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:

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