Monday, June 29, 2009

Charleston to Oriental, NC

We left Charleston the week before Charleston's annual Tall Ships week. As we were crossing Charleston Harbor, the Pride of Baltimore was sailing in under full sail.  Before the week was over they were supposed to be joined a dozen more of these beauties.

When we left Charleston, our friends Dave and Judi Nofs were aboard.  We had a cloudy morning when we left Charleston but the rest of the week was gorgeous. We stopped in Georgetown, SC, a charming old town that was an important port in the 19th century.  We walked around and enjoyed looking at the well preserved Victorian homes.

From there we went through the nastiest part of the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, a section called the Rock Pile.  This is a three mile stretch in Myrtle Beach that was blasted out of rock.  If you drift out of the channel, you hit solid granite.  We timed our trip to be there at low tide, but I was still a wreck when we finally cleared that area.  Just my luck, we came to it while I was driving.  But Jim and Dave and Judi all stayed on deck with me and helped me watch for the markers and rocks.  In that stretch, four sets of eyes are not too many.

After a night in Myrtle Beach, we crossed into North Carolina and went up the Cape Fear River to Wrightsville Beach, a very busy piece of the waterway.  We stayed in a marina on the river and there were boats going up and down the river well into the night and beginning at daybreak the next day.  Dave and Judi treated us to dinner ashore and when we got back to the boat we found two couples standing on the dock discussing our boat.  So we invited them aboard to see her from the inside.  They'd never been on a private boat before and were impressed with all the space and amenities.

Then on to Swansboro, another quaint little coastal fishing village, with military aircraft from the Cherry Point Marine Air Station flying over until sunset.

On Friday, we arrived in Oriental, NC.  Oriental is called the sailing capitol of the Carolinas. There are 900 residents and 3,000 boats in Oriental.  You'd never know there are that many boats here because they are tucked into marinas in all of the creeks and rivers around the town. Dave and Judi left us Saturday morning.  Rob and Carol and their dog Franklin arrived Saturday afternoon and stayed with us until Monday morning.

Monday afternoon our friend Pat Dallas (see the Vero Beach post for info on the Dallases) came to the marina we were in and played pilot to help us move our boat to the dock behind his house.  Pat and Almira have graciously invited us to leave our boat at their dock while we go back to Cleveland and Chicago for a couple of weeks.  After we got the boat settled in, Almira drove us to New Bern to catch a flight to Miami.  We flew down to get our car.  All in all, a very busy couple of days.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


We're winding up a week in Charleston, South Carolina.  If you have never been here, it is worth a long weekend.  It is a beautiful city, with houses from the 1730s through the 1850s beautifully preserved throughout downtown.  It is a very walkable city, but don't come in the summer.  The highs have been in the 90s all week and the humidity is so high the weather service issued health alerts yesterday and today because the heat index (temperature plus humidity) is 105 - 110 degrees.

Charleston maintained its lovely housing stock because it was so poor after the war (that would be the War of Northern Aggression, aka the Civil War for those of you not from the South) that folks couldn't afford to tear down and replace their aging homes.  By the time the economy began to recover (WWII), the historical society was fully established and fought hard to require folks to repair, not replace, the historic homes.  Even when it wasn't possible to save a house, the building regulations required replacement with architecturally consistent buildings.  There are a few unfortunate 1960s high rises, but not many.  The Charleston water front is particularly attractive because it is almost completely antebellum homes.  We'll try to get a photo when we leave tomorrow morning.

The homes evolved over time to what is now considered a "typical" Charleston architectural style.  In this picture you see the three story original home built in the 1760s on the left.  The porches and the front door were added by a later owner in the 1840s.  The picture below shows what the porches typically look like behind the door.  Ironically, by insisting on re-furbishing these houses, the historical society also preserved the re-sale values of these houses. One of these charming antiques will run you more than $1 million in the center of the city and over $2 million on the southern tip of the peninsula.  I can't even imagine the annual maintenance costs.

Charleston also has a nice downtown shopping district and great, albeit expensive, restaurants.We treated ourselves to two dinners out, at Magnolias and the Charleston Grill.  There must be another 20-25 equally good places to eat that we didn't have time to try. We're considering coming back here for the winter, but I worry that we would be both broke and fat before we headed north again in the Spring.  

The local craft is baskets made from sea grass, a traditional craft of the Gullah,  African Americans who live in the Low Country region of South Carolina.  The Gullah are known for preserving more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than any other African American community in the United States.  This was possible because the rice plantations of South Carolina were out in the country, but the planters and their families usually lived in town, specifically in Charleston.  So the African slaves were more able to maintain their own culture.  The baskets are beautiful, but too expensive for me.  A simple 8 inch basket is $80. We looked but did not buy.  My $10 palm frond baskets from Key West continue to function just fine.

When we leave tomorrow we will have guests on board.  Dave and Judi Nofs, friends we met when we went sailing in the early '90s, are driving up from Sarasota to join us for a week.  They will be with us until we get to Oriental, North Carolina.  In Oriental we'll be staying with Pat and Almira Dallas on the dock at their house.  Pat and Almira, Dave and Judi, and Jim and I all sailed together for several months in the Bahamas in 1991.  We're looking forward to the opportunity to catch up with Dave and Judi.  Then at the end of this week, Rob and Carol Harris and their dog Franklin are joining us in Oriental for a couple of days.  Busy times on Down Time. But note that guests are welcome and encouraged.  If you'd like a little boating adventure, please let us know.  We love company.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Creatures on the waterway

One of the fun things about this trip is the creatures you see.  Everyday, many times a day, we see dolphins playing in the water.  

When we are near the ocean, pelicans, primarily brown but sometime white, are usually fishing around the waterway.  They are fun to watch.  Usually pelicans fly close to the water, but when they fish they rise up to 30' to 50' above the water, tuck their wings in and plunge, head first, straight into the water.  If they are successful in catching a fish, they bob back up to the surface, stick their beaks straight up and swallow.  If they didn't get their fish, they just bob back up and shake their heads.

Ospreys like to build their nests on posts.  This means that most waterway markers in osprey country have nests on top.  Sometimes the nests are so large they obscure the markers.  It is osprey family season right now, so we can often see one parent in the nest with the babies while the other is out catching food for the family. I realize this picture is small, but that is an osprey parent standing behind the green light and there is a chick in the nest.

Watching ospreys fish is interesting, too.  They fly 30' to 100' above the water.  How they see a fish from up there, I'll never know.  When they do see a fish, they tuck their wings and dive head first, but at the last minute they flip around and hit the water feet first.  Unlike the pelicans who catch the prey in their mouths, ospreys grab the fish with their talons then fly it back to the nest or a perch before they eat it.  Ospreys actually look a bit like bald eagles, who also live along the waterway.  The only way we can tell the difference sometimes is that the eagles have completely white heads while the osprey heads are brown and white.

Alligators are around but we rarely see them.  One morning, anchored in the marshes of Georgia, Jim saw two gators swimming across our anchorage.  Again, I know the picture is small, but trust me, that thing that looks like a log in the water is actually a 5' gator.

Herons, egrets and ibises are common waders in the marshes.  One morning we saw an entire flock of pink birds on the shore.  They all were all sitting on the ground with their heads under their wings, so we couldn't easily identify them.  We were in southern Georgia so they could have been flamingos or roseate spoonbills, but we'll never know because all we saw was the brilliant pink color.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Brunswick, Georgia

We survived two busy days in Brunswick that included eating in three of our favorite restaurants, re-provisioning for the next leg of the trip, indulging in two dinners of fresh, local shrimp, having the boat's waste system repaired and getting the running gear cleaned.

Brunswick is an interesting place.  In the nineteenth century it was an important port and, therefore, a prosperous place.  Many lovely Victorian homes were built in town, around city park blocks, the same model used to develop what is now downtown Savannah.  During World War II Liberty ships were built in the shipyards in Brunswick.  But the post-war period wasn't kind to Brunswick and its surrounding county, Glynn County.  The port mainly off-loads imported cars these days and the two mainland businesses are paper plants and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

The main source of income in Glynn County is tourism.  Glynn County has three developed barrier islands: Jekyll Island, St. Simon's Island and Sea Island.  Jekyll Island used to be a part of the Georgia State park system.  It became too expensive to maintain and the state formed the Jekyll Island Authority to oversee ways it could become self-sustaining.  Among other things, this means many of the houses on the island are built on leased, not owned, land, which does weird things to housing prices.

Until the 1960s there were no bridges to the islands.  Locals tell me that the islands were mostly inhabited by African-Americans who came over in boats to work on the mainland each day.  After the bridges were built, the African-Americans moved to the mainland, selling their island properties to white folks who then turned the islands into resort destinations.  Rich people moved to the islands, poor folks moved to the mainland.

The third island, Sea Island, is where George W. Bush held a G8 conference in 2004.  It was developed as a private retreat for a rich automobile manufacturer in the 1920s and is still privately controlled today by the Sea Island Company.  The only public accommodations on Sea Island are at The Cloisters hotel complex, a very expensive waterfront hotel and spa.

Without these three islands and their tourism dollars, Brunswick and Glynn County would be a very depressed place.  But it is very boater friendly with three good marinas and easy access to most of the services boaters need.  So we had a good stop and got a lot done.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Titusville and shrimp

We went to Titusville because we had never been there.  Many boaters speak highly of it so we thought we'd go see what was there.  The short answer is -- not much.  Of course, we could only see what we could get to on foot.  That included four blocks of downtown store fronts, about 1/3 of which were empty.  

We did find an historical monument that told us Titusville was founded by James Titus in the late nineteenth century.  He built a bank that went out of business in 1928 due to excessive defaults on questionable loans the bank made during the real estate run of the 1920s. Everything old is new again.

What we did discover in Titusville was rock shrimp.  Rock shrimp actually look like little lobster tails.  Until the 1970s, when a Titusville man invented a way to crack open the shrimp, no one ate rock shrimp because you couldn't get to meat without crushing the tails.  And that left the meat with pieces of shell in it.  We also found Royal Red shrimp in Titusville, another type of shrimp we had never had.  The Royal Reds were very small (it was the end of the season) but tasty.  Jim liked the rock shrimp better than I did.  Seemed like a lot of work for not much return.

We've spent several summers in Georgia since we bought the boat (our insurance company 
 that we not be in Florida during hurricane season).  Georgia is a big shrimping state and Brunswick, where we have been staying, has a sizable shrimping fleet.  We got very spoiled, eating shrimp directly off the boat.  Georgia fishes both white and brown shrimp, both of which we like.  When we got the the Keys, the local shrimp there is Key West Pink.  We tried it but weren't impressed, watery and rubbery.  In talking with a local fish store owner in Marathon we discovered that the Key West Pinks are fished so far off shore that they are frozen when they are caught.  So if you buy them in a fish market, they have been frozen and defrosted.  

So now we're shrimp bigots -- has to be locally caught, unfrozen.  We're looking forward to be back in Brunswick to indulge in more shrimp.  Then we plan to continue taste testing as far north as local shrimping is done.  We'll let you know what we find.

As they say in Georgia "Friends don't let friends eat imported shrimp."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

On the road again

We finally got away from Velcro Beach last Tuesday.  I got back from California Sunday night, we provisioned for the next leg of the trip on Monday, and left on Tuesday.  We had two good days, first to Eau Gallie, then to Titusville.  Then the weather started to get funky again.  (Who knew this trip was going to be all about the weather?!)

On Thursday we went from Titusville to Daytona.  It was overcast and drippy most of the day, but a half an hour before we reached the Halifax River Yacht  Club we  enjoyed the strongest rain storm we have ever been in on the boat.  It was raining so hard we couldn't see either shore of the river.  We slowed down because we didn't want to try to dock in that kind of rain. Fortunately, we got a short break when we reached the club and were able to get docked without getting drenched.  Friday the forecast was for more of the same, so we sat an extra day in Daytona.

Saturday we went from Daytona to St. Augustine.  We had actually been planning to go further, but the afternoon rainstorm came just as we were passing through St. Augustine.  With the skies all black to the west, we decided that anchoring made more sense than trying to make our original destination. Jim got the anchor down just before the rain started.

Today (Sunday) we went 66 miles from St. Augustine to Cumberland Island, Georgia. Cumberland Island is a national park, only accessible by water.  If you don't have your own boat, you take a ferry over from St. Marys, Georgia.  There are a few private houses on the island, grandfathered in when the Dept. of the Interior took over.  There is also one VERY expensive hotel.  This is where John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Caroline Bissette were married.

The island has hiking trails, wild horses, and some of the prettiest beaches in Georgia, with miles of empty, soft, white sand.  Sometimes at sundown, when we are anchored here, we see the wild horses come down to the shore.  There are also has campgrounds for tent campers who backpack in with everything they need to spend the night.  The campgrounds include hanging food storage boxes to keep the local wildlife from enjoying imported human food.  Lots of wildlife lives here, including armadillos who are not native to the island.  The park rangers actually think that the armadillos swam over from the mainland, well over a mile from here.

Tomorrow we're headed to Brunswick, Georgia, looking forward to Georgia shrimp for dinner. More on shrimp later.

Isn't wireless telecommunication wonderful?  I'm posting this from a boat at anchor at an island of the coast.