Exploring with Cousin Sue
12 November 2007 | Charleston, SC, ICW MIle 469.2
Beth - sweater, morning and night - T-shirt in the daytime
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!"