“Y’all goin’ North?”

….said in an incredulous tone. It seems that mad dogs and Englishmen don’t just go out in the midday sun, they take their boats up the ICW in the Fall, too.

Everyone else is going south, to the Bahamas or the Florida Keys. It sounds like a nice idea. We explain the several reasons why we’re going north in the Fall, but even so, our listeners’ faces adopt an expression suggesting that they’ve weighed us up as verging on bonkers, and they judge it wise not to pursue that topic of conversation. They revert to the familiar ‘Where y’all from?’, which is obviously a lot safer.

But we’ve had quite a few ‘Y’all come back and see us again!’, which is really nice.

 

The coastline of Eastern North Carolina is an amazing pattern of wide sounds, the land indented by  inlets, creeks and rivers, with the islands of the Outer Banks strung like a necklace 40 miles out into the Atlantic.

Whitaker Pointe to Elizabeth City

Whitaker Pointe to Elizabeth City

From Whitaker Pointe at Oriental, we went a few miles along the Adams River and then were out at last into the deep blue waters of Pamlico Sound.

Leaving Whitaker Pointe

Leaving Whitaker Pointe

Morning sun, Whitaker Pointe

Morning sun, Whitaker Pointe

Adams Creek looking south to Cedar Island

Adams Creek looking south to Cedar Island

The morning was idyllic, but the peaceful air was suddenly rent by two fighter jets flying low above us. A disembodied voice commented over the VHF, ‘Well, there’s the sound of freedom going by!’

Fishing boats near Hobucken Bridge

Fishing boats near Hobucken Bridge

Bay River

Bay River

Pamlico Sound and the Outer Banks just visible on the horizon

The deep blue of Pamlico Sound and the Outer Banks just visible on the horizon

We moored out at Deep Point on the Pungo River.

Mooring at Deep Point

Mooring at Deep Point

The weather forecast for the middle of the week was for high winds and 2 ft waves, so we had to move on to the marina at Alligator River, and wait there until it was safe to  cross Albemarle Sound to Elizabeth City.

We passed through the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal, before the waterway opened up again at Alligator River.

Alligator River - Pungo River Canal

Alligator River – Pungo River Canal

Alligator River -Pungo River Canal

Alligator River -Pungo River Canal

Tree stumps and beautiful colour

Tree stumps and beautiful colour

We had read about Alligator River Marina, and its owner Ms Wanda, in Terry Darlington’s book Narrow Dog to Indian River. According to Terry, Ms Wanda could be a bit sharp if she didn’t like you, and she tended to prefer men, so we approached with some trepidation.

Ms Wanda and her late husband had built the marina, and a petrol station with a shop-cum-diner, at a strategic point on the US 64 over 30 years ago. Tall, blonde and imposing, unlike most marina owners she presided over her establishment with the demeanour of an awe-inspiring headmistress, augmenting her authority with a series of typed notices in a large, bold font.

(In the laundry) ‘Keep the door shut at all times to prevent insects getting in. No Pets! No Smoking! Ms Wanda.’

(Outside the diner) ‘The grill closes at 6.30 promptly, so if you are dining with us, please be sure to join us by 6.00 at the latest. Ms Wanda.’ The standard of dress was also stipulated. ‘No hoods or caps.’

(In the restrooms) ‘The restrooms are cleaned to a high standard. If there is anything requiring our attention, please let the staff or Ms Wanda know.’ As if you’d dare.

And in front of the till in the shop/diner: ‘We will be happy to serve you when you have finished your telephone conversation.’

As we were staying at least 3 days, it seemed politic to eat at least once in the diner. We decided to have breakfast out for a change, and having learned that American biscuits are really scones, I opted for bacon with biscuits. This was presented with the scone sliced in half, and the thin, crispy bacon sandwiched in between. It worked very well – perhaps one to try at home.

Ms Wanda came to chat to us, pointing out the photos on the wall of a couple of large alligators that had been caught near the marina, and some others of a large black bear helping himself to apples in Ms Wanda’s garden.

Ian asked her if she remembered Terry and his narrowboat. She did, but hadn’t read his book, and laughed when we told her she was in it.

The marina was 12 miles from Columbia, the nearest town, so we had thought hiring a car wasn’t a possibility. But Ms Wanda had an arrangement with a garage on Roanoke Island, and drove us 20 miles across the bridge to Manteo to pick up a car.

Roanoke was as lovely as its name sounds.

Roanoke Colony  was the first English settlement in America. In 1587, 118 pioneers set sail from Plymouth, after Sir Walter Raleigh had advised Elizabeth I that she must stake a claim to the New World, before the Spanish and French became dominant. At least one child, Virginia Dare, was born there. But the colonists became desperate for provisions, and Virginia’s grandfather, Captain White, went back to England for help. When he returned 3 years later, there was no trace of the colonists, and their fate has been the subject of much speculation, and recently, some scientific research.

In the visitor centre, the lady we spoke to said the islanders felt strong ties with England, growing up with the story of the Lost Colony, which is enacted every year in the outdoor theatre at Fort Raleigh, where the colony was. We went to Fort Raleigh, and walked round the lovely Elizabethan Gardens, created by the Garden Club of North Carolina in memory of the pioneers of the Lost Colony.

Entrance to the Elizabethan Gardens, Fort Raleigh, Roanoke

Entrance to the Elizabethan Gardens, Fort Raleigh, Roanoke

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Camellia in bloom in the autumn

Camellia in bloom in the autumn

The Hornbeam Walk

The Hornbeam Walk

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Camellias

Camellias

With Queen Elizabeth 1

With Queen Elizabeth 1

Where the colonists landed

Where the colonists landed

 

We had lunch in Poor Richard’s Sandwich Bar in Manteo, the main town of  Roanoke. I was dubious about an establishment that would include the word ‘poor’ in its name, suggesting as it perhaps does, that the business wasn’t doing all that well. I was reminded too of the infamous Waitrose campaign in which shoppers were asked to complete the statement  ‘I shop at Waitrose because……….’ and one of the answers was ‘because I don’t like shopping around poor people’. The small shop front was unprepossessing, with no menu outside, and a couple of chairs in the window. It didn’t even look open, let alone as though it had any customers. But by now, Ian was determined to try it, so we had to go in. The long narrow hallway led to a large room at the back, full of people enjoying Poor Richard’s fare. We sat on the verandah overlooking Manteo waterfront and Roanoke Festival Island, where we could see the replica of  Raleigh’s ship Elizabeth II, and had a good lunch.

I’ve now been advised by a correspondent that ‘Poor Richard’ is a reference to Poor Richard’s Almanack, a yearly almanac published by Benjamin Franklin,  from 1732 to 1758.

Main St, Manteo

Main St, Manteo

Later, we drove to Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks, to the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
Orville and Wilbur Wright had identified Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk  as a suitable place for their experiments, as the area was sandy and there were no high trees. On 17th December, 1903, after many unsuccessful attempts, they made 3 flights, the longest one lasting 59 seconds.

Inside the centre, there was an actual size replica of the plane, and a great deal about the aeronautical experiments and calculations they made. But it was the human side that touched me – the telegram Orville sent to their father, a bishop in Dayton, Ohio, and the sheds in which they had lived, cooked, worked and slept in the years before their first successful flight.

Replica of the first aeroplane

Replica of the first aeroplane

The kitchen at the Wrights' camp

The kitchen at the Wrights’ camp

They had to bring all their provisions by schooner from Elizabeth City, as there were no roads to the Outer Banks.

The site of the first flight. The two sheds are the camp.

The site of the first flight. The two sheds are the camp.

The memorial

The memorial

Columbia, North Carolina, doesn’t feature in the guidebooks, but we went there the next day to have a look round. It was pleasant and unpretentious. Ian had been keen to get a haircut for some weeks and the opportunity suddenly presented itself on Main Street. There was an old-fashioned barber’s shop, so we went in. The barber was asleep in the back, but he got to his feet when he  heard us, and made us welcome. I thought he looked in his late 70’s, but this proved a conservative estimate. He mentioned that he had been in the Pacific in WW2, and then that he had put up with his wife for 75 years, at which point the Captain couldn’t resist interjecting that he had only had to put up with his for 45 years. Finally, we learned that Mr Mitchell was 97, and had started his shop in 1937.

Ian with Mr Robert Mitchell in his barber's shop, Columbia, NC

Ian with Mr Robert Mitchell in his barber’s shop, Columbia, NC

War Memorial. Columbia

War Memorial. Columbia

Main St, Columbia

Main St, Columbia

Historic house, Columbia

Historic house, Columbia

Our passage to Elizabeth City through Albemarle Sound was smooth enough, and soon we’ll be in Virginia and thinking about home.

But I hope one day I’ll go back to North Carolina and the Outer Banks.

The bridge to Roanoke Island, from Alligator River

The bridge on US64 to Roanoke Island, from Alligator River

 

 

 

 

 

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Cool mornings and a cool American village

Hampstead - Swansboro - Morehead City - Oriental

Hampstead – Swansboro – Morehead City – Oriental

After a day of incessant and occasionally torrential rain, when even going to the supermarket in the car seemed a challenge, we left Hampstead in crisp, bright sunshine. From having the air-conditioner on at night, we’ve suddenly gone to wondering where the little fan heater is, to aid the process of getting out of bed in the morning.

Leaving Harbor Village, Hampstead, Topsail Beach in the background

Leaving Harbor Village, Hampstead, Topsail Beach in the background

The waterway continued to follow the Atlantic coast very closely, so we often got glimpses of the ocean through the many inlets.

Birds on a sandbank near Topsail Beach

Birds on a sandbank near Topsail Beach

At Sears Landing Swing Bridge, we had to amuse ouselves for 45 minutes waiting for the bridge to open, but we weren’t the only ones who obviously hadn’t read the navigation notes.

Sears Landing Swing Bridge

Sears Landing Swing Bridge

A slightly unusual house

A slightly unusual house

At Alligator Bay, we saw what looked like large brown ducks swimming across the waterway in front of us. We were amazed to see them get out of the water and bound off into the marshy grass. But you’ll need the eye of faith to see them in this photograph – they were young deer. I’m hoping Father Christmas might bring me a telephoto lens this year.

Alligator Bay

Alligator Bay

The route took us past Camp Lejeune, a US Marines training base. In 2008, when we were driving through North Carolina, we had innocently taken the 172 road and been surprised to come upon a road block with an armed sentry who flagged us down.With consummate American politeness, he gently explained the security issues involved, and would we just turn around and go back the way we’d come. We wondered at the time why our trusty Rand McNally Road Atlas hadn’t given any indication that we might not be able to proceed through a high-security establishment, and hoped now that there wouldn’t be any complications on the waterway.

But we saw only some abandoned rocket launchers on the marshes at Onslow Bay, and heard the occasional distant military-sounding boom.

Onslow Bay

Onslow Bay

We found a good anchorage at Swansboro.

From our mooring at Swansboro

From our mooring at Swansboro

Sunset at Swansboro

Sunset at Swansboro

We had a straight run through the next day, to Morehead City, through Bogue Sound.

Morning Sunshine on Bogue Sound

Morning Sunshine on Bogue Sound

Having a go at driving Carina

Having a go at driving Carina

Morehead City had quite a different feel from the other places we’ve visited, its industrial base having a commanding presence.

Phosphate factory, Morehead City

Phosphate factory, Morehead City

We ate at the Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant, but the food wasn’t really as interesting at the name, and it had the feel of somewhere that was perhaps resting on the laurels of its reputation.

So far on this trip, the navigation has been relatively simple, for the most part confined to rivers and cuts. We’ve  crossed the occasional wide sound, but haven’t had to negotiate anything as nerve-wracking as Tampa Bay or Lake Okeechobee in Florida. But now, looming ahead of us is the prospect of crossing the vast expanses of Pamlico Sound and Albemarle Sound, which stretch out to the North Carolina Outer Banks. The weather has to be carefully monitored , and if necessary, the passage postponed till conditions are easier to manage.

The next couple of days were forecast 25 knots, gusting 30, so after going through the narrow cut of Core Creek and crossing Adams Creek, we stayed a couple of nights in Oriental, waiting for the winds to moderate.

Core Creek

Core Creek

We saw lots of dolphins playing in the water.

Dolphins playing in the water, Core Creek

Dolphins playing in the water, Core Creek

And a working barge from the phosphate factory at Morehead City.

A working boat from the phosphate factfory at Morehead City

A working boat from the phosphate factory at Morehead City

Beach at Adams Creek

Beach at Adams Creek

Although many places in America have the status of a city, despite being fairly small, we haven’t come across many villages. But Oriental is definitely a village, and proud of it too. Beautifully situated, surrounded by water and woodland, and numerous creeks and inlets, as the guide-book puts it, from Oriental you gaze out to the Outer Banks, and beyond them, there’s nothing till you get to England.

As we arrived at the public dock in the early afternoon, we could see a party going on at the marina opposite, and the DJ was playing Don McClean and American Pie. Very atmospheric.

Oriental Marina and Tiki Bar

Oriental Marina and Tiki Bar

Fishing boats at Oriental Public Dock

Fishing boats at Oriental Public Dock

The Captain likes anchoring out, because it’s free. This economic advantage has to be balanced, particularly in a strong wind situation, of the risk of the anchor pulling loose and the possibility of the boat being cast adrift in the middle of the night. At Oriental, the public dock was free, with the bonus that we were safely tied up to sturdy piles.

But there was a snag. When we filled in the registration forms, on the back was a lengthy list of rules. Running a generator was forbidden, and a violation punishable with a $25 fine. My understanding of the ‘electrics’ is compromised by the fact that I still haven’t got round to reading The 12-Volt Bible for Boats, but even I know that if you’re not hooked up to a power supply, and you can’t run the generator, the batteries will quite soon go flat and things won’t work.

The dock was on the main street, with lots of passersby, and next to us there was another boat , whose owners had very kindly helped us tie up, so running the generator anyway, in defiance of the rules, could attract attention. Another boater, Steve, who stopped by to chat, thought that no-one would care, and the singer at the Tiki Bar was making so much noise that it was unlikely that the generator would have been audible. But even so, it probably wasn’t so much the $25 fine as the embarrassment of discovery that stopped us switching it on. We went for a stroll round the village and the waterfront, and when we got back, the batteries were still charged up.

The waterfront at Oriental, looking towards the Outer Banks

The waterfront at Oriental, looking towards the Outer Banks

We went for a drink at the Tiki Bar, and an older couple, Torrey and Joanne, who had retired to Oriental nine years ago and thought it the best place on earth, invited us to join them. Back on the boat an hour and a half later, the fridge was spontaneously defrosting itself and there was a large puddle of water on the cabin floor.

The thought of having to dispose of the entire contents of the fridge tipped the balance, and the Captain surreptitiously put the generator on, hoping that no-one would mind or notice. But by now, the singer had finished his marathon stint at the bar, and all was quiet and still. Early to bed, early to rise seems to be America’s motto, even on a Saturday night.

I got on with cooking the dinner, then suddenly we were aware of flashing blue lights – the cops. It seemed fanciful to imagine that they had come to investigate a possible violation of the dock rules, rather than the youths we had noticed lurking and doing things with their cell-phones, but you never knew. Eventually the cops drove off, and, warily, the Captain switched the generator  back on. Ten minutes later, the cops were back, and the generator quickly went off. This process repeated several times, until the cops went for good and the Captain was confident that the batteries were charged up and the fridge working again.

The next morning, the wind was already quite strong, but not strong enough to stop us taking Carina round the corner to the lovely marina at Whitaker Pointe, with electricity, showers, laundry, and a car we could borrow to go shopping. And not expensive, either.

Doing some boat maintenance at Whitaker Pointe Marina

Doing some boat maintenance at Whitaker Pointe Marina

 

 

 

 

A Beach Club and a Battleship

We arrived at Osprey Landing, Myrtle Beach, via the beautiful Waccamaw River.

Waccamaw River

Waccamaw River

Autumn tints on the Waccamaw River

Autumn tints on the Waccamaw River

 

Georgetown to Osprey Landing, Myrtle Beach

Georgetown to Osprey Landing, Myrtle Beach

 

 

Barefoot Landing - Southport - Wrightsville Beach - Hampstead

Barefoot Landing – Southport – Wrightsville Beach – Hampstead

Myrtle Beach is a fun place. There’s fun of all kinds  – shopping malls, restaurants, fast food outlets, bars, clubs, a theatre, amusement arcades, crazy golf courses, and children’s playparks in abundance. We had a quick trip to the beach, but it wasn’t quite Cumberland Island.

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach

 

Above Osprey Landing, the waterway is a long straight canal with development on both sides, called Pine Island Cut, that lasts for nearly twenty miles to the border with North Carolina.

Swing Bridge on Pine Island Cut

Swing Bridge on Pine Island Cut

 

We stopped at Barefoot Landing, North Myrtle Beach, because there was one attraction that had proved irresistible. I can’t really do better than to quote the Lonely Planet:

“Fat Harold’s Beach Club: It’s a gas to watch the graying beach bums groove to doo-wop and old-time rock and roll at this North Myrtle institution, which calls itself ‘Home of the Shag’. The dance, that is. Free shag lessons are offered at 7pm every Tuesday.”

Fat Harold's, N Myrtle Beach

Fat Harold’s, N Myrtle Beach

Unfortunately we were there on Friday night, so apart from one or two jives,  had to content ourselves with drinking our beer and watching the experienced dancers, some of whom were very good indeed.

It was immediately obvious that the term ‘beach bum’ had a different meaning in South Carolina from that listed in the Urban Dictionary. As we arrived, the DJ was playing a special song for a couple celebrating their Golden Wedding, and our fellow groovers, who ranged in age from 40-something to 80-something, were casually but smartly dressed, and apart from one ponytail, and one Bill Clinton look-alike, looked just like the sort of people you see dancing anywhere in the UK.

I had an anxious moment when, during Ian’s absence in the restroom, a gentleman asked me if I knew how to do the Carolina Shag, and it was a relief to be able to reply honestly that I didn’t. But we did have an interesting chat about similarities between the Shag, Eastern Swing, Jive and Cha Cha, and he told us about a big Shag Festival every Spring and Fall. Here’s a link to a video of the Junior Shag Competition.

After we left, and were waiting for our taxi, Ian noticed the Shaggers Hall of Fame stars on the pavement.

Pavement, North Myrtle Beach

Pavement, North Myrtle Beach

After the excitement of Fat Harold’s on a Friday night, boating seemed a bit mundane. We continued up the rather monotonous stretch of Pine Island Cut, then the waterway opened out just before the State Line.

Near the State Line

Near the State Line

It was a Saturday, and we’ve got used to the noise and speed.

Boy Racers

Boy Racers

Pleasure Cruise Boat

Pleasure Cruise Boat

This boat seemed typical of Myrtle Beach.

We had glimpses of the ocean at Shallotte Inlet.

Near Shallotte Inlet

Near Shallotte Inlet

Near Shallotte Inlet

Near Shallotte Inlet

Shallotte Inlet

Shallotte Inlet

 

We stopped overnight at Southport, another old settlement with some lovely houses.

Approaching Lockwood's Folly Inlet, near Southport

Approaching Lockwood’s Folly Inlet, near Southport

But the weather turned cool and cloudy, and as we left Southport the next day to head up the Cape Fear River, the wind was blowing one way and the tide pulling in the opposite direction, resulting in some quite heavy chop.

Leaving Southport in choppy water

Leaving Southport in choppy water

Things calmed down as we turned east along the cut leading towards Carolina Beach and our anchorage at Wrightsville Beach, but the sun stayed resolutely hidden all day.

Arriving at Wrightsville Beach in the gloom

Arriving at Wrightsville Beach in the gloom

The following day it was brighter, with blue sky over the Atlantic. As the waterway took a sharp right turn, Wrightsville Bascule Bridge, which the Captain had failed to notice when plotting the course the previous day, loomed ahead, looking very low. The sign next to the bridge indicated that it would only open on the hour. The chart claimed that the height of the bridge was 20′, which should have given us a clearance of 3′, but it didn’t look like that from where we were sitting.  However, as there was another 40 minutes to wait before the next opening, we circled round, weighed it up again and ploughed on.

Aaaagh! The bridge visible under the bimini

Aaaagh! The bridge visible just above the bimini

Approaching Wrightsville Bascule Bridge

Approaching Wrightsville Bascule Bridge

Not nearly so dramatic, but it reminded me of the time we arrived in New York on the QM2 in pitch darkness, and the Captain (the QM2’s Captain, that is) guided the huge ship under the Verrazano Suspension Bridge with two feet to spare.

We followed the waterway north eastwards towards Hampstead, with dense woodland to our left. To our right, the marshes, criss-crossed with creeks, stretched to the dunes and breakers of the ocean.

Figure Eight Island, looking towards the ocean

Figure Eight Island, looking towards the ocean

Pages Creek

Pages Creek

Figure Eight Island Swing Bridge

Figure Eight Island Swing Bridge

Near Butler Creek

Near Butler Creek

We had come to North Carolina six years ago, and stayed in this area.We’d looked at the waterway with interest, as at the time we had a share in a narrowboat and enjoyed the waterways at home. We never imagined then, that only a few years later, we’d return to the Intra-coastal Waterway in our own boat.

We moored at Harbor Village Marina, Hampstead and decided to hire a car and have a look round the area.

Carina moored at Harbor Village Marina, Hampstead

Carina moored at Harbor Village Marina, Hampstead

Wilmington, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and at one time the State Capital, was described as a hidden gem. It was also the home of USS North Carolina
After a good lunch of pulled pork and locally brewed beer at the Front St Brewery, we drove over the river to the Battleship Memorial.
USS North Carolina saw valiant service in WW2 and earned 15 battle stars, more than any other battleship. Although the technical aspects of the ship, and the scale of it, were very impressive, what made the exhibition so outstanding, and so moving, was the insight it gave into the sailors’ daily lives, and how they had responded under duress. The USS North Carolina was torpedoed on September 15th, 1942, with the loss of five men. The personal accounts of that day were harrowing.
The ship was decommissioned in 1947 and 10 years later, the US government announced that the ship would be sold for scrap. North Carolina school children raised $330,000 to save the ship and bring her home to North Carolina, as a memorial to North Carolinians from all the services who were killed in WW2.

USS North Carolina

USS North Carolina

USS North Carolina

USS North Carolina

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Part of the Engine Room

Part of the Engine Room

Control panel

Control panel

Sleeping quarters

Sleeping quarters

dentist's surgery

dentist’s surgery

dispensary

dispensary

Doctor's office

Doctor’s office

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

 

Afterwards, we drove round the historic district, following the African-American Heritage Trail. One of the houses listed was the Hubert Eaton House, a modest single-storey dwelling on Orange Street. Hubert Eaton was a doctor  and a good tennis player, who adopted the young Althea Gibson and coached her on the court in his back garden, before her victories in the Women’s Singles at Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958. Somehow though, it seemed a bit of an intrusion to photograph the little house, very obviously someone’s home, and for a tennis fan, it was enough to have been there.

 

 

Charleston to McClellanville and Georgetown

Charleston-McLellanville-Georgetown

It was still quite breezy as we left Charleston and headed round the bluff, into the waterway that separates Mount Pleasant from Sullivan Island. Sunday is a busy day for boaters, so we had the pleasure of being passed on both sides by nippy little craft, their bronzed owners waving cheerily, and creating large wakes. It was quite a change after our solitary days in the Lowcountry, but the Captain restrained himself from comment over the VHF radio.

Bridge between Sullivan Island and Isle of Palms

Bridge between Sullivan Island and Isle of Palms

Dee Wee Island and Palm Island, and Atlantic Ocean just visible

Dee Wee Island and Palm Island, and Atlantic Ocean just visible

Price's Creek

Price’s Creek

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As we passed Bull Bay, there were some lovely houses overlooking the water. The South still has very much its own identity and old loyalties stay strong. I’ve seen the Civil War referred to as The War of Northern Aggression. At Buck Hall, several of the houses were flying the Confederate flag.

Confederate flags outside houses at Buck Hall

Confederate flags outside houses at Buck Hall

Shrimper

Shrimper

When we got to McClellanville, Chandler, the dockhand, told us to look out for the visiting dolphin. On cue, he appeared on our starboard side, diving below the surface, but looking at us for long enough between dives for us to feel that he was really trying to communicate with us.

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Sadly, what he was trying to communicate was a request for food, and we hadn’t any. He was used to getting tit-bits from the shrimp boats. Eventually he swam off, and we could feel his disappointment.

McClellanville

McClellanville

Georgetown, on the confluence of the Sampit, Black, Waccamaw and Great Pee Dee Rivers was our next stop, and we took a day off the boating to absorb a flavour of its history, given its status as the third oldest settlement in South Carolina.

The slaves who came from Africa to South Carolina at the end of the 18th century brought with them many skills, one of which was rice cultivation. The cypress swamps were cleared to make ideal rice paddies, as the tidal rivers would flood the fields with fresh water. In the seven years it took for the cleared swamps to become productive, they grew indigo instead – the dye which was produced from this plant fetching a very high price in Europe. South Carolina quickly became very prosperous.

The docent at the Rice Museum, who gave a very good talk on her subject, said that after the Civil War, many liberated slaves continued to work for the plantation owners. South Carolina was the prime exporter of rice in the US, but towards the end of the 19th century, other states had started to grow rice and were able to mechanise production. This wasn’t possible in South Carolina because of the marshy ground. Then in the 1890’s a series of hurricanes flooded the fields with salt water, making them unusable for seven years.  That effectively ended cultivation for good, though there is still one plantation producing aromatic rice, and we have a bag in the cupboard being saved for a special occasion, as it smells so good.

Georgetown replaced rice cultivation with a steel works and a paper mill, so there is still some industrial landscape.

Clock Tower, housing the Rice Museum

Clock Tower, housing the Rice Museum

Kaminski Store, now the Rice Museum

Kaminski Store, now the Rice Museum

In the afternoon we were just in time to catch the last tour of the day at the Kaminski House, left to the city in 1972 by Julia Kaminski. Her husband’s family had been merchants in Georgetown and her husband Harold, aged 55, served in the US Navy and on the morning of December 7th 1941, alerted his senior officers to the presence of a Japanese submarine in Pearl Harbour. His report wasn’t taken seriously and in the aftermath and recriminations, Kaminski’s senior officers were discharged from the Navy.

Harold and Julia had no children, and  used their wealth to restore their 18th century house and furnish it with antiques, though there are some interesting 1950’s touches, like Julia’s pink and turquoise bathroom. Twenty years after Julia’s death, the trustees finally got round to having the curtains and the dressing table skirt in her bedroom cleaned. They found, sewn inside the skirt, a diamond brooch, which was valued at $76,000. Unfortunately, Julia had stipulated in her will that if anything from the house was sold, the proceeds would have to be donated to an animal charity. So although the trustees would have liked to have the money for repairs and maintenance to the house, the brooch remains in the safe box.

Another enjoyable visit – guided tours are something the Americans do exceptionally well.

Kaminski House, Georgetown, SC

Kaminski House, Georgetown, SC

Afterwards we strolled round the historic district.

Historic district, Georgetown

Historic district, Georgetown

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We had dinner on the verandah of the River Room, which served good local seafood, and with  the steelworks and paper mill lighting up the sunset.

At the River Room, Georgetown, SC

At the River Room, Georgetown, SC

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Charleston and the Lowcountry

There’s always something going on with an old boat, we’ve found out.

As it was pouring with rain the day after we’d toured Savannah, we decided to stay another night, do the shopping and the laundry, and get someone to fix the alternator.

Alex, the electrician, examined the alternator and pronounced it to be in terminal decline. The most cost effective remedy would be a new one. He delivered it the following lunch-time, slightly later than anticipated, inducing a fair bit of pointless impatience in the Captain, who wanted to be on our way while the tides were favourable.

But the sun shone, and at last we left Savannah behind, cruising through the Lowcountry marshes along the Wilmington River, across the Savannah River, past Daufuksie Island and finally anchoring at Bull Creek.

Thunderbolt Marina, Savannah, to Bull Creek

Thunderbolt Marina, Savannah, to Bull Creek

Thunderbolt Marina to Bull Creek

Crossing the Savannah River

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Reflections at Bull Creek

Reflections at Bull Creek

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Sunset at Bull Creek

Sunset from our anchorage at Bull Creek

The next day we covered 50 miles, to the Ashepoo River. Apart from the city of Beaufort, the country was largely wilderness, varying between small creeks and rivers and the wide expanses of Port Royal and St Helena Sounds.

Bull Creek to Ashepoo River

Bull Creek to Ashepoo River

Sunrise at Bull Creek

Sunrise at Bull Creek

Within the narrower waterways, the water was very calm, giving some beautiful reflections.

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On Thursday we moved on to within two miles of Charleston, via the South Edisto River, Watts Cut, a man-made canal linking the North and South Edisto Rivers,  the Wadmalaw River to the Stono River where we anchored again.

Ashepoo River to Stono River, Charleston

Ashepoo River to Stono River, Charleston

Entering Watts Cut

Entering Watts Cut

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On Friday we covered the short distance to Charleston Harbor Marina, on the east side of Charleston Harbour.

Stono River to Charleston Harbor Marina

 

We had a great view of the Antebellum houses of the Battery.

The Battery, Charleston

The Battery, Charleston

The Battery

The Battery

 

 

After days of seeing hardly any other boats, suddenly we were up against the big boys.

Not pushing our luck with this one

Not pushing our luck with this one

After docking at the marina we took the water taxi across the Cooper River and had lunch at the Fleet Landing, a former US Navy establishment overlooking the river, which is now a bar-restaurant with quite a buzz.

Having had  an unfortunate experience with collard greens last time we were in Charleston, I hadn’t been very adventurous about trying the Lowcountry cuisine, sticking to safe-sounding things like blackened salmon and chocolate pecan pie. It was time to move on and put the collard greens behind me, so I ordered the Shrimp Gumbo. This turned out to be a thick, brown, spicy soup with shrimps, Andalucian sausage, okra, celery and onions, with a dollop of boiled rice on the top. It was delicious.

Fleet Landing, Charleston

Fleet Landing, Charleston, and the US Customs House

We wandered through the lovely French Quarter.

French Quarter

French Quarter

French Quarter

French Quarter

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On Chalmers St we came upon the Old Slave Mart museum. After the international slave trade was abolished, the domestic trade continued away from the waterfront in these new premises. The museum contained few exhibits, mainly photographs and text, but told a chilling story of oppression.

For some light relief, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering up King Street, the main area for shops and restaurants, and returned to the waterfront on the free trolley to get the watertaxi back to the marina. Ian was a bit envious at the sight of some yachts racing in the harbour.

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Saturday was frighteningly windy – a steady 30 knots – so it was a good thing we had booked another night at the marina.

Windy conditions in Charleston Harbour

Windy conditions in Charleston Harbour

One downside of living on the boat is that mundane household tasks, which at home get fitted into the day around other, more enjoyable ways of spending one’s time, take on a life of their own, and have to  have time specially allocated to them.

So on Saturday morning, while Ian set to and repaired one of the loos, I carted two large bags of washing down to the marina laundry. It’s surprising just how long  washing machines and tumble dryers take when you have to sit there and supervise them, even with a good book to pass the time.

Food shopping is elevated from simply nipping into the Co-op or Waitrose for something on the way home, to devising a carefully estimated food plan for the next few days, and requiring a taxi ride in both directions.

Near to the marina was Patriot Point, the home of USS Yorktown and a renowned Maritime Museum, which Ian wanted to visit. I thought we should go to the museum first, and shop afterwards. Ian wanted to get the shopping out of the way.

By the time we’d got a taxi to West Marine for various boat essentials, looked at everything else in the shop, crossed the six-lane highway to Publix, bought the groceries, got the taxi back to the marina, transferred the groceries to a handcart, wheeled the stuff back to the boat, unloaded everything onto the boat and finally put everything away, lethargy had overtaken us.

So I’m slightly ashamed to say we gave USS Yorktown a miss, and had dinner on the boat and opened a bottle of champagne instead.

On Sunday, the winds had calmed down and we set off north to McClennanville, but Charleston was awesome.

USSYorktown, Patriot Point

USSYorktown, Patriot Point

Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge over the Cooper River

Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge over the Cooper River

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, Savannah

Georgia has answered that occasionally voiced question ‘Why can’t we just go round the States by car?’.
After we left Jekyll Island and passed the Sidney Lanier Bridge to St Simon’s Island, we saw no houses, no roads, no cars, no bridges, and no railways for almost two days, and almost no other boats, except for a few shrimping boats.

Jekyll Island to Crescent River

Jekyll Island to Crescent River

Sidney Lanier Bridge, St Simon's Island

Sidney Lanier Bridge, St Simon’s Island

Under heavy grey clouds we travelled through a maze of winding rivers and creeks, separated only by low grassy marshes, sometimes with a few trees, and other boats occasionally visible above the vegetation. The sun made but a single, brief appearance as we anchored for the night at Crescent River.

Shrimp Boat

Shrimp Boat

Afternoon tea at Crescent River

Afternoon tea at Crescent River

The next day we went on to Kilkenny.
Crescent River to Kilkenny

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Arriving at Kilkenny Marina

Arriving at Kilkenny Marina

Kilkenny is only a small place, and we went with some trepidation to the only restaurant, Marker 107, a reference to the nearby Intracoastal Waterway marker. But the food was very good, and the restaurant just busy enough to make you feel that you had gone to a popular place, without the staff being too rushed to give the sort of great service that you quickly get used to in the States.

We finally made it to Savannah on Saturday afternoon. It’s possible to dock in the city centre, but the received wisdom is that it can be noisy at night, and sleep can be disturbed by large wakes from the big boats and ships passing up the Savannah River – Savannah is the second largest container port on the east coast. So we stayed at Thunderbolt Marina, about four miles out of town, for 3 nights.

Kilkenny to Thunderbolt Marina, Savannah

Kilkenny to Thunderbolt Marina, Savannah

On Sunday we decided to take the bus into Savannah, but got lost trying to find the stop. We saw a man in his driveway, doing the sort of things that men do in their driveways on Sunday mornings, and asked him the way. He spotted Ian’s BoatUS cap, and insisted on taking us in his car, not, it soon became apparent, to the bus stop, but right into the city centre. We found we had in common not only boating, but travelling, daughters and grandchildren too, and we gave him our address in the hope that if he and his family are ever in England they will look us up.

There are lots of tours you can do in Savannah, but we do things the less easy way, looking things up on the internet and consulting the Lonely Planet Guide, and immediately marking ourselves out as tourists by our constant reference to our maps and our smartphones. ‘Hey, where y’all from?’, though kindly meant, and asked with obvious interest, was repeated so often that I began to wonder whether we seemed not just foreign, but odd too. The answer to the initial query has sparked discussions ranging from Hadrian’s Wall and What the Romans Did for You (the nightwatchman at Thunderbolt Marina) to Why would the Scots ever want to leave the UK (William, who gave us the lift to Savannah).

William had dropped us on the waterfront, facing the Savannah River, where the old warehouses line the street. They’re gift shops and restaurants now, but haven’t been over-gentrified and still look like warehouses. The streets are paved with cobbles, made from the ballast from the ships that used to come to Savannah.

Back of the riverside warehouses, Savannah

Back of the riverside warehouses, Savannah

Riverside Warehouses

Riverside Warehouses

HS Columbia arriving at Savannah

HS Columbia arriving at Savannah

Savannah Cotton Exchange

Savannah Cotton Exchange

We walked up from the river to the historic district. Savannah was founded in 1733 by James Oglethorpe, a British General, and his design for the city was based on the 21 squares which remain today. Shaded by old trees, the beautiful houses and elegant streets and squares are a joy to wander through.

Johnson Square

Johnson Square

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Modern life is never far away though, and we stopped for a coffee just off Ellis Square, where there is a bronze statue of Johnny Mercer (‘Moon River’) at an establishment called Wild Wings. As we sat on the verandah, a small crowd gathered, and a long table set up. We gathered from our server that we were about to witness a Wing-Eating competition, run by a local broadcasting company. Excitement (amongst the onlookers) mounted as a cameraman, a front man and a young woman assistant arrived. The contestants, who strangely looked quite normal, were two young men and a young woman, and they had to eat as many fried chicken wings as they could, in two minutes. This raised the question, in our minds anyway, of how to define a completely eaten chicken wing, and perhaps more importantly, why anyone would want the prize (a year’s supply of fried chicken wings).

Wing-eating competition

Wing-eating competition

We continued our exploration.

Madison Square, Savannah

Madison Square, Savannah

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From the many historic houses in Savannah that I would have liked to visit, I chose the Mercer-Williams House in Monterey Square, but on the way there we had a diversion to the Admissions Office of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). William had told us how it had developed since being founded in 1978, and now has campuses in Atlanta, Hongkong and France, and how it has contributed to Savannah’s renaissance. There was a small display on the ground floor, and the lady on the desk took us upstairs for a special view of the spectacular conference room.

Conference room, Admissions Centre, SCAD

Conference room, Admissions Centre, SCAD

Exhibit in the entrance hall, Admissions Centre, SCAD

Exhibit in the entrance hall, Admissions Centre, SCAD

The Mercer-Williams house was the scene of the killing in the 1980s of a young man, Danny Hansford, by Jim Williams, a well-known antique dealer who had restored many houses in Savannah and used the house both as his home and a base for his business of antique restoration. He was tried four times for murder, before being acquitted, then died in 1990. The story was documented in John Berendt’s ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ and I wish I had read the book before visiting the house, which is now the home of Jim Williams’ sister. It is beautifully decorated and furnished, but photography isn’t allowed. Our young guide brimmed with enthusiasm not only for the house and its contents, but also for his employer, Jim Williams’ sister,and her devotion to maintaining the property as he would have wished. But there are suggestions on the internet that this is possibly a distortion of the truth, and that the relationship between Williams and his sister was far from harmonious. So the house retains its mystery.

Monterey Square and the Mercer-Williams House

Monterey Square and the Mercer-Williams House

Monterey Square

Monterey Square

Monterey Square

Monterey Square

Chatham Square

Chatham Square

Ian had noticed that the Georgia State Railroad Museum was only a few blocks away from the Mercer-Williams house, so it was hard to counter his suggestion that we visit it. The engines were really quite impressive, and I did learn what the tank (as in Thomas the Tank Engine) was actually for. And because our guide was a few minutes late, he let us ride on the turntable for a quarter turn, as a privilege.

At the Georgia State Railroad Museum

At the Georgia State Railroad Museum

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Afterwards we took the excellent, fare-free DOT shuttle express back to the waterfront area, reconnoitreing somewhere to eat in the evening. Outside Tondee’s Tavern, the doorman’s follow-up question to ‘So, where y’all from?’ was ‘So, why do you have the double helix on your t-shirt?’ Impressed with his powers of observation, I explained all about jeansforgenes.org, and another wide-ranging conversation ensued, after which we really needed a beer and went in for a swift one.

Outside Tondee's Tavern and my jeansforgenes.org t-shirt

Outside Tondee’s Tavern and my jeansforgenes.org t-shirt

Seated at the bar, we were entertained by another competition, this time televised log-sawing. Truly.

We’d hoped to find some live music, but Sunday wasn’t a good night for it. But as we walked through City Market after our meal, there was a group playing to a small audience outside Wild Wings, where we had started our morning. A young street dancer began moving to the music, and a 70-something lady joined him. Ian’s anxiety that the temptation to join in might prove too much for me was palpable, but they were playing reggae, which isn’t really my style.