Florida greeted Puffin today with temperatures far less benign than snowbirds expect as they flock to Florida fleeing the frigid fingers of a frosty New England winter. (At times, I cannot resist these ribbons of redundant alliteration, no matter how lacking in meaning. The useless nuggets stream through my brain like a ticker tape - I am simply addicted to this diminutive stampede of sound-alike consonants and I apologize.)
If I have said nothing meaningful yet about our travels today, it is because at this point there is seems little difference on the waterway between southern Georgia and the very upper reaches of the Florida salt marsh. The rolling patois of the native Georgian is now largely disappeared from the VHF radio chatter between bridges, barges and other locals we meet. In Florida it becomes the more neutral, flat "American" dialect that is probably more characteristic of Florida today.
I see some birds I don't recognize and haven't noticed in Georgia. The birds are small, dark and flitter in small flocks across the water and I can't retain an image so I don't look them up.
Temperatures have been freezing at night since we left Charleston and little better during the day with a nasty wind to ensure a thorough penetration of the inadequate clothing we brought to wear. But the forecast is for warmer weather this coming week and we continue south with surging optimism.
Tonight Puffin anchored in the Ft. George River a few miles south of the Florida border and just off the ICW to enjoy another beautiful sunset. One of the several boats nearby was from Vermont, which we had learned earlier by radio. After coming to join us aboard, our new friends said they had endeavored to set two anchors. Unfortunately, the rode from one became entangled in his propeller. During that commotion, the current set the boat aground at the beginning of a falling tide of about 3 feet. His sailboat was compact at 27 feet and the wind had died down, so the boat wasn't in particular jeopardy. As he explained the plight, we concluded that there was little to do but drink wine, munch and wait for the tide's maximum ebb three hours hence. At full ebb, his boat was heeled over and the propeller was less than a foot under water. I brought over a serrated dive knife, which Nancy located, along with a underwater spotlight. Our friend's diligent efforts at hacking and sawing with his arm immersed in the 48 deg water for an hour or more was finally rewarded with a freed propeller and at about 4:00 AM the stout little sailboat finally floated free.
The pictures posted in the photo gallery under Jekyll Island Club title are another aspect of the Jekyll Island that makes Jekyll Island a fascinating spot to visit. On the one hand there is a magnificent and well cared for maritime forest that occupies a significant core portion of the island and is accessible only by manicured paths. But the Island gained its fame as a late 19th century enclave for a few of the most unconscionably wealthy American of that time: gilded denizens of Wall St. whose rapine grasp of America's resources had festooned them with uncountable wealth.
For fifty years a small group of these men (by invitation only) and their families built houses, a hotel and all the accoutrements in between as a winter playground on a private island and a respite from both the wintry weather and the unceasing curiosity of the press.
The island was purchased in 1948 by the state of Georgia to make it available to all. More recently the buildings that formed the Club have been undergoing an incredible restoration and are now open to the public. The buildings are sited on a beautiful campus that is incredibly landscaped and cared for.
There is a museum on site which reveals a detailed record of the amazing era at the island.
Tomorrow Puffin will head for Florida, a mere 30 miles away, and perhaps some warmer temperatures.
After a calm, cold (37 degrees in Georgia - jeez Louise!) night, Puffin headed for Jekyll island, in part upon the recommendation of our friends Ken and Sylvianne on Sylken Sea. An easy and event free day brought us to anchor off Jekyll Island at 1:30 PM, plenty of time for a walk ashore. With no preparation save for Google maps on my Ipad (which has grown to be a personal appendage in two short months), we started walking. Lucky us, after a half mile down a paved road, two bicycles emerged from a path in the woods. We turned in and a sign announced we had entered a real "maritime forest". Several more signs by the Georgia Dept. of Parks along the pathway explained what made it a maritime forest and identified some of what we were seeing.
A serendipitous confluence of care for this tract a century ago combined with continuing care through the years and propitious plantings of a more recent nature provided us with a dense and dramatic woodland tapestry. Huge live oaks draped with Spanish moss, palmettos and even taller sapel palms towered overhead. At mid story were cedars and cypress and other shorter trees and at eye level, the "saw" palms with their sunburst pattern of fronds graced the edges of the path.
As we returned later toward the dinghy dock, we noticed a modest building that had earlier appeared to be closed. It was a wildlife center run by the University of Georgia and several young people were preparing to feed the animals.
Nancy and I were invited in and discovered an intriguing collection of the fauna that might be found on a typical Georgian estuarine island. The collection was more wide ranging than inclusive. There were some rat snakes, a corn snake and a number of aquaria with small fish, shrimp, a turtle, crabs, mollusks and even a pair of very small alligators. There was a diorama of the very tiny things that might be found in the spartina grass that is the backbone of the low country marshes. Nancy thought the most fascinating exhibit was a excellent description of how a shrimp net caught shrimp while releasing the "bye-catch" such as fish or turtles. We had seen several large shrimp boats working the day before.
The overall exhibit offered a homespun effect as displays were put together with more care than money. It was not the slick exhibition of a big city museum but nonetheless fascinating for the effort and thought that went into the collection on a very limited budget.
Serious Shoaling at the Sapelo
The warnings from others were frequently heard - avoid Georgia - head offshore at Charleston and come in again at northern Florida. These cautions were directed at the frequent shoaling in Georgia's low country waterways even in the dredged channels.
As ICW first time travelers though, Nancy and I wanted to see Georgia, which certainly can't be seen from I-95 or downtown Atlanta - our only vantage points in this state so far.
Puffin is stout with a keel protected propeller and draws only a little over 4 feet and she has already tasted the mud in Cape May as early readers to this blog can attest.
Moreover Georgia has something we haven't seen since departing New England: significant tides of up to eight feet. So this morning Puffin continued south from Thunderbolt, Georgia us with a little trepidation and Puffin on a rising tide. We planned to be traveling during a part of the tide cycle that flooded during the morning and ebbed in the afternoon. (This cycle advances by about an hour a day but we would be through Georgia in 2-3 days.) By traveling only 5-6 hrs a day we could slip along Georgia's beautiful estuaries in the upper half of the tide cycle with an extra four or more feet of water, hopefully unmolested by unexpected mudshoals.
This worked well all day until just past Sapelo Sound as Puffin began a run down the Sapelo River. Just north of Dog Hammock shoal with daybeacon "150" to starboard I watch the depth sounder slide south of 12 feet. I ease back the throttle and double-check my position. The red daybeacon "150" is properly off to starboard by 75 to 100 feet. The chart says I should have nineteen feet, easy!
As the seconds tick by, the depth sounder starts below 10 feet and I shove the transmission into steep reverse now, Puffin almost shuddering, particularly as she has been riding a one knot current and pushed by 12 knots of wind.
In a few more seconds Puffin is nearly stopped and I turn the wheel hard to starboard with a short burst of throttle, waiting for the depth sounder to inch up. (It reads in tenths of feet)......Nothing! I try to back up more and throw the wheel to port....nothing! I am seeking deeper water without slipping farther down the river where I know I will be aground, and on a falling tide. Nothing changes. I quickly start to back and fill with engine and rudder to reverse direction. In doing so Puffin does slips farther away from the daybeacon and finally, like magic, I see the figure nine on the depth sounder....then ten.... then eleven. I exchange virtual high fives with myself, but I know it has been mostly good luck.
I do feel the calming hand of reprieve on my back and an hour later we are anchored in New Teakettle Creek, quietly sipping wine and watching the sunset drop over the marshes. So it goes.
We left Beaufort, SC (Bewfort) this morning for Savannah, Georgia and passed through at least 12 sounds, rivers, creeks, and cuts. At some point, I lost count. This section of the ICW, in fact all through Georgia, is dreaded because of the encroaching shoals and shallow areas. We lucked out and passed through at mostly high tide and had no problems, but did have to stay alert and stay IN the channel. No wandering allowed. We definitely would not try this area at low tide. We passed by Hilton Head, SC and wondered if any golfers were serious enough to be out on the green in this chilly weather. And as we passed Parris Island, SC, the largest training base for the Marine Corps, Bob was reminded of how lucky he was NOT to have been based there.
Porpoises continued aplenty and kept heading straight for our boat on a collision course, then would dive at the last minute and disappear. They seem to have perfect timing and coordination.
We arrived in Thunderbolt (don't you love that name? it's a suburb of Savannah) too late to catch a bus into the city, so contented ourselves with a long walk through the residential area here and a late lunch/early dinner at the Tortuga Grill nearby. The food there was very good and Bob satisfied his craving for a hamburger.
Puffin stayed in Beaufort today, a catch-up day for Bob and Nancy. It's simply too busy out on the waterway to concentrate on the shoreside stuff (bills, letters etc) - too much to see and do in these often narrow waterways. There is wildlife, there are the homes and there is the accompanying way of life along the waterway in places folks live.. And all the time underway there is navigation. Wander far from the marked channels in this low country and one soon finds himself aground in the mud. Occasional calls for assistance overheard on the VHF radio are testament to that.
So today we do that catch-up stuff and reflect on what we saw of Beaufort yesterday walking around with our friends, Ken and Sylvianne who travel on the Kadey Krogen, Sylken Sea.
As we get to see some of the deep south towns of the Carolinas up close by walking, I am continually struck by one of the things that set them apart from other attractive towns in other areas like New England. It is simply the varied and verdant landscaping peppered with mature trees - often massive live oaks drapped with Spanish moss which softens the profil like Christmas tinsel. Even the smallest of house lots will have plantings and enjoy the shade of two or three trees.
The banner picture illustrates better than my words the effect of this soft plummage on a small city street and how it draws one's eye from the humdrum of parked vehicles.