staircases leading up to thick carved doors. We went ashore in the early morning before most houses were awake and walked through the streets long before even the dogs started challenging people. It was a peaceful little stop on our way downstream towards Savannah, Georgia.
We booked a two-night stay at the Isle of Hope marina about a 15 minute drive south of Savannah because of a high wind forecast which never did materialize while we were here. No matter, Blair used the time here to install a solenoid assist relay on our engine. For quite awhile now, our engine would only start after repeated pressing of the starter button. This was caused by a drop in voltage on the starter battery so this little installation eliminates that annoyance and hopefully will continue to perform well as we press on. It’s unusually cold here for this time of year (or so the locals insist). It was down to zero°C last night so this morning we had both our espar heater and our electric heater running and by ten it was warm enough to contemplate going outside. This marina is comfortable and in a pretty little area but fairly remote from Savannah. We had tried, unsuccessfully, to book a spot at the Thunderbolt marina which is quite a bit closer but it was booked up a few days in advance. The marinas are getting quite small and few and far between at this point and we feel lucky to get space here because the manager was turning boats away all day; everyone wants to be safely tied to a dock in bad weather.