Saturday, July 11, 2009

Savannah, GA

Friday, July 3 - Saturday, July 11, 2009
On the road again... We left St. Simons Island at 8:15 this morning for the 45nm trip to Walburg Creek in St. Catherine's Sound. We're on our way to Savannah, GA, and Walburg lets us break up the 70nm trip into two day-trips. Today's journey would've been uneventful, if not for our attempt to shortcut the St. Simons channel; the ship channel goes three miles offshore to the southeast, while our route is to the northeast. Our chart said we had a 10-13' deep section through the shoals about a mile offshore, and we went for it. 20 minutes later, we were stopped by fishing boat who hailed us on the VHF that there was a sandbar behind them and we had to turn back. Crap! We ended up losing over an hour backtracking and going through the channel, not to mention our wounded pride. :-)

This is our first offshore run since the Lake Worth to Jacksonville, FL, run, and we (or more importlantly, the kitties) are a little out of practice. The 2' seas that were forecasted are actually closer to 4' waves, with a few 6' waves thrown in for good measure. Tawny has done pretty well, but Tux isn't at all happy with us. We're able to sail for a couple of hours, but the winds die down to 3-5 knots by noon. So much for sailing! We motor-sail for a while, and finally lower the sails entirely. We arrive at our anchorage in Walburg Creek at 6:30pm after what feels like a very long day (we know - bring out the tiny violins again!), and set our anchor in 19' of water at high tide (keeping in mind we have 8' tides here). We're the only ones anchored in Walburg Creek, and it's a beautiful spot. There are marshes to the west of us, and houses hidden in the trees to the east. Dolphins have greeted us on arrival, and we've got the beginning of a gorgeous sunset mirrored on the water. We're loving this anchorage!

Saturday morning, we leave Walburg Creek at 7:30am. We'd love to spend more time here, but we're on a schedule for a change! We really want to get to Thunderbolt Marina, 6 miles south of Savannah, in enough time to get tied up, wind down, and make it into downtown for dinner and fireworks. It's only 15nm from the St. Catherine's Sound buoy to the Wassaw Sound (Thunderbolt) buoy, but the distances inbound and outbound turn it into a 7-hour trip. We arrive at Thunderbolt Marina to find 5 power boats along the face dock where we're supposed to tie up, so we sit tight in the channel for about 30 minutes until the group leaves. Rene's getting pretty frustrated, but at least the currents aren't too awful. We manage to find an open spot at the end of the pier that works temporarily, and the marina guy helps walk our lines forward while Rene motors to the opposite end of the dock once the rest of the crowd thins out. We're behind a beautiful Elko (wooden power boat), and there's a 60' cruiser on the opposite side of the dock. Once again, we have electricity, showers, and laundry, and the marina recommends a bunch of places in Savannah that we can visit. Life is good!

That evening, we grab a taxi and head into Savannah. The marina has a stack of restaurant cards, one of which points us to the Moon River Restaurant and Brewpub. Remember the beer Rene fell in love with in St. Simons Island? It's the same one, and it just happens to be across the street from the riverfront - scene of the fireworks later on tonight. It must be a sign... The cabbie is a real character, and curses like a sailor (worse, even!). He drops us off on Bay Street near the restaurant, and we spend an hour wandering under live oaks and Spanish moss, followed by a stroll along the riverfront to scope out a good viewing spot for the show. Eventually we get back to the restaurant, enjoy a microbrew and something off of their "special (read "limited") July 4th menu", and are back at the riverfront with a front row seat by 8pm. The riverfront is an absolute zoo, and we're having a blast people-watching. There's a free city dock along the waterfront; some private boats have tied up to the dock, while others are just rafting out in the river. The police come by to remove any dockside spectators who aren't on a boat, but pretty much leave the rest of us alone. By 9:30pm, the show is on...ooh, ahh! The fireworks are awesome, but the real show begins after they're over. Question: how do you get 100,000 people from the riverfront to the street level 50' above, with only 2-3 cut-throughs in the general area? Answer: moooooo! (That's my cow impression.) Since there's absolutely no way we're going to find a taxi in the next couple of hours, we have a nightcap at Churchill's, a great English pub next to Moon River Restaurant. We try to find a taxi around 11pm, but the traffic is still gridlocked, and there aren't any taxis to be found anywhere. We finally decide to walk to a Marriott a bit outside of town, thinking we'll have a better chance of getting a taxi away from the throngs of people. Rene manages to get through to a taxi company after a ton of busy signals, and we're told that someone should (might?) be there in 45 minutes to an hour. Hmmm...this isn't quite working out as planned! We hang out in the Marriott lobby for 20 minutes, and a van arrives to drop off a load of people. Rene has a little chat with the guy, and we're on our way home!

Sunday morning we get another taxi to take us downtown for the start of our touristy day. First stop: the Maritime Museum. Our next cabbie is just as crazy as the first one, and he even picks up an extra passenger partway through our ride. (He gave us the guy's $5 fare though!) The Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum is housed in Scarbrough House, which was built in 1819 for William Scarbrough, the principal owner of the steamship "Savannah". And what a deal...if you buy the Oglethorpe trolley tickets from the museum, the admission to the museum is free. Trust us - the museum is amazing, and it's worth going to regardless of the cost. The Maritime Museum renovated the house in 1996-1997 (remaining as close to the original house specs as possible), and moved in shortly after. There are some amazingly intricate ship models, as well as paintings and maritime antiques. The museum has a number of differently-themed rooms, including "Life at Sea", "Steamers", and "Maritime Disasters", just to name a few. The artifacts in the "Life at Sea" room are incredible and really give us a sense of the people who manned the ships; a few notables include:
--Ceramic rolling pins given to wives/sweethearts that were put above the fireplace before the sailor left on his voyage; if the rolling pin fell off its spot and broke on the floor, this was taken as a sign that the sailor had died at sea.
--Ceramic smiling cats that were put in brothel windows; if the cat's eyes were green, the brothel was open for business; red eyes meant the brothel was closed or policemen were nearby; if cat's back was turned, the brothel was closed.
--Beautiful ivory carvings made by sailors to stave off boredom

If you're interested in more information about the museum, feel free to visit their website at

We could spend a lot more time in the museum, but we finally tear ourselves away to hop on the Oglethorpe trolley tour. We learn that all of the company's tour guides must pass a test covering the city's history, and most go above and beyond to give their customers a memorable experience. Our guide is no exception, and we're told that Savannah was founded in 1733 as a military outpost and debtors' colony. As a military outpost, the city was placed half-way between St. Augustine and Charleston; the debtors' colony stemmed from the fact that England's prisons were becoming overcrowded by non-violent offenders, including those who couldn't pay their debts. Among the 21 founders was James Oglethorpe, who designed the city around a series of compass (north-south-east-west) grids, intertwined with shaded squares; 22 of the original 24 squares still exist, and we saw nearly all of them! The city is rife with history, and has been visited by famous names, both past and present. You could probably spend weeks in Savannah and not see and learn everything, but here are a few highlights from our tour. Please note: stories and dates are based on our tour guide's stories; we've checked a few things on line, and there may have been a few "creative liberties" taken by the guide!
--George Washington stayed at a tavern on Telfair Square in 1791. A bank now sits where the tavern used to be, but we still enjoy the historic aspect...
--Nathaniel Greene, Washington's second in command, moved to Savannah in 1789. He was given a plantation as a retirement gift, but lived here for only 60 days before dying of heatstroke (he's buried in one of the city's squares). Greene's widow later met Eli Whitney and brought him to Savannah, where he created the cotton gin. As our guide pointed out, "gin" is short for "engine" (duh); one tourist actually asked where she could try some of this "cotton gin". (Uh, tonic with that?!)
--William T. Sherman arrived in Savannah in Dec. 1864 at the end of his "march to the sea"; having just wiped out Atlanta, he was prepared to burn Savannah to the ground but felt the city was too beautiful to destroy. Instead, Sherman sent Abraham Lincoln a telegram giving Savannah to the president as a Christmas gift. Sherman stayed in a house here for 6 weeks, and the house is thought to be haunted.
--Reconstruction began in Savannah in April 1865, at the end of the Civil War. Savannah's Victorian district, full of gothic gingerbread houses, was built in the 1870s next to 22-acre Forsyth Park.
--The Catholic cathedral, St. John the Baptist, is in the French Gothic Revival style; built between 1870-1890, it was nearly completed when the spires caught fire and destroyed the entire church. It had to be completely rebuilt and finally opened in 1900.
--The Gothic Mickve Israel Synagogue is the 3rd oldest Jewish congregation in the country
--The old dueling ground, which was used 1733-1877, lies right next to Colonial Park Cemetery (the oldest cemetery in GA). You'll find two names on a duelist's headstone: the name of the deceased, and the name of the one who won the duel.
--Savannah's Colonial district, built in the 1780s & 1790s, is near Greene Square. The district includes the 2nd African Baptist Church, which is the site where all free slaves were granted "40 acres & a mule" after the Civil War; it's also the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. first delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech as a practice speech. (Side note: to give you an idea of housing prices in Savannah's Colonial district: a 200 sq. ft. house is currently for sale for $300,000!)
--Savannah is home of the oldest art museum in the South; it's now housed in the original Telfair private home, built 1818.
--The Mercer House was built in 1860 for the great-grandfather of Johnny Mercer; the house (and Savannah, for many readers) was made famous by the 1994 book "Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil"
--In Columbia Square sits the Isaiah Davenport house, built in 1815. Credited with the start of Savannah's preservation movement, this was the first house to be saved from being torn down in 1956. Apparently one of the family cats still haunts the place; an orange and white tabby can sometimes be seen wandering the grounds, then walks through the wall and disappears.
--The "Waving Girl" statue can be seen in the riverfront park. The statue honors Florence Martus, who in 1905 at the age of 15, lost both of her lighthouse keeper-parents to pneumonia. Florence took the duty of lighthouse keeper upon herself, and came out every day for 40 years to wave to passing ships and sailors.
--Savannah has a huge Irish population. The Irish were originally banned in Savannah, which was an Anglican-only colony. The restriction didn't last, and the city now has the second-largest St. Patrick's Day celebration in the U.S. With somewhere between 400,000-700,000 attendees, the parade goes through the historic district and includes 300 floats.
--Downtown is 50' above the river; you must go down cobblestone hills made of merchant ship's ballast stones brought over from England to reach the river.
--Food Network chef Paula Deen's original restaurant, "Lady & Sons", is in Savannah. (It's already fully booked for lunch and dinner by 10am.)
--Over 70 movies have been filmed, in part, in Savannah, including "Forest Gump" and "Glory"

Savannah also prides itself on being one of the most haunted cities in the U.S. As they say, "when in Rome...". Of COURSE we have to check it out! Rather than join one of the bus tours, we decide to take a walking tour and haunted pub crawl. The "Creepy Crawl" starts in the Six Pence Pub at 8pm. Since we're big fans of pubs in general, we figure this is a great opportunity to have dinner at the Six Pence before the tour. Stuffed with cottage pie and steak & Guinness pie in puff pastry, we meet our guide, Anna, shortly before the tour begins. The tour costs $15, which covers the stories; we get a plastic souvenir cup for our drinks which are, of course, extra! After introductions all around, 12 of us go in search of ghosts, goblins, and spirits (a.k.a. "beer"). From the Six Pence Pub, we head to Wright Square, which is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Alice Riley. Alice Riley was an indentured servant who arrived in America in 1733. She was sent to work for William Wise, along with her husband, Richard White. Legend has it that Wise was a horrible man to work for, and each day he ordered the two servants to bathe and groom him. In March 1734 Richard and Alice had all they could take. While grooming Mr. Wise that day, they held his head in a bucket of water until he drowned. They fled the house, but were eventually caught hiding out on the Isle of Hope. Both Alice Riley and Richard White were sentenced to death for Mr. Wise's murder. Richard White was hanged first, but Alice begged the townspeople to spare her well as that of her unborn child - fathered by William Wise. They waited eight months before hanging her...until after the baby was born. Alice was hanged on January 19, 1735, and her body was left hanging on the gallows for three days. Supposedly people have seen her ghost running through the square, and pregnant woman and mothers are most susceptible. Also, many claim she is the reason no Spanish moss grows around the spot of her death, which, as legend has it, will not grow where innocent blood has been spilled.

From Wright Square, we head to the 17 Hundred 90 Inn & Restaurant. The 17 Hundred 90 Inn is the oldest hotel in Savannah, and is still in operation. The inn's room 204 is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Anna Powers, a young Irish girl brought to America to marry a rich, older man. Her marriage wasn't everything she'd hoped it to be, and her husband forced her into a life of servitude in his pub. She eventually fell in love with a visiting sailor. They planned to run away together, but the sailor's cohorts unknowingly spilled the details of the escape plan while having a drink in what turned out to be Anna's husband's bar; her husband was the bartender! When he found out about Anna's plans to run away with the sailor, Anna's husband locked her in what's now room 204. As her lover's ship sailed away, Anna's husband saw her look of sadness and became so jealous/enraged that he went to her room, beat her horribly, and threw her out the window. Supposedly she still haunts the room where she died, and guests must sign a waiver to stay in room 204.

The nearby Kehoe House, an 1890 Queen Anne Victorian, is now one of the top bed & breakfasts in Savannah, and at one point we considered staying there. Unknown to most guests (and certainly to us) is the fact that Kehoe House was also a funeral parlor for most of the 20th century. The ghost stories actually revolve around the Kehoe family's twins, who supposedly died while playing in a chimney in one of the upstairs rooms. Guests on the second floor have heard children’s laughter and small footsteps running down the hall. Whether the legend is true or not, the fireplaces have all been blocked up and are decorated with angels, and today children are strongly discouraged from staying at the inn.

The Pirates' House Restaurant was originally mentioned as an inn in Robert Louis Stevenson's book "Treasure Island". Back in the days when pirates were frequent visitors to Savannah, a tunnel system was built that lead from the basement of the Pirates' House bar to the docks. Pirates would find unsuspecting barmates who'd had too much to drink, and would carry them through the tunnels to the dock and put them on the next boat out of port. A brick wall was later built to seal the tunnel entrance, and part of the tunnel has caved, but it's thought that the tunnel is still haunted by sailors who were "kidnapped" from the Pirates' House and forced into ship's servitude.

Back on the tour, the weather has turned frightening itself; as we try to leave the Pirates' House, we see lightning nearby and it starts pouring. We go back into the Pirates' House for awhile, but head outside as the rain lets up a bit. About half of our group gives up, but the rest of us brave the weather for the rest of the tour. From the Pirates' House, we walk down a dark residential street past the Hampton-Lilibridge house, once owned by antiques dealer and historic house restorer Jim Williams (also made famous/infamous in the book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"). During the houses' restoration in the 1960s, an empty 9' crypt made of tabby (a mixture of lime and oyster shells) was found under the house, and strange things began happening. Workmen heard screams and people walking around upstairs. One worker went to an upper story to investigate a loud noise in a room that was supposed to be empty. When he failed to return, his coworkers went to find him and discovered him lying facedown on the floor. Terrified, he told them that he'd walked into the room and felt as if he had plunged into ice-cold water and was unable to move from the floor. As soon as the others arrived, the feeling stopped and he was able to move again. Even Jim Williams said that some nights he felt a force pressing down on his chest and heard the sound of footsteps walking next to his bed. Williams ultimately had an exorcism performed by a bishop of the Diocese of Savannah in the early 1960s, but more ghosts appeared within a few years. A couple with young children now occupies the house, and passers-by can sometimes see the image of a woman standing on the gabled roof.

By now it's really pouring, and we rush through the streets to Reynolds Square and the Old Pink House Restaurant. This is supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Savannah, and we definitely want to have dinner here when we go back to the city. Even it, it seems, has a ghost story to tell! The Old Pink House was originally owned by James Habersham, Jr., who allegedly hanged himself in the basement (what's now the wine cellar) in 1799. His ghost is now said to haunt the restaurant's Planters Tavern; his portrait hangs in the bar, and patrons have mentioned seeing someone that looks just like the man in the picture standing near the bar's fireplace. Even restaurant employees have seen the ghost - one woman finally quit after being hit in the head by wine bottles every time she passed a rack in the cellar. As our guide told us, maybe she reminded Habersham of his adulterous wife!

We end the Creepy Crawl at Isaac's on Drayton Street. Isaac's bar was built in London in the 1700s, and eventually found its way to Savannah. Isacc's ghost story is of a bar fight gone wrong; a visiting Brit challenged a local Irishman to a fight, and the Brit bludgeoned the Irishman to death. The Brit was hanged on the spot and buried in the cellar, and his ghost can sometimes be heard screaming in the cellar.

All in all, we've had a fantastic time on the tour, and would recommend it to anyone visiting Savannah!

Monday morning we take a bike ride over to Bonaventure Cemetery, which is only a mile from our marina in Thunderbolt. Bonaventure has been a public cemetery since the 1800s, and it's amazing to wander the grounds and get a sense of the family history there. Most plots in the oldest section cover multiple generations, and we see many old Savannah family names intertwined as marriages occurred over the years. Bonaventure is also the final resting place of a few famous names, including Johnny Mercer, songwriter of over 1100 songs including "Moon River", "Hooray for Hollywood", "You Must've Been a Beautiful Baby", "Jeepers, Creepers", and "That Old Black Magic"; Conrad Aiken, poet and novelist who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1929; General Duncan Clinch (remember Fort Clinch from Fernandina Beach); and Edward Telfair, first governor elected under the Constitution of Georgia. One of the most often-visited gravesites in Bonaventure is the statue of "Little Gracie", who died at the age of six in 1889. John Walz, Savannah's pre-eminent sculptor, created her likeness from a photo shortly after her death. There's been some damage done to the statue (her nose has been chipped off), so an iron gate now stands around her gravesite.

Well, it's finally time to leave our marina. The people there have been kind enough to let us stay until later this afternoon, at which point we'll anchor a mile away in Herb River. We can dinghy to another marina in Turner Creek that's next to a Publix supermarket, but otherwise we'll be on the hook for a few days. We end up staying longer than planned since a bunch of thunderstorms come rolling through on a daily basis until the end of the week. Saturday morning we're finally ready to leave Thunderbolt for the 25nm trip up to Hilton Head. 'Til next time...

There were so many gorgeous pictures to shoot in Savannah, and we can't possibly include them all in the blog. Please click on the link to enjoy the rest of the pics for this Blog chapter:

Friday, July 10, 2009

Jekyll Island - Brunswick - St. Simons Island, GA

June 29 - July 2, 2009
Monday morning we leave Cumberland Island to make the 6-hour trip through the ICW to Jekyll Island, Georgia. Jekyll Island was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1947, and strict regulations exist that insure only 35% of the island will ever be developed. The island used to be a playground for the "rich and famous", and visitors can still tour vacation cottages once owned by Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Morgan, and Pulitzer in - what else? - "Millionaire's Village". 33 of the original cottages still exist, and the former clubhouse is now the exclusive Jekyll Island Club Hotel, where people still play croquet on the front lawn.

We decide to anchor near the Jekyll Island Marina (as well as the free boat ramp - perfect dinghy landing), and plan to stay for two nights so we can go ashore and play tourist. Unfortunately, this turns out to be one of those stops where NOTHING goes right! We've read that you need to be careful anchoring in this area since there are a lot of shallow spots, as well as a few permanently-moored boats. We find what we think is a nice spot, out of the channel in front of a small creek that goes nowhere (so no local traffic), in "plenty" of water and far enough away from the boat dock to be out of the way. That afternoon, we find ourselves stuck in the mud (yes, grounded) at low tide. High tide isn't until midnight, but we get enough water to come loose around 11pm. At that point, we re-anchor in the dark; we're further out in the channel than we'd like to be, but we think we're far enough from land to be out of danger and will move again once the sun comes up. Or not... when we wake up the next morning, we discover that a) our anchor has dragged, b) we're now closer to shore than we were yesterday, and c) we see land pretty close to our stern. Oh yes, let's add a "d" while we're at it: d) we're grounded so deep that we take in black mud when we flush the head. Yuck!!! The strange thing is that we're perfectly upright; normally if we start to sink into the mud, we heel (i.e. tilt) to one side or another. It becomes pretty obvious when the pictures hanging in the cabin start angling sideways! This time, though, we're perfectly straight. It turns out the mud here is extremely soft, and we've sunk straight down into the muck. Wouldn't you know, we're not quite at low tide yet, so it'll get worse before it gets better. Before we know it, we have NO water behind the boat and the sea birds are walking - not swimming - alongside our boat. (Sorry we have no pictures of the event - we were a little preoccupied!) We decide our only option is to run our secondary anchor out in the dinghy to give us some leverage and keep us from going further into shore once the water returns. Of course, our dinghy is currently on land behind the boat! Rene steps off the stern to retrieve the dinghy and ends up thigh-deep in the mud. He's able to get far enough to hand Stacy the dinghy line, but has to turn back before he sinks completely. We pull the dinghy into shallow water and finally tie it to the bow. Rene is able to lower himself into the dinghy, and we lower the anchor into it so he can take it out into the channel. That done, all that's left is to wait for high 4pm today. So much for exploring Jekyll Island! By 12:30pm we're still firmly stuck and aren't getting any depth readings. We're afraid to turn on the engine or generator because - based on the head intake - it's likely that all of our intakes are blocked with mud. Rene decides to go snorkeling; there's no visibility in the water around us, so he ties a line from the bow cleat to his waist, dons a mask and snorkel, and goes under the boat to clear the intakes and depth gauge, check the rudder and keel, and check the prop - all by feel. It works, because soon after we're able to see our depth - all 4'6" of it. (Just a reminder - Pipe Muh Bligh draws 5'2". This isn't good!) By 2pm, we decide it's time to try the engine. Our rudder and wing keel are still well in the mud, but our prop is clear and we need to figure out whether we can get ourselves out of here or call Tow Boat again. On the plus side, we've just updated our coverage to "unlimited". :-) We start the engine, Rene heads forward to keep the secondary anchor tight, and suddenly we're loose! We idle out to the middle of the channel where there's plenty of water to bring up our anchors. Just as Stacy puts the boat in neutral, there's a put-put-put, and the engine dies. What?? Rene runs back, checks the gauges, and tries again...nothing. No engine. We drop anchor in the middle of the channel to keep from grounding again, and put out a securite (VHF call) to a shrimp boat coming towards us in the channel to let him know that we have no engine and can't get out of his way. That done, we try once again to start the engine. Rene gets it started in neutral, but it dies as soon as he puts it into idle forward. Finally, a light bulb goes off. Remember that line that was tied to Rene's waist while he went under the boat? In all the excitement of getting out of the mud, we never raised the line! The line was just long enough to go under the boat and get wound around the prop. Had it been 2' shorter, it never would've happened. Fortunately we were only in idle for a few seconds, so there's no real damage to the prop. Rene dons the snorkel gear again and goes under the boat to cut the line. Once it's free, the engine starts up again with no problems. You can't imagine how relieved we are...not to mention completely OVER Jekyll Island! Rather than try to find yet another spot to anchor and potentially get stuck in again, we decide to cut our losses and head for Brunswick. Brunswick is less than 10 miles from Jekyll Island via the ICW, and while we've been warned not to go through this section of the ICW at lower tides, we're about 90 minutes away from high tide. We have plenty of water under us and have an uneventful trip to Brunswick. We've already talked to the marina, and they have a slip waiting for us. Lines and fenders at the ready, Rene backs us into the wide, floating slip like a pro. The dockmaster grabs our lines to help secure us, and we're all set. We hook up the power cord, shower, and go in search of our traditional first-night-in-town dinner: PIZZA! The marina tells us that if we like traditional Naples-style pizza, we have to go Arte's...yes, the same guys who had the great brick oven pizza in Fernandina Beach. We order a Quatro Stagione ("four seasons"). Normally this involves a quarter section each of mushrooms, ham, artichokes, and olives; in this case, everything was mixed together, and we decide that this is the best pizza we've had since Tuscany. The pie is so massive that we have plenty for dinner plus lunch the next day. Back on the boat, we're so thrilled to have a trouble-free spot for the night that we decide to stay for two nights. Ahh, luxury!

First and foremost, we have to say that we love Brunswick Landing Marina. While our 2008 cruising guide mistakenly said there was a pool (there isn't), the folks working there are friendly and helpful, they have a great "captain's lounge" with a/c, a book exchange, and cable TV, the bathrooms and showers are really nice, and the laundry machines are FREE to anyone docked there! Keeping in mind that we haven't been able to do laundry in 3 weeks, this is an absolute godsend. We manage to do 6 loads of laundry in the 40 hours that we're there! After laundry, our first task is a provisioning run. Having been "on the hook" with no grocery stores in sight since Fernandina Beach, we're getting a bit low on essentials (i.e. water, milk, and beer). After arming ourselves with coffee and pastries at Daddy Cate's coffee shop, we make the hot and humid 1.8-mile bike ride to Winn-Dixie. We try not to go too crazy since we have to carry everything back in bags on the bikes (with the heaviest bag on Rene's back), but we still go overboard. We finally make it back to the boat, enjoy the air conditioning, and grab a quick bite of lunch. Afterwards, we go back out to see the historic downtown area, which consists primarily of 10 blocks of a main street. Sadly, about a third of the businesses have shut down; we aren't sure if this is recent, but the economy seems to have hit the area hard. Still, the businesses that we do visit are really nice and the people are incredibly friendly and helpful. We stop in at True Vine, a wine, beer, and gourmet cheese/snack shop and find a couple of good whites and a tripel beer. Best of all, our host gives us a card for a wine tasting event at Cargo Portside Grill. We've heard about this place from our marina's dockmaster, and the "wine guy" confirms what a fantastic restaurant it is. On a side note, Rene and his sister-in-law want to give family portraits to Rene's mom for her birthday, and we've been trying to find a time where we can "clean up" (with actual make-up and everything!) enough to take a picture. Hopefully our sailing friends understand what we mean when we say that boaters typically aren't "picture-worthy" (at least not for one that'll be hung on Mom's wall) after a day on the boat! Anyway, this gives us a chance to have a special evening out, a great meal, and a chance to take a good picture for Mom. (Note to Stacy's mom - I'll send you the picture, too!) We decide to skip the wine tasting beforehand and make an 8pm reservation at Cargo Portside for our first "fancy" dinner since Jacksonville (maybe Key West, depending on which one of us you talk to). Even though it's Wednesday night, the place is packed. After being seated at the last free table, we take a minute to check out the restaurant. What a neat little place! While it's supposedly the best restaurant in Brunswick, it's still relaxed enough that you can wear anything from shorts to business casual and beyond. The wine list is impressive, and the menu is spectacular. We each find 3-4 dishes that are really difficult to choose between, not including the highly recommended "lobster mac n cheese"; the latter combines European cheeses, wine, butter, garlic, etc. with pasta and is served with an entire lobster tail. It's supposed to be fantastic. We finally decide to start with an ahi duo: slices of seared ahi rubbed with Chinese Five Spice seasoning and sashimi with wasabi, ginger, & sticky rice. Dinner was a garlic & peppercorn rack of lamb with asagio mashed potatoes for Stacy, and a cubano boneless pork chop with mashed sweet potatoes and roasted chipotle lentils for Rene. We go with the wine guy's recommendation and order a crianza (Spanish red) to go along with the meal. Everything turns out to be absolutely amazing all around! We've enjoyed it so much that we'll make a special stop in Brunswick again just to go to Cargo Portside, either on our southbound leg later this summer or on the trip up to the Chesapeake next year.

As much as we hate to leave Brunswick, we head out Thursday morning to our next stop, St. Simons Island. Sticking with the day-hopping idea, St. Simons is 5-10 miles from Brunswick. The anchorage has strong currents, but it's big, deep, and has a $5 dinghy dock available at nearby Golden Isles Marina. As we pull into the anchorage, a trimaran behind us calls to us; it turs out they're from Kemah, too! The trimaran ketch "Ultra" and her owners used to run a party boat charter out of South Shore Harbor, not too far from Watergate. The owners left Texas in late March and have been cruising ever since. They're really helpful, and give us a few pointers about visiting ashore on St. Simons Island. After a quick visit, we and the bikes dinghy to the marina for a tie-up, and then we're on our way to the Village Pier area at the south end of St. Simons. The ride is bloody hot, but there are nice bike trails and enough shade to keep us going. The Village Pier area turns out to be a great stop - lots of tourist shops, a few places to eat, a fishing pier that's heavily in use by locals catching crabs, and the St. Simons lighthouse. We spend a few hours touring, taking pictures, and having a quick bite at a great little cafe/pub. It has a dining area, a coffee bar, and a little pub. We try a Cajun shrimp po' boy, and Rene discovers Moon River IPA (a Savannah microbrew - very yummy). We're not sure that we'd find enough to do to spend a lot of time there, but it's perfect for an afternoon visit.

Once we're back on the boat, we manage to get the bikes secure and lift the dinghy back on its davits. Within 30 minutes, we see thunderstorms and heavy rains over the land to our west. As awful as it looks, it doesn't appear to be heading our way. Who are we kidding? Before we know it, rain starts pouring down. We manage to get the windows closed just in time, and then the wind hits. We're heeled over hard to port, and things go flying. Rene tries to secure a few things in the cockpit, and Stacy manages to grab the french press and two bottles of wine sitting on the counter just before they crash to the floor. The wind calms down for a few minutes, and then we're heeling to starboard. Most things have already fallen, so there isn't much left to save by that time. The kitties have taken cover under the couch, and we're holding on for dear life. At one point we have zero visibility and lightning on all sides of us, sometimes hitting within a mile of the boat. We've turned off everything but the refrigerator & freezer at the circuit board just in case we get struck by lightning. During one calmer period, we hear something drop at the front of the boat. Have we hit something? No, we hadn't snubbed our secondary anchor, and it's dropped into the water. This wouldn't be a huge deal, except that Rene has to go outside into the storm, hopefully before the lightning kicks in again. In the end, the storm lasts for over 3 hours, and we check all of our electronics to make sure they're working. We've lucked out this time, and everything is still A-OK. Fortunately, our only fatality is the center piece of our cockpit canvas cover; it had already been ripped at a zipper point, and the wind has managed to tear it off completely. (Hopefully we can get that fixed in Charleston.)

Once the storm FINALLY passes, we have an easy picnic dinner of hummus, baked brie with garlic & olives, and french bread. We're heading out in the morning, going off-shore for the first time since arriving in Jacksonville. We're about 30 miles from our next stop, which is an overnight anchorage in Walburg Creek. We'll get into the ocean via St. Simons Sound, head 15 miles to the outer marker at St. Catherine's Sound, and then head into Walburg. There isn't anything there to see, but it'll provide a good stopover for our journey to Savannah. We want to get to Savannah by July 4th to enjoy the fireworks. Til next time!

Pictures for this blog chapter:

Fernandina Beach, FL & Cumberland Island, GA

June 20 - 28, 2009
Fernandina Beach, Florida
We've arrived in Fernandina Beach, located on Amelia Island, FL, on Saturday, June 20. We've read horror stories about the currents and tides here, and are happy to have a mooring ball across from the Fernandina Harbor Marina (even if it does take us 3 tries and the near-loss of our boat hook to get tied up!). The marina is in the process of building a new shower/laundry structure, so unfortunately they don't have a laundry facility (which we desperately need right now). The showers are set up in temporary trailers - they're pretty gross, but it's marginally better than a boat shower...we think! Since our dinghy engine gunked up again, we plan to be here for a few days. We can't get it to a repair guy until Monday, and we'd like to spend more time exploring the town. After checking in to the marina, we take showers and walk a few blocks to Arte Brick Oven Pizzeria. We're too wiped out after our grounding earlier in the day to eat out, so we order a pizza to take home; tonight's agenda is pizza, wine, and a brainless movie. There's just one hitch: Rene was able to jury-rig the engine to dinghy to shore, but couldn't restart it to motor us home; out come the way-too-small dinghy paddles, and we're paddling back to the boat against the current after sunset. Did we mention the current here??? Just as we round the pier out of the marina, Stacy sees a nose come out of the water two feet from the boat: GATOR! She raises her oar in the air, ready to attack if the gator comes any closer. Rene's screaming to keep paddling (the current is carrying us away from the boat). As the rest of the body comes out of the water, it becomes pretty obvious that it isn't going to eat us; we've managed to scare a manatee as it came up for air, and the poor thing dives down deep pretty quickly after seeing us.

Sunday Rene feels like he's been hit by a train (after-effects of manually working the anchor following our grounding), so we settle for a recuperation day on the boat. That evening Rene comes up with a new way to rig the outboard (he's getting really good at this!), so we head into town for dinner at O'Kanes Irish Pub on the main street. It's our first real pub-grub since Key West, and we enjoy Steak & Guinness Pie, Bangers & Mash, and a couple of good ales. The place is quiet, but our bartender/waiter is fun to talk to and gives us a few pointers about places we should see in and around town.

Monday morning Rene once again manhandles the outboard to get us the 2-3 miles upriver to the repair shop. Rather than wait there for the outboard to be fixed, we've decided to taxi into town, starting with breakfast at Amelia Island Coffee. What a great little place! They seem to cater to both tourists and locals alike, and the girls behind the counter greet each regular and call out his or her usual order as each one comes through the door. The cafe also serves sandwiches and ice cream, and has wi-fi for its patrons. We didn't bring our laptops with us, but it would be a perfect hang-out for cruisers! We finally finish our coffee and pastries and walk to the visitor's & tourism bureau in the old railway station to pick up a few brochures. The volunteer working there is extremely helpful, pointing us to a pamphlet of a self-guided walking tour of Fernandina's historic district. We spend the next few hours wandering through the streets admiring the beautiful restored homes, most of which were built in the mid- to late-1800s. From there we check out a few of the shops (very touristy, but cute things and they have AC!), followed by lunch at Karibo Cafe (the local micro brewery). By that time, our outboard is ready. (It's great to have a "car" again!) We dinghy from the repair yard back to the boat, and feeling poor after the $200 engine repair bill, decide to have dinner on the boat. It's a good thing we've decided to stay in; around 7pm, we're hit by a thunderstorm that must gust to 40 knots or more. We're too afraid of a lightning strike to turn on our instruments during the storm, but we see sustained winds of 24+ knots after the worst has passed.

Tuesday morning we ride the ferry to St. Mary's, Georgia. We plan to anchor off St. Mary's after leaving Fernandina Beach; since it's only 10 miles between the two cities, we figure it'll be a nice stopover before heading across the ICW to Cumberland Island National Seashore. We discover that there's a ferry running between Fernandina and St. Mary's, which offers us a good opportunity to see whether it's worth a side trip on the sailboat. The ferry ride follows the ICW north from Fernandina Beach, across St. Mary's entrance (the inlet from the Atlantic Ocean), and west up the St. Mary's River. If you follow the ICW further north, you arrive at King's Bay - home of the navy's Trident submarines. We've heard that you sometimes get lucky and see a submarine come up the channel, and we eagerly scan the inlet for any sign of an incoming sub. At one point, we see the cream and orange speedboats that usually accompany a submarine in or out of the channel come storming through the inlet. Unfortunately we never see a sub, nor does our ferry captain when he makes the return trip to Fernandina. Oh, well - hopefully we'll see one when we're anchored off Cumberland Island! St. Mary's turns out to be much smaller than Fernandina, but it still has plenty to offer visitors for a day trip. We stopped by the submarine museum, got anchoring and other general information about the Cumberland Island National Seashore from the visitor center, and wandered into an old Presbyterian church built in 1809. The highlight of the day was a tour through Orange Hall, an 8000 sq ft restored antebellum mansion built in 1829. Our guide showed us through the rooms, many of which were furnished with original pieces or period pieces donated by St. Mary's residents. After a leisurely lunch at Pauly's, which was recommended by our ferry captain, we were back on the 2:30 ferry to Fernandina Beach. It was a productive trip - we enjoyed St. Mary's, but don't think there's enough to justify anchoring the boat there. We'll spend another day or two in Fernandina Beach, and will then take the boat up to Cumberland.

Wednesday morning we embark upon a 10-mile bike ride: 2 miles each way to the beach, plus a 6-mile round trip ride to the fort in Ft. Clinch State Park. The park covers over 1400 acres at the northern tip of Amelia Island. It looks over the entrance from the Atlantic Ocean to the ICW, and hosts white sand beaches, bike trails, hiking trails, and campgrounds. Construction of the fort began in 1847, which was built at the mouth of St. Mary's River to protect Fernandina's port and railroad. The fort was never completed, but served as a military post during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and WWII. Ft. Clinch became a state park in 1935 and the buildings were completed along with the construction of roads and campgrounds soon afterwards. Our visit to the park also gave us a chance to see the Amelia Island Lighthouse, the oldest one in Florida, from an observation deck. Since the lighthouse is in a residential area, you can't really visit it. There are city-run bus tours that access the property twice a month, but we were satisfied getting a few good photos from the state park. After our bike ride, we've decided to reward ourselves and spend our last dinner in Fernandina at the Crab Trap, a spot recommended by all of the locals that we met. After a farewell beer at O'Kanes, it was time to head home.

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
Thursday morning we tie up to the Fernandina Harbor fuel dock for fuel, water, and pump-out, followed by the 6nm trip to Cumberland Island National Seashore. We've really been looking forward to visiting Cumberland Island, which is Georgia's largest and southernmost barrier island. There are 50 miles of hiking trails, 40' sand dunes, 400-year-old live oak trees, saltwater marshes, 16 miles of beaches, back-country campgrounds, and no vehicles allowed other than those owned by the National Park Service or the handful of residents on the island. Best of all, there are over 180 wild horses (initially brought over by the Spanish) that still roam the island. The NPS has a no-intervention policy (no feeding, veterinary service, population control, etc.), and people are forbidden from feeding or petting the horses. The island itself is 18 miles long, 3 miles wide at its widest point, and has about 15 inhabitants in the off-season. 90% of the island is owned by the Park Service, and the remaining 10% will be given to the NPS over time. While we're here, we plan to visit the ruins of Dungeness, the mansion once owned by Thomas & Lucy Carnegie, as well as Plum Orchard, an 1898 30-room Georgian Revival mansion built as a wedding present for the Carnegie's son. We anchor off the Sea Camp Dock near the ranger station and spend the rest of the day on the boat. Tomorrow, the explorations begin!

Friday morning we dinghy onshore to join a 10am ranger tour through the forest to Dungeness, the ruins of Thomas & Lucy Carnegie's winter home. Our ranger-guide is Rene Noe, who's lived on the island for 27 years. She's a fantastic guide, and tells us the history of the island and its inhabitants (both prior and current). Her stories involve a lot of audience-participation, and at one point Rene (our Rene) gets to be Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin and "special friend" to one of the original residents of Cumberland Island. As we reach the gates of Dungeness, the first thing we see is a wild turkey, along with 3-4 wild horses eating grass under a nearby tree. Behind them, we see the ruins themselves. Dungeness was built in the mid-1880s at the south end of Cumberland Island. Although Thomas Carnegie died soon after the house was built, Lucy lived in the house with her 9 children, eventually building 4 additional mansions on the island for them. Dungeness burned down in 1959, allegedly set fire by a local poacher involved in a dispute with the family. Thanks to structural instability and poisonous critters (snakes, spiders, & scorpions), visitors are not allowed to go into the ruins. We're able to walk the grounds, and spot the old greenhouse, the remains of an entertainment complex (which once housed a swimming pool, billiards, card tables, etc.), and servants quarters, as well as more wild horses wandering the grounds. After the tour, we follow a tree-lined trail to a boardwalk leading through the salt marshes to the sand dunes. En route, we see and are finally able to photograph a manatee. They really aren't very attractive! From there we cross the dunes to the beach, and Stacy wades into the ocean. The water is gorgeous - like bathwater - but Rene refuses to get out of his shoes and socks ("too much work"). He really missed out!

Saturday is a lazy one, spent reading and working on the blog. We make it ashore to the ranger station to sign up for the Sunday ferry to Plum Orchard, only to find out that the ferry holds 145 people and they've never had more than 70 on the tour. So much for needing those reservations the brochures tell you about! After refilling a few water bottles from the refrigerated drinking fountain (heaven!) and enjoying the office's air conditioning, we head back to the boat. We've been surprised at how few boats are anchored with us. There was one other one the day we arrived, and 3 others the next day, but now it's pretty much just us. One small speedboat has shown up anchored off the dock, but the owner kayaks into shore at night to camp on the island.

Sunday we catch the ferry at the ranger dock to travel the 9 miles up to Plum Orchard, a 24,000 sq. ft. Georgian Revival mansion. Plum Orchard is one of 4 mansions on the island built by Lucy Carnegie for her children, and the house was donated to the National Parks Department in 1898. Rene Noe is our guide again, and happens to be extremely familiar with the house; during her first 3 years on the island, she and 3 other rangers actually got to live in the mansion! They ate and drank from the Carnegie china and crystal, and swam in the indoor pool. We can't imagine how much fun they must've had, and it must've been tough to give it up once the decision was made to renovate the house and open it up to the public. We're sure glad that decision was made, though, as the house itself is magnificent. We start in the library, which still has the original piano and Tiffany lamps (which have a turtle motif in honor of Cumberland's loggerhead population). We then head upstairs to tour the bedrooms and bathrooms, followed by the kitchen, dining room, basement, indoor swimming pool, and squash court. Some of the original furniture is still in place, while other pieces will arrive once air conditioning is installed. You've got it - it's nearly July, the house is closed up all but two Sundays a month, and there is NO a/c! We absolutely loved the tour, but there were a few people who got out as fast as they could to enjoy the relatively "cool" 95 degrees outside. On the way back to the ferry, we stop by the pond behind the house. The pond is covered by green growth, but we clearly see the resident alligator off shore. (No manatees this time!)

On the ferry ride back to Sea Dock, we find ourselves trying to outrun a thunderstorm coming our way. We've left the windows open so the cats can stay cool and go outside if they want to, but we'll have a major mess on our hands if we don't get back to close up shop before the rain starts. Fortunately we get there just in time to close all of the windows. Within 15 minutes, the downpour begins. No worries - it's time to get below to prepare the boat anyway. Tomorrow we're out of stop, Jekyll Island!

Pictures for this blog chapter: