Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Charleston SC to St Marys GA

Charleston SC to St Marys GA  -   February 2011

We left Hannah in Wappoo Creek and headed back to Charleston. We had been told by Sue & Steve (on Kainui in Belfast) of a laid back marina on the Cooper River where they spent some time.  It turned out to be a good recommendation, close to the historic area and easy going so we spent the next two days walking the city.

It’s a fascinating place, many well preserved plantation era houses and atmospheric tree lined streets. The most surreal moment was encountering a man in plus fours, Viyella shirt, tie with a pheasant along its length and a tweed cap. He was off to shoot pheasants which were to be launched from a tower! His wife was struggling with a large Harrods bag.
It was a gloomy day when we set off from Charleston for Beaufort SC (pronounced Bewfort) and soon the rain came down in torrents. Currents were generally favourable so we knocked off 50 miles and were glad when we anchored, got the fire going and dried out.
We made it to Beaufort by midday the following day after a very bumpy ride up the Coosaw river with water over the deck.  To our amazement, we were called on the radio by Hannah, who were still in Beaufort so our parting turned out to be short. Our reunion was too as Hannah left that afternoon for sea and their date in Key West. We managed  a brief walk together around the historic area, a sort of mini Charleston with a very southern flavour.

We anchored off the town as we wanted to see more of it the next day. That night, Jac had an accident of the type we dread, severe scalding to her hand and wrist after a pan of boiling water spilt. She had to spend the night with her arm in a bucket of water to keep it cool. It would steam if she took it out.
Next morning we moved to the free dock and went looking for a pharmacy. As we were walking out of town – there are no real shops in these towns – we were offered a ride by a local sailor who recognized our status; carless people are generally off a boat and boat people have a certain look. Jim drove us to a pharmacy and generously took us on to the clinic the pharmacist insisted Jac attend. There the badly blistered wound was dressed and medication administered.
Jim has had an interesting life working in many countries as an engineer after service as a bomber pilot. Amazingly he has a friend whose father must have served in the same squadron as Robin’s father in World War Two. How small the world can seem sometimes. Thanks for your help, Jim. We are constantly reminded how generous people are  in this country.

We did manage a tour of the town and came across this cemetery with many confederate flags. Wars are quick to start and slow to mend.
Next stop from Beaufort was Savannah. We negotiated the narrow and twisting cuts between rivers on this part of the waterway only to see the superstructure of a giant containership apparently passing above the reed bed ahead of us. We were closer to the Savannah River and its busy container port than we thought.
 Our plan was to meet up with Joe and Pam, friends who live near Savannah on Skidaway Island and who we had not seen in a very long time. Pam had contacted us recently after reading this blog and we arranged to dock at their local marina on Skidaway. The tide was running hard across the narrow entrance to the marina so we came in at a 45 degree angle to the pierhead, gunning the new engine hard.
Joe collected us and we were introduced to their 16 year old twin , Jake and Josh, who live with Pam and Joe. They have taken on responsibility for two teenage boys and we are full of admiration at their commitment and dedication at a time in their life when many of us are free to pursue our own selfish dreams.
Pam lent us her bright red Ford Mustang so that we could visit Savannah the following day, which was also Robin’s 65th birthday. We celebrated the pension payrise with a modest glass of wine over lunch and took a bus ride around the leafy squares and waterfront of old Savannah. It’s a very picturesque city, clearly vying with Charleston for historic status. They are both beautiful and equally charming to our eyes. Savannah might just edge ahead as they have a statue of Johnny Mercer (later we were to cross Moon River, although it was certainly not wider than a mile).

That night, Pam surprised Robin with a birthday cake. We enjoyed meeting up with them after so many years and finding that we slipped right back into that friendship. If we had planned it, as we had tried to do two years before, it would never have happened.
From Skidaway, we moved into the unspoilt and wide sounds and rivers of Georgia. The pilot book claimed that this was the most challenging section of waterway because of the tidal range and shoaling of a number of channels. Our first stop was Kilkenny, a sleepy backwater quite unlike the stylish and more groomed Skidaway. Here was true rural Georgia with endless reed beds and big skies.    
From here, we had to plan our stops carefully to get a favourable tide. We anchored in Darien River and waited out a blow the next day. From the masthead, the view was of reed beds to the horizon, with occasional wooded clumps.  We were sharing this with hawks, teal and widgeon, all welcome unlike the cowbirds who invaded early in the morning and treated the deck with contempt.

At first light, we set off for the ‘notorious’ Little Mud River which we survived without grounding. Next challenge was Jekyll Island which we approached at low water. Slowly we crept down this five mile channel, at worst with about a foot of water under the keel. Agaain we survived.
Next challenge was the ‘notorious’ St Andrews Sound, which luckily for us was in a good mood. We passed along the shore of Cumberland Island and were delighted to see some of the island’s wild horses on a beach. By now we had decided to press on to our final stop at St Marys so no stopping as we were only about 15 miles away.
 Except the channel markers ahead look strange and the chartplotter is putting us on their wrong side. A quick decision is called for, sadly the wrong one so  we are hard on the mud. 700 miles of floating and we are aground with ten miles to go. We called Towboat US as it was getting late but floated off before they showed up.
Our delay meant we had to negotiate the complex buoyage around Kings Bay submarine base at twilight and come into St Marys  in the dark. We tied up after a twelve hour trip, surprised to have passed a good number of boats at anchor. Later we learned that they are on the Florida side of the river where liveaboards are tolerated unlike in Georgia where they are allowed thirty days a year of living on board.
Next stop was the nearby North River, to be negotiated only at high tide, and our haul out at St Marys Boat Services. It’s always hard to leave Blackthorn and the week of preparing her for her summer ordeal ashore is a busy one. But we had a happy interlude as friends from England are staying nearby in Ponte Vedra. Malcolm and Jenny had flown over to meet up with Pam and Joe, who they had originally introduced us to. Again, we could never have organized this meeting, it was pure serendipity, as the general rule of cruising is that we will meet somewhere or some time but  don’t try to combine this to one place and time.
We drove to Ponte Vedra and walked the endless beach with Malcolm and Jenny just long enough to justify lunch. They came over to St Marys the following day to sample its simple charms and we planned to meet on our imminent visit to England.
Flying back to Texas from Jacksonville was as painless as we have ever experienced. Flights were on time, our bags were right in front of us as we walked up to the carousel in San Antonio and the car rental shuttle was waiting for us. Even the cheap hotel worked and now we are back in Bandera far from the sea and resurrecting Pearl our motorhome. So now it’s Pearl’s time to blog. 

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