Thursday, September 29, 2011

CHARLESTON : The Lowcountry
27th June – 5th July 2011
Sitting on a leafy peninsular between the Ashley and Cooper rivers, the historic city of Charleston rests comfortably in grand southern style. As we motored into the harbour and up to our anchorage in the Ashley river just across from the Charleston City Marina, the grandeur and wealth of a bygone era was clearly evident from the numerous beautiful mansions lining the waterfront.    
Charleston in summer is hot, really hot. It’s the type of heat that takes your breath away and makes you feel so exhausted that all you want to do is lie around in air conditioned comfort. But when you live on a boat that is not always an option and unfortunately the river was extremely tidal with the currents  running at around 4 knots so swimming off the boat was not a sensible thing to do.Still heat or no heat we were here to explore whatever this charming city had to offer.
But first a little bit of history. Charleston is known not only as the place ( Fort Sumter) where the first shots of the Civil War were fired but also for it’s long time involvement in the slave trade. Charleston and it’s surrounding districts, including some offshore islands, sit on low flat coastal plains, hence the name Lowcountry, that were at one time thick with swamp and marshland making this area  both climatically and geographically suited to the cultivation of rice and other crops. Wealthy land owners in the 1700’s saw this potential and began buying slaves who were transported from many West African areas including Sierra Leone, Senegal and The Gambia  to change the natural landscape into profitable rice, cotton, corn and sugarcane plantations. These slaves who lived in the lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia were known as Gullah and had their own language. Singing was a strong part of their culture and  this allowed them to make escape plans and  jibes at their masters who couldn’t understand them. The  slave trade  was certainly very lucrative but have a guess as to how many slaves arrived on these shores to work the plantations? If your answer is less than 10 million then you are way off the mark, as statistics estimate  the numbers to be as high as 20 million, and that’s not very far short of the entire population of Australia! Slavery became widespread throughout the southern states and in the Carolinas caused much tension between the north and south, and between the aristocratic plantation owners and the backcountry’s rural farmers. Slavery eventually came to an end in 1865 at the end of the civil war and this was also the demise of the labor intensive rice plantations which could no longer be sustained without slave labor. Ok, that’s enough of history, if you crave more you’ll just have to see what Mr Google has to say.
We spent seven very interesting days in Charleston wandering the streets and soaking up the southern charm. Our first stop was  the South Carolina Aquarium which had a really neat 42ft  vertical glass tank housing sharks to loggerhead turtles and everything in between. It was great to see such magnificent creatures up close and personal without having to get wet.IMG_5341 IMG_5344
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There were lots of other exhibits too including touch pools if you fancied patting a sting ray,indoor and outdoor bird enclosures, big slithery things that Annie had to be led blindfolded past, hence no pictures and in a separate tank a very menacing looking albino alligator which, when he didn’t move, you’d swear was made of plastic.The aquarium was great and well worth visiting if you stop in Charleston.  After a couple of hours at the aquarium we strolled down to the Old City Market, a bustling colorful market full of local crafts, including many styles of  sweetgrass baskets made by Gullah women, these are a popular lowcountry souvenir for the tourists, as well as baskets there were heaps of hats, bags, clothing, produce and all the usual  fun things that markets are full of.IMG_5374 IMG_5372
After a quick lunch at Magnolias, one of the many restaurants in the main street, we pushed on to the Charleston Museum. It had been a long walk on a very hot day and Liam and Daryl just couldn’t resist stopping for a little rest along the way on the aptly named “husband parking” chairs.
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The museum was lovely and cool and  there are two floors worth of cultural and natural history exhibits, including a rather large stuffed polar bear that didn’t look like he quite belonged in this part of the country. 
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A stop in Charleston wouldn’t be complete without a trip out to one of the plantations and there are quite a few, so  after visiting the tourist bureau and seeking some advise on the subject, we chose to visit Boone Hall. It was a rambling estate that dates back to the mid 1700’s. A shady tree lined driveway named the Avenue of Oaks stretches 3/4 mile from the roadway to the house. The oaks, dripping with beautiful spanish moss, are said to be 265 years old. Boon Hall is now the only working plantation in Charleston.The days of cotton growing and brick production, this plantation also was a major producer of mud bricks for the area, are long gone cotton and today the land is used to cultivate fruit and Christmas trees. We toured the large Boone family home, where several  of the ornate  rooms open to the public, and were fascinated by the excellent slave exhibition that was displayed in the old slave accommodations and also by the theatrical recital of the history, through both story and song, of the Gullah people.One thing that we found strange was that about nine of the slave cabins were clustered just beyond the house gates. These rather up-market small brick cabins,made from the plantations own bricks,housed only the most trusted slaves and having this accommodation so close to the masters house was a way for the family to flaunt (good slaves cost a lot of money) their wealth in front of all who visited the plantation.
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Over the next few days we certainly weren’t idle, we caught the ferry over to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum  and spent the whole day visiting the facility and walking around the decommissioned  800ft long aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and the submarine USS Clamagore. The Yorktown served in the Pacific during the years 1943-1945 and had around 90 aircraft on board. Many of her planes are still on display today and as Liam and I quite enjoy all the Navy stuff we found the well signed self guided tour one of the highlights of our stopover in Charleston.
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IMG_5444 IMG_5448 We strolled the historical area of Rainbow Row, with it’s horse drawn carriages, blooming crepe myrtle trees and colourful period buildings, and admired the classical South Carolina homes surrounded by leafy parks and manicured gardens in the waterfront areas of Battery Park and White Point . We also visited The Old Slave Mart which showed in excellent detail what it was like to arrive here and live out your life as a slave.
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A couple of times we dropped into the very friendly Charleston Yacht Club for a cooling afternoon drink on the balcony and were even invited to join the club members for their 4th of July pot luck dinner bbq and to watch the fireworks. Everyone was so friendly and they couldn’t believe that we owned a boat from Australia named “Gone With The Wind” and  had actually sailed all the way to Charleston where everywhere you look there is some reference to Ashley, Rhett or that legendry Hollywood movie! We definitely felt right at home and  had a great night at the club and it was a memorable way to celebrate American Independence Day with some new found friends. No doubt about this southern hospitality, it’s alive and well in the Carolina’s.
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The weather continued to cook us as well as the locals who took up residence under the shade of park trees or in the cool waters of many fountains around town. Ice cream eating was another good way to cool down.
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So what did we enjoy about Charleston?, pretty much everything. It’s an easy city to hang out for a few days,it’s flat so walking is easy and it’s a great place to learn about the history of the civil war and the events that shaped the southern states of this great nation.
Cruising Info:                                                                                                              Formalities. Call up CBP Charleston on arrival on 843 579 6513.                                      Transport: Walk or catch one of the free trolley buses around town,( ) or pick up  route details and maps from the Visitor centre on Meeting Street.                                        Supermarkets: Harris Tweeter, well stocked large supermarket about 30 min walk from the marina.                                                                                                                                                                Dinghy Dock: pay $5 per day for tie up at the City Marina, if you anchor in the Ashley river it’s the best and safest place to leave your dinghy.                                                                                    Chandlery: West Marine about 20 mins  car ride out of town.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Edisto Island  : and a lot of Southern Hospitality
25th –27th June 2011
Heading off from Savannah we were planning to sail straight to Beaufort in South Carolina, but as we sailor’s know, our plans are always written in the sand and then the waves come and wash them away.Beaufort, as it turned out, was a tad too close to Savannah and  looked a bit tricky to enter so we pushed on and by 1800 we had already sailed nearly 60 miles and decided to call it quits for the night. So a quick look at an alternative anchorage and we came up with a little backwater called Big Bay Creek on Edisto Island. The channel looked pretty skinny to get into but if we could squeeze over the shallows it would give us good protection from the winds that were forecast. As we approached, there was a lovely stretch of beach backed by a seemingly endless line of holiday homes up on stilts. As it turns out the houses are built on stilts as a way of protecting them from the damaging storm surge that accompanies Hurricanes as they blast up this part of the coastline during the months of June to December.
It was a hot afternoon in Edisto and a goodly number of locals were either rod fishing or lounging on deck chairs in the cool and inviting shallow waters just off  the beach.
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Rounding the bend at the creek’s entrance a couple of dolphins swam by and gave us a dolphin wave by rolling onto their backs. We figured  this was our good omen, and that this would be a good place  to stop for the night. Nudging slowly forward the depths started to drop and then leveled out at a respectable 15ft. A few boats returning from their weekend fishing trips gave us a wave and one boat came up along side for a chat, curious as to where we were from. Judging by the type of craft in the creek, we were the biggest thing to come along since sliced bread and we were definitely going to be the afternoon attraction for a little while.

We motored around the bend in the creek past some very pretty marshland  and lovely homes to where one of the chaps had said to anchor and dropped the hook. We were firmly planted in mud and  took up a fair amount of real estate in the creek. No Rehearsal, who were with us, had decided to tie to a dock near the entrance but had a change of heart when they saw how snug we were. With two 52 ft cats up the creek, now we really were the “look at the bears” show.
Not long after both boats were settled we noticed a pretty blue launch come up to the back of Daryl and Annie’s boat. They stayed and chatted a while and then moved off to a dock with the same colored house on the other side of the creek. It quickly transpired that these nice people had invited us all over for a sundowner. Gathering up a bottle of wine and some nibbles, the four of us headed over to their dock. When we arrived we were greeted by not only the hosts, Becky and Jeffery, but by about twelve of their friends who were staying with them. And no we weren’t  just invited for drinks but for dinner as well! And what a dinner it was.These generous people had not only invited us into their home but had given us the opportunity to share with them  and their friends a full-on buffet complete with freshly caught fish and amongst everything else, an absolutely scrumptious tomato and potato pie, a southern specialty I found out later. The meal was topped of with a selection of desserts amongst which were  the best tasting peaches I have ever had. I found out later that Georgia it is called the “peach state” and with Edisto Island being not that far from the border now I know why the peaches were so good..
We played a little musical chairs (not literally) during dinner so that we got to speak to just about everyone. Remembering all their names was a challenge but soon we had them all. During the course of the evening we found out that as we came up the creek they’d goggled our boat flags to see where we were from, I’m guessing the dinner invite might have hinged on the flag factor.
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As the evening rolled on we progressed downstairs to the garage where everyone took turns at  playing numerous games of shuffleboard, a kind of ice hockey without the ice. Instead it is played on a long smooth slab of cement  and it was a lot of fun.
Annie, the dog lover that she is was in her element, and was teetering on getting a good dose of RSI from throwing ball to Becky’s big black  loveable Labrador, Carl.The following afternoon our hosts came out to GWTW for a chat and goodbyes and we promised to drop in  and see them again on our way back south in a few months time.
Before arriving in Georgia and the Carolinas’ we’d heard and read about the southern hospitality  and friendliness of the people who live down here, and now that we’d experienced it first hand,  it truly is amazing, and something that will take us a long time to forget.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

SAVANNAH : 23rd-25th June 2011
A Gracious Southern Belle
After an overnight sail from Cumberland Island we arrived at the mouth of the Savannah River around 0800. Our journey continued another 18 miles upstream  to the City of Savannah passing farm land, marshes and industrial plants along the river banks. After checking the guide book it was becoming clear that there was really no close anchoring area to the town.The book did mention that there was a public town dock which was on a first come basis with no time limit. Now, usually, we are very dock phobic but this one was a beauty. Smack bang in the centre of town this floating dock was in the prime position for visiting all the main sites, shops and local restaurants. Once we were tied up we soon realised that we’d made the right decision as the river was quite narrow, the current very swift and the amount of commercial shipping and ferries going past made us very pleased that we didn’t have to anchor out.
The sight of two large cats at the dock drew quite a crowd with many tourists having their holiday snaps taken with GWTW as the background and  apart from one or two small runabouts, there really wasn’t a lot of room left for anyone else to tie up. We toddled up to the marine, office paid our fee ($1.50 per ft) and were on our way to explore the place. First stop of course was Starbucks, for a quick coffee and email check and then we were off to wonder the beautiful streets and parks of this leafy city. Consulting the Lonely Planet and the visitors maps, we strolled down towards one of the parks that reputedly was the home of the Forrest Gump famous park bench. All the benches looked the same so we searched high and low for a little plaque bearing his name, but to no avail. After asking a local tour guide of its whereabouts we headed over in the direction he pointed. So down we sat, had the obligatory photo shoot, looked around for the box of chocolates and the little leather suitcase and then mentally ticked that one off the to-do list.
IMG_5195 Next stop was the Savannah Museum, just a couple of blocks away. There  were some interesting exhibits about the shipping, dental, rail industry and quilting but it was a tad curious and a little disjointed. We were hoping for a little more about the civil war and slavery but perhaps the latter is on the taboo list. Maybe we’ll find that info somewhere else. The one thing that  was on exhibit was the Forrest Gump Bench! 
We stopped for a quick snack in the museum’s railway dining car and then continued our walking tour about town visiting the huge Forsyth park with its beautiful fountain and shaded green lawns, where the squirrels climbed the trees, and happy dogs chased their Frisbees.     IMG_5230                   IMG_5224
Grand antebellum homes and churches still surround the twenty one of the original twenty four parkland squares and many of these historic homes are open to the public for tours. Down on the waterfront most of the old cotton warehouses have been transformed into fine dining venues or bars. On Friday evenings the tourists are out in force strolling the river front  promenade listening to the musicians and gospel preaches.
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Interestingly, on the weekends everyone who entered a bar was asked for ID, including Liam, but once inside you could purchase you beverage (in a plastic glass) and go back out onto the streets and wander around. This created a nice community atmosphere without any drunkenness or violence.                                                                             IMG_5281 IMG_5259
Savannah seemed to be a town that had everything, from trendy places to eat to placard carrying seniors intent on getting their message across. Everyone was  friendly and it was well worth stopping here to see a little slice of southern Georgia.                            IMG_5191                                                       IMG_5190