12/11/2007/5:27 pm, Charleston, SC, ICW MIle 469.2
We emerged from the ICW land cut past Isle of Palms and Sullivans Island into wide-open Charleston Harbour. It took us a minute to get our bearings and we must have looked a bit confused as we throttled down to take a good look at the charts and coordinate what we saw on paper and electronic screen with the markers we spotted through binoculars. The Cooper River goes off one way, the Ashley River goes another, and the route to the outside goes off a third way. Fortunately there is space and time to do the figuring out. We used to have waypoints all plotted out beforehand but the plotting has been so simple since we entered the ICW that we haven't done it lately.
We had booked dock space at the Charleston City Marina for two nights and then we added a third one - at $2.00 per foot it was splurging, but turned out to be definitely worth it. This was a beautiful marina - with a gigantic floating MegaDock - so gigantic that it was 500 paces from our allotted space of 1310 to the floating bath house (restrooms, showers, laundry) and another 100 or so to dry land. We could get our exercise without ever stepping foot onshore! There were sailboats large and small, along with enormous yachts here. Boats could all be fuelled, watered and pumped out right at their berths. Speaking of fuel...Jim was having a good time inspecting the prices that had been rung up on the various diesel pumps along the dock. He spotted one at $2793.71, then $3180.23, and then the largest one he saw was a whopping $4697.33!! Fuel here was $3.439 per gallon. I just had to find someone who could give us some more figures to play with, so I asked a fellow on a regular sized trawler type boat about consumption. He uses about 4 gallons per hour at or below hull speed (8 - 10 knots) but 50 gallons per hour when he pushes his speed up to 20 knots. And I'll tell you - most of those mega yachts are making at least 20 knots per hour. That is a whole lot of dollars being spent on moving forward. In contrast, we use just under 1 US gallon per hour at our average cruising speed of 6 knots per hour. Plus we have sails!
I went off to get my hair cut at the Stuart Lawrence Salon on King Street recommended by one of the receptionists at the Marina (those folks have all kinds of information available for the asking). Kelly even made the appointment for me - and Rob waited in the shuttle van for me to hustle all the way to the parking lot - remember those 500 paces? With a great haircut and awful red eyebrows that were only partly fixed after my complaints (who would have thought the aesthetician would use red instead of brown?) I went off to meet Mary and Blair (Strathspey) and Jim at Sticky Fingers - our BBQ joint of choice for the evening.
I entered through the side door and told the hostess that I was meeting friends. She said, "Oh yes - it is probably that couple who just went out the front door to wait for you." We walked to the front door for a look see, and I discovered that the heads I could see were not the right ones. Just as I turned away from the door, I spotted Mary and Blair in a booth to my left, and much to the surprise of the hostess, I announced, "I like the look of these people so I'll sit here!" Jim soon came along and as we devoured some finger lickin' ribs, we enjoyed a chatty reunion (they did an overnight passage from Cape Fear to Charleston, and were staying over at the Charleston Harbour Marina on the Cooper River). Jim and I walked all the way down Meeting Street to the water, and then up South Battery, past the US Coast Guard Station to the city marina. It was a walk to remember. We caught glimpses through uncurtained windows of intricately carved woodwork, high ceilings, glittering chandeliers, and walls displaying beautiful art. Rockers and swings invited us to climb steps and linger on piazzas (we didn't). Narrow lanes and cobbled streets were tucked between massive houses and tiny, charming gardens. We could only imagine the days when wealthy families spent summers here as they called on each other and held balls and teas and partook of all the cultural delights that they missed during their winters in the country.
On Saturday morning, Jim's Cousin Sue and her husband, Terry, arrived from Lancaster SC to join us in exploring this city. They have been here many times and were wonderful guides as well as great company for the weekend. The weather was sunny and warm as we headed off on foot to wander the streets, past the two and three storied antebellum houses with their airy piazzas. We visited the Market where all sorts of wares are for sale today, and where we looked at chilling newspaper ads from the days when people were bought and sold - not there according to one book I read but in other markets nearby.
We toured the Calhoun Mansion - ornately constructed and filled chock-a-block with the current owner's collections. He was described by the guide as a litigation lawyer who bought the house for $8 million and then filled it with millions more in possessions - furniture and paintings and chandeliers and vases and animal heads. It was interesting to see - particularly the woodwork, the sliding doors that rolled so easily into the walls, and the windows that went all the way to the floor. They slid up to make doorways but in the days when houses were assessed according to the number of doors they had, were still considered windows so the taxes were less! It all smacked of conspicuous consumption, but perhaps we could consider that the owner enjoys letting the fee-paying public share in his enjoyment! Jim of course kept thinking of his clients and how he earned the money to pay for all this.
That leads me to reflect that as much as we enjoyed exploring all this, and admired the construction and design and beauty, there always hovered in the backs of our minds the shadow of what made it possible - the ownership of black people who were forced to work at labour the white men would never ever consider doing themselves - the belief of the time that these black people were less than human and so it was acceptable to treat them that way. I have had a hard time trying to find a way to understand how so many intelligent, educated and otherwise compassionate people could accept this view. (Of course there were some who didn't - I don't mean to paint all whites with the same brush.) I'm reading a book called Mary's Life by Richard Cote. It gives me information, but still does not answer that fundamental question.
We stopped to take pictures of the family home in that book - the Miles Brewton House on King Street where Mary's family, the William Bull Pringles lived. They lived there in luxury, lost it, reclaimed it, lived there in poverty.
We strolled along Rainbow Row - center of market life in the 1700's, saved from destruction in the 1930's and painted in Caribbean colours that would probably not pass the restoration rules now, and we took each others pictures at the pineapple fountain as we watched families at play. We savoured fresh-out-of-the-kettle pecan pralines, licking their warm fudginess off our fingers, devoured shrimp po boys and fishwiches and drank sweet tea at BubbaGumps - and didn't do badly on the Forrest Gump quiz either. (A person just has to eat there once.) We visited a camera store and purchased a new 55-200mm lens for my camera - oh yeah - and a new lens cap to replace the one I dropped in the water, and a leash so I don't have to get any more lens caps. We strolled up and down streets, taking pictures and examining little nooks and corners.
These are quite amazing houses - two and three stories tall, mostly white, columned, with wide airy piazzas. I'm still trying to work out the differences between verandahs, porches and piazzas - I think verandahs go all the way around a house, and porches are smaller - and these are piazzas because of their placement on the east and west sides to catch the breezes and because they are on all stories of the house. They must double the floor space and I can see that they would be lovely places to idle away a hot afternoon. They do not necessarily face the street but often line the side of a house along a garden or facing the house next door.
After a sunset walk back to the boat for some putting up of the feet and a sip or two of wine, we caught the last shuttle bus of the day to Hyman's Seafood for a feast. We shared plates of fried green tomatoes, followed by amberjack done Cajun style for me, crispy flounder for Jim and Sue, and scallops for Terry - all fresh, simply prepared and delicious. Then we were on the streets again for another evening walk back to the boat.
We made up the spare bed for our guests and all bedded down for a good rest in preparation for another full day on Sunday.
After coffee and biscuits (delayed a bit because we had to change the propane tank - why does it unfailingly give out when I am baking something for company???) we drove out to visit the Boon Hall plantation in Mount Pleasant. It was the scene of a Civil War encampment and re-enactment of the Battle of Seccessionville this Veterans' Day weekend so we had a double opportunity for exploration. This is a newer house built on an old and still working plantation. The crops now are mixed but it retained the feel of the old days. The long drive was lined with live oak trees that spread their enormous branches overhead and Spanish moss hung from the limbs. Small and bare brick buildings that had once housed slaves stood off to the side of the yard.
We chatted with several of the re-enactors - children dressed in period costume and playing period games, men who switch from Union to Confederate uniforms depending on the need for the action of the day, women who filled the traditional support roles. Many of them were interested in talking about their enjoyment of such weekends. For one - it is his family. (He remarked to Sue, the Yankee, that he had once had a Yankee wife but she didn't work out well out so he found himself a nice Southern wife. (Oh - I wish I could write in that gravelly drawl!! - You'll have to just drop your voice down into your boots and slow waaay down when you repeat that line.)
One wonderful conversation was with Liz, a sweetgrass basket maker. These baskets are true works of art, and are becoming collectors' items as the sweetgrass, becomes scarcer, and skilled weavers become fewer.. They range from flat baskets similar to the original ones that were used to fan chaff from rice, to decorative ones - tall or flat, covered or open. Liz told me that it used to be men who made them for fanning the rice, and then women started weaving more decorative ones. I asked how long she had been making them and she told me that when her mother died and they cleaned out her house, she found a small basket with a note that said, "Liz, 19__" the year she was six. She laughed as she said it was an ugly basket - her work now is certainly not ugly! The natural colours of the grass and the tightly woven strands in curls and coils are immensely pleasing. She told us how she makes some traditional designs, as well as some of her own. She had donated one basket to a charity auction and it brought in over $1500. I loved the glow on her face as she related that experience and told us how delighted she was to make that kind of contribution.
We lunched on pulled pork sandwiches and benne wafers, sweet and salty popcorn and chocolate cookies.
We followed the path to the polo field where the battle was to be re-enacted, and joined the crowds to hear Veteran's Day speeches. I have to say that they were a little underwhelming. There was a lot of emphasis on soldiers -today's soldiers in today's wars - fighting to ensure freedom for American children. One man (a state politician in full Confederate dress) spoke at length on the efforts to preserve and raise the Hunley - the first submarine ever to sink an enemy vessel - talking of the grand victory in sinking an enemy ship. He portrayed the war in which the Hunley fought as a war being fought for freedom from oppression. Jim - the historian in this family - kept reminding me that that war - the Civil War - was one in which families were divided, brothers fought brothers, Americans fought Americans even though they called themselves Confederates and Unionists. Over 600,000 people were killed in that war. Lest I sound too terribly cynical - if one could just forget the background of it all, and enjoy the spectacle, it was quite entertaining - for a while. For military history buffs, I expect the whole thing is a fine experience as they examine muskets and uniforms and battle strategy. As for me - I just liked talking with the people!
Thanks to Terry's willingness to chauffeur us around, we were able to fill the larder again, as well as get the propane tank filled. Terry and Sue departed for home; we put our feet up again and fell asleep not long afterward.
On our way out of Charleston the next morning we saw an enormous yacht coming in -Kismet - one that Blair identified as having been on the cover of a magazine listing the top 100 big new boats. It was 223 feet long with a beam(width) of 43 feet and draft (depth) of10feet. Hmmm - that is 5 times the length of Madcap if you count bowsprit and dinghy. I wonder how much fuel that guy sucks up. But I guess its one of those situations where "If you have to ask, you can't afford it!"
08/11/2007/8:48 am, Georgetown, SC, Mile 403
Our little trip ashore to Georgetown on Wednesday evening consisted of a walk along the main drag, a catch-up chat with Ken, Colin and Sharon on Sulis and, on their recommendation, a quick trip to Independent Seafoods where we picked up some very fine shrimp ($6.99 lb), trigger fish, and stuffed crab. Jim cooked up the shrimp in his trademark flambéed Sambucca Shrimp dish...mmmmm good.
It was very cold on Thursday morning, so we fired up the fireplace, and in half an hour the cabin temperature was up almost 10 degrees. We went back ashore to have another look around before departing for points south. Some of the streets reminded us of Upper Victoria and Rupert Streets in Amherst - the Victorian houses and trees with branches arching over peaceful avenues. We were fortunate enough to encounter John and Rosalie at the Chamber of Commerce Visitors Bureau and spent a good while chatting with them on a wide range of topics involving Georgetown and South Carolina generally. They are transplanted Yankees and were thus able to give us a great inside/outside picture of the American South. They were interesting folks themselves, having moved here from New Jersey to be nearer their daughter. They volunteer at the Visitor's centre - and John's passion is history so he is a valuable source of information; they are involved with the local theatre company; they ride their bikes out to the beaches; in short, they are filling their re-tirement with all sorts of new pro-tirement activities.
On another trip here, I'd like to visit the Rice museum and the Kaminski House, but in the meantime, we got a good picture of life before and after the Civil War here, and were able to be on the lookout for abandoned rice plantations as we traveled along the next stretch of the ICW. I had always thought of cotton when I thought of Southern plantations, but this area was noted for its rice and indigo - the plant whose fermented leaves produced a blue dye. If I remember correctly, almost 70% of America's rice came from 7 or 8 plantations in this area during the period leading up to the civil war. We learned that those plantations and the wealth and lifestyle enjoyed by the white families were possible only because of slave labour, and that slaves made up almost 75% of the population of this area. The plantation families used to depart every summer for Charleston and other seaside towns to avoid contracting malaria and yellow fever - the mosquito-borne diseases that circulated freely in the hot, wet climate of the rice fields. The slave families were left behind, of course, to do the labour intensive work of taking care of the crops that made that lifestyle possible.
After a stop at the Kudzu Bakery for delicious honey-oat bread and strawberry-rhubarb jam, and a return trip to the seafood store for more shrimp, we hoisted anchor and headed onward.
As John had told us, we found abandoned rice plantations all along the way. We could see the remnants of irrigation ditches and vast fields once given to rice, now returned to the wild. Travelling through the ICW is a wonderful way to see the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Centre Heritage Preserve. He was once the owner of the Boston Red Sox, and willed this land to the state. We saw huge flocks of what I think were bobolinks - called rice birds when the rice was plentiful here. They were as thick and fast as clouds of mosquitoes. There was also a huge raptor-type bird with a white band across its tail, rust colour on underside and perhaps on top - could it have been a Golden Eagle? A couple of groups of black and white, red billed, long legged birds were clustered on oyster middens (piles of oyster shells) - the American Oystercatcher? And... we saw our first alligator at about Mile 424 - at Red 26! He was heading north as we were heading south - just floating along the side of the creek minding his own business. A very cool addition to our list of "sightings".
We spent Thursday night in an anchorage in the Awendaw Creek (Mile 435.7) where I cooked our triggerfish for dinner. (I just sprinkled a little Old Bay seasoning, some pepper and lemon juice over it, and then baked it in the oven) It has a nice meaty texture and good flavour. We wanted to try it because that is what Steven Callahan told of eating in his book "Adrift". Mind you - he ate it raw, and for many of the 76 days he was adrift. Have I told you yet what an amazing book that is?
There was a cold NW wind that kept us garbed in hats and gloves despite the sun as we motored through the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. We have been feeling a wee bit torn about how to traverse this country. It would be lovely to get outside and put the sails up - sails? Seems so long ago! But on the other hand, we would hate to miss all this new geography. Before we started, Jim and I thought we would like to do the whole ICW once to see what it is like, and we are still holding to that plan. I had no idea there would be such a variety of scenery. The ICW is often referred to as "the ditch" and indeed it is dug out of the land like a ditch, joining rivers and creeks to make a passageway south. But it is so much more than that. We travel through wild stretches with nothing but marshes, and wild-ish stretches with marshes and houses and long-long-long wharves stretching out like arms to the open waterway. We pass towns and inlets. We enter and exit little cuts through rock, and make our way around shoaling corners, and see palmetto trees and cedars and pines all jumbled together. We skirt the edges of resorts that date from the early 1900's as well as those of today. We pass islands that used to be frequented by bootleggers and now house golf courses and playgrounds and lots of legal alcohol.
So it is in this spirit of discovery that we continue motoring our way along and make our much-anticipated visit to Charleston!
07/11/2007/3:30 pm, Georgetown, SC, Mile 403
Oh boy - did Ken ever give us a good steer to come up to Captain Poo's at Anchor Marina (Mile 347) for happy hour last night!
Wings, oysters and tacos were on the menu for 25 cents apiece. The place was full of folks by 5 and the music started at 6. We were lucky enough to snag a table just as a group left so we had a prime spot near the musician and the dance floor. Our new friend Ken joined us for a spell, and we made the pleasant acquaintance of Marg and Bob from Calabogie, Ontario - not all that far from Ottawa. Who'd a thunkit? Here we are in South Carolina and the lady passing the tomato basket (more about this in a minute) is from just down the road? On the other hand, why am I still surprised by such meetings? They keep happening to us.
Now about the tomatoes: A big basket of them was making its way around the room. Apparently the owner was giving them away, and as folks from each table helped themselves, someone took the basket to the next table. I never did find out what made Marg say immediately, "Are you Canadian?" but she did and of course that led to lots of conversation about our trip. I passed the basket on to another table where the male recipients thanked me effusively and I couldn't seem to make them understand that they weren't MY tomatoes - I was just spreading them around. The saga doesn't stop here though, because much later in the evening a couple sat down at our table, the woman (probably 70 something) spotted the four tomatoes there and said - "Oh those must be mah tomatoes! Ah told Connor ah wanted some and he must have left them for me!" At that point she started popping them into her purse. I had to move quickly to clamp my hand over 2 of them, move them back to my side of the table, saying, "Actually, those are MY tomatoes." We called it a draw as she kept the 2 she had already stored away, and I kept my 2. The gentleman with her drawled, "All ah know for shoah is they ahn't mah tomatoes." and Jim breathed a sigh of relief that the showdown was ended.
We tried some boiled peanuts thanks to Marg who shared a basket of them. The texture is really different - soft, meaty and slightly salty. Apparently the US ambassador to Canada has been extolling the virtues of the South Carolina peanut and we are happy to add our approval too.
Don Drexler provides music here at Captain Poo's every Tuesday night, and he is certainly an entertainer. He has all his arrangements prerecorded, and he plays guitar and sings along with them. It is loud, familiar, enthusiastic music and we enjoyed every minute of it. He started at 6 and was still going straight out when we left at 9. Some of it was golden oldies, some rhythm and blues, the occasional bluegrass number and some Carolina beach music. We're learning about this. It started as Motown or R&B, and the local folks back in the 30's and 40's developed their own kind of dance to it - called the shag. According to Ken, the fellows used to do the fancy footwork while the women did a simple in and out step. Now they both do some pretty fancy footwork. I found it to be quite elegant to watch - a little like jive, a little like jitterbug. (Did I get this right, Ken?)
A couple of other singers did some numbers - and there was a good bit of South Carolina pride apparent.
There were some very good dancers in this crowd of mostly locals. We could tell that many of them knew each other and they were all out for an evening of fun and dance. There was a real sensuality about the women - many of them older than we are. Having just watched the Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood a few nights ago, we could see some of that same exuberance in these folks. I know that is likely way too much of a generalization based on one evening's experience, but there is something different and engaging about the people we have met and observed so far. We already have an invitation to visit on our return trip. How is that for warm hospitality?
We managed to dance quite a bit ourselves - to the slow numbers. There was no way we could manage the faster ones with all that shagging going on!
We called it a night about 9, wandered down the ramp to Madcap with its red and white flag proudly waving in the breeze, and buried ourselves under the down comforter. While the days are still warmish, the evenings are cool.
When we woke up this morning (Wed) it was downright cold - not much above 0 Celsius I'm sure. The hats and gloves were essential. We made a long trip today - all the way to Georgetown. We had to skip the pretty little anchorages along the Waccama River in order to have time in this historic town, but we certainly enjoyed traveling through the cypress trees with their draperies of Spanish moss, and turtles basking on every sunny log. Oooh - I long for a good zoom lens. Soon...
There was no northbound traffic through the "rockpile" so we had absolutely no difficulty transiting that rock-bordered part of the ICW. The engine purred. The current was with us and boosted us a good knot on the latter part of the trip. The channel here in Georgetown is pretty full - I'd get here before midafternoon next time.
We stayed aboard for a bit to make sure we don't swing into the channel - a working channel - and now having deemed it safe to do, we'll head ashore to see what delights await us there.