Monday, August 31, 2009

On the Road Again...Heading South, Part I

Sunday, August 23 - Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Greetings, friends and family! If you haven't heard yet, we've left our northernmost spot for this year and are on our way south again. After leaving Charleston Sunday morning, we've arrived in Steamboat Creek, near ICW Mile 497 and the Dawho River/Edisto River intersection. It's an absolutely lovely spot with some of the best stargazing either of us has ever seen. What sliver of moon there was set early, and there's no ambient light to speak of. We can see constellations, planets, and the hazy "clouds" of the Milky Way. Gorgeous!

Monday we get an early start and arrive at Beaufort's Lady's Island Bridge at 4:45pm. The bridge is restricted during rush hour, so we drop an anchor and take a breather until the next opening at 6pm. The bridge tender is kind enough to hail us five minutes before opening, giving us enough time to raise the anchor and get into position for the opening. We get the anchor up, maneuver into place, and wait for the alarm to ring and the traffic gates to descend. That done, we get ready to rev the engine as soon as the bridge begins to open; after all, these guys don't like to keep traffic waiting for long! The swing bridge slips free from its locks, it moves a fraction, and we begin to move. Then...nothing! The bridge stops moving, and it remains in a closed position as we begin to get caught by the current. Rene drops us into idle, then into a harder reverse as the bridge STILL fails to move. We realize we have to abort and circle around again, just as the bridge begins to open. We might've made it, but we would've gone through the bridge sideways - not a great option! We let the bridge tender know that we're circling to pass through; he doesn't say anything about the bridge getting stuck, but mentions those "awful currents" near the bridge. Uh, yeah... After some black smoke (diesel engine) and a quick doughnut, we're through the bridge and heading for our anchorage. Our Beaufort neighbor, Robert, is still there, along with a new boat anchored where we were 3 weeks ago. We find a good spot with plenty of swinging room behind the two boats, and drop both anchors as a precaution against the swift currents and 8' tides. It's 6:15pm, and we're back in Beaufort. It really does feel like we never left. Life is good!

Tuesday morning Rene dons his SCUBA gear. He's fed up with the horrendous layer of gunk that has accumulated on the bottom of the boat, so it's time for a bottom-cleaning (Pipe Muh Bligh's, not Rene's!). Rene's just about ready to get in the water...he's wearing his microprene (0.5mm) wetsuit, along with his BDC, mask, and fins. He plugs his computer into a tank, expects to see 3000psi - the reading he saw after filling the tanks in Marathon, FL - and gets only 800psi. Not good...that'll make for an awfully short bottom job. He disconnects the first tank and tries the second one...just over 700psi. What in the...? The tanks must've leaked in the lazarette over the past 3 months. The air compressor is on the floor of the lazarette and isn't coming out again until we reach the Bahamas. That means Rene will have to do a quick cleaning job, and we'll take the tanks to a dive shop for inspection and filling once we get to Fernandina Beach.

Rene heads in and manages to clean half the boat with a single tank. Out of the water, he realizes that he's had a few "friends" down below; when he comes back up, he's covered with brine shrimp. How many of you remember "Sea Monkeys" from when you were a kid? Same thing. They're tiny little shrimp, and they cling to EVERYTHING - hair, wetsuit, BCD, skin, you name it. We rinse Rene off with the stern shower head as much as we can, and he takes a break before going in with the next tank for the second half. He's covered with even MORE brine shrimp after the second dive. These little buggers are persistent! It's a disgusting task, but a few days later Rene figures we've probably gained a knot of boat speed thanks to the cleaning. Nicely done!

Wednesday evening we head to Hemingway's to say hi to everyone. Our anchorage neighbors, Jason & Ray, are there, and we have a great time swapping stories. Jason came over from New Orleans, and Ray sailed from the Bahamas to Florida and is continuing up the coast. After enjoying happy hour, we head to our other Beaufort fave, Emily's, for tapas. We go for a couple of favorites - garlic beef & lobster ravioli - plus some new faves: she-crab soup, jalapeno shrimp, & bacon-wrapped scallops. Absolutely amazing!

Thursday, our nav computer finally arrives! We track it via the FedEx site all morning, and run to the UPS store (where it's been delivered) just after noon. After a quick stop for lunch, we get back to the boat and Rene hooks the computer up to the navigation equipment. Nooooo! All the nav systems are still broken. How can this happen??? Rene calls the Raymarine repair guy, and after about 5 minutes he determines that our first two calls to Raymarine after the lightning strike resulted in bad information. It probably wasn't only the nav computer that was hit, and we now have to send EVERYTHING in to Raymarine for review/repair...including the wind gauge at the top of our 62.5' mast. Happy climbing, Rene! We need the depth gauge and chart plotter (even if it only works as an electronic chart for now) until we get to Fernandina, but we'll send everything in then. Hopefully they'll be able to fix the system and get it back to us by the time we return from Seattle. Still, not having our nav system up and running as hoped is a huge disappointment. We decide to hit the proverbial road again to speed up our arrival date in Fernandina, and head ashore to Hemingway's for a goodbye drink with Sherry & Sparky. We sure hope we meet up with them in the Bahamas next Spring!

Friday we're off to Hilton Head for a quick overnight. We arrive in Skull Creek off HHI Friday afternoon and have dinner with Gary & Denise. First we stop by their house where we get to see their view of the ICW and Pipe Muh Bligh at anchor. What a magnificent view! We can certainly see how they spotted us on our first trip through HHI, and can imagine how relaxing it must be to watch the world go by drinking coffee in front of the window on a Sunday morning! Afterwards, Gary & Denise take us to the Sea Trawler Restaurant for dinner. It's just across the ICW from Hilton Head, and is built "in the round" for gorgeous views. Our meals are all fantastic, and we're thrilled to have had a chance to spend time with Gary & Denise again. We'll see you two when we come back through HHI next Spring!

The next day we travel 30 miles down the ICW from Hilton Head to Herb River near Thunderbolt/Savannah. We arrive by 3pm, just in time for a massive downpour (no lightning, fortunately). We consider continuing on, but decide that it's been a long enough day already. After an early start, we managed a soft grounding in Fields Cut, which is generally known to be shallow. Apparently we got too close to the northern bank, and depths dropped to 5' before we knew it. On the plus side, Rene was able to get us out of there before we get stuck enough to require a TowBoatUS call...barely!

Sunday morning we take on a new (to us) portion of the ICW, and manage to ground within an hour of leaving our anchorage. As we head into Skidaway River and Isle of Hope, we veer too close to shore while trying to follow the magenta (ICW) line on the chartplotter. (Remember - no GPS, so we're doing this by feel and "guestimation".) We're about halfway between high and low tide; since the tide is going out, we need to get out of here before the water gets any more shallow. Rene tries to rev the engine to break us loose, but no luck. We make the call to TowBoatUS - yes, we've increased our coverage to "unlimited" - and they come to rescue us. We're finally freed, and it's off to "Hell Gate" (no, we're not kidding!) Hell Gate has been a major shoaling spot in the ICW for years, but was allegedly dredged earlier this summer. A few miles downstream is Florida Passage, which is still shallow and should be traversed at a rising mid-tide or even two-thirds tide. Not great timing on our part since low tide is at 11am - about three hours after our departure. As it happens, Hell Gate's dredging project must have been a great success, and we have no problems. Not wanting to push our luck, we anchor outside of Florida Passage for 2 hrs to allow the tide to rise. Rene has a chance to call his mom and Stacy makes lunch. We head into the passage at 2pm, three hrs after low tide. This gives us plenty of water to push through, and we have no problems; in fact, we see 15' depths throughout the trip - this definitely doesn't match up to the warnings online! We finally make it to St. Catherine's Sound Sunday afternoon and work our way around a sand bar (thank you, handheld GPS) to get to Walburg Creek. We stayed here on our way up in June, and loved the spot. We've decided to treat ourselves to a rest day, meaning we'll stay for two nights and will try to get a few boat projects done before continuing southward. Our rest day on Monday ends up being anything but:
--we re-measure and re-tag both anchors in 25' increments
--Rene dives into the bilge to clean the a/c, genset sand engine strainers
--He also uploads and edits pictures for the blog
--Stacy gathers navigation and tide info for the next 60 miles to Brunswick
--She also works on the blog and makes reservations at the Brunswick Landing Marina

As we're working on the anchors, we see a mega-pod of dolphins pass by the boat. There must be 50 of them, and we watch in awe as they swim around the boat, tails flapping, eyes turned our way, and the sight of a baby in the mix. Awhile later, they come back up the creek and circle the boat again. As often as we see them, we never tire of our "dolphie" visits!

Tuesday morning our loving kitties wake us up at 6:45am. They want food, and take turns annoying the $&#! out of us. For Tux, that means licking Rene's hair and pulling threads out of Stacy's pillow; for Tawny, it's jumping on and off the bed and scratching her claws against the door (picture nails on a chalkboard). Since we're up already, we decide to get an early start. We were planning to leave by 7:30 anyway in order to take the southern Walburg Creek entrance (which has a 4' shoal at MLW), rather than going the long way around through St. Catherine's Sound. We start the engine and turn on the windlass; Rene begins to raise the anchor and sees sparks in the anchor locker. He finds a loose contact, and the extreme humidity has caused the sparks. Rene loosens and cleans the contacts, treats them with some sort of electro stuff, and reconnects the wires. Everything looks good, and we're on our way. We make it out of the southern entrance with lots of water, and are on our way towards Sapelo Sound via Johnson Creek. Later in the day, we're passed by another sailboat, Sandra Lee, whose skipper hails us on the VHF...Dave & Sandy are also headed south and ask what we know about the depths in Little Mud River. This spot has shown up as a trouble spot on a bunch of sailing blogs, and the latest US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) survey from June '09 says it's 4' at the centerline at MLW (3' in the east and west quadrants). Their boat draws 5' - not much less than we do - so we all decide to drop anchor in the Darien River for a couple of hours until the water rises enough to get through. Low tide is sometime between 1:00pm and 1:30 (depending on your source), so we wait until 2:45 before we head back out. We have plenty of water through Rockdedundy River, as well as in the initial part of Little Mud River. Soon enough, though, we begin to see our depth gauge drop...8'...7'...6.5'...YIKES!! We watch Sandra Lee test the depths to port of the centerline, and we do the same to starboard. 6.5' is scary enough, but it doesn't seem to be getting any worse. The water finally creeps back up to the 8-9' range, and we make it safely out of Little Mud River into Altamaha Sound. Insert "big sigh" here. But our dynamic duo (or quad if you count the kitties) isn't quite out of the woods yet! What's the saying about "out of the frying pan, into the fire"? The USACE's June survey warns cruisers about shallow depths in Little Mud River, and the next line shows 6.5' depths in Altamaha. Oh, joy! To add to the excitement, Dave from Sandra Lee radios us with news of a storm cell about 3 miles ahead of us. We all slow down to give the cell time to pass us, and decide to stay on channel 68 in case anything else comes up. It doesn't take long for us to get another message from Sandra Lee - they've just passed marker 208, and they've seen 6' depths. We thank them for the heads up, and go through the same area a few minutes later. Yep, there it is - 6.2', and that's nearly 3 hours after low tide! it safe yet? Not quite...Dave radios us again to say that one storm cell has dissipated, but we're heading into another one and things are going to get wet. The sky looks pretty black, but fortunately we don't have to deal with nearby lightning. There's plenty of rain, though, and we quickly learn that our bimini needs a new coat of ScotchGuard. We finally get through Altamaha Sound and into Buttermilk Sound, the last area before Brunswick that's filled with USACE warnings. Thank goodness, 'cause we're ready for a break! Buttermilk Sound is a 4.4 mile stretch that shoals to 4' at MLW (2.5' on the edges in some parts). By now we're nearly 4 hours past low tide and don't expect any real problems. Still, Rene sticks to the range markers, where available. After all - we're still maneuvering without GPS. With all the excitement, Stacy manages to miss the turnoff to our first anchorage option. Not to worry - the next one is only 4 miles away. Ugh...we probably would've turned back if we'd realized it would take us over an hour to get there! We finally arrive at Jove Creek; by the time we're anchored, it's after 6:30pm. Sundowner time!

Today is Wednesday, September 2nd...Happy Birthday to Stacy's Aunt Susie!! We hope she's having a fantastic day today. Ours is starting off wet. It's been raining since 3am, and it's a real gullywasher. We need to get out of Jove Creek within an hour or two of high tide since it gets pretty shallow (3-4') at the entrance at low tide. We wait long enough to let a storm cell pass us by, and then we head out into the ICW. Just as we exit, we see Sandra Lee come down the channel. It looks like we're all on the same schedule. The rain starts coming down even harder, but we can see the St. Simons Island bridge in the distance. It takes about 45 minutes to get there, and we get a rude awakening when we arrive: the water levels haven't dropped as much as we'd expected, and there's only 63.5' of clearance under the bridge. Our mast height is 62.5', and we like at least 64' before we go under the bridge. Anytime a sailboat goes head to head with a bridge, we know who's going to win that one! We say a quick goodbye to Dave & Sandy, explaining our situation with the bridge. They keep going, and hopefully we'll see them again, either in Florida or maybe the Bahamas. We head for the eastern shore to anchor, but soon find strong currents and poor holding. After two tries, we switch to the other side and find a good temporary anchorage. We call Brunswick Landing Marina (a great place, by the way!) to let them know what's going on, and they tell us that they have a slip ready for us whenever we get there. It's so nice not to have to worry about check-in times!

That's it for now...we'll post another update once we get to Fernandina Beach. We'll stay in Brunswick today (Sept. 2) and tomorrow, and should reach Cumberland Island on Friday. We may stay there for the weekend, and will be in Fernandina by Monday. We think a couple of friends that we met in Marathon may still be anchored in Fernandina...fingers crossed!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Charleston, SC

Tuesday, August 4 - Sunday, August 23, 2009
Greetings from Charleston, SC! We left Beaufort on Tuesday morning; we'd planned to be at the fuel dock by 8am, but had problems raising the anchors. We'd done at least five 360s in our nearly 3 weeks in Beaufort, so our secondary anchor rode was wound around our primary anchor chain. Rene spent nearly 30 minutes trying to get the lines separated, and we finally made it to the fuel dock at 8:30am. After filling up on 80 gallons of diesel, 150 gallons of water, and a much-needed pump-out, we finally left the dock in time to catch the 10am Lady's Island Bridge opening. We're on limited instruments thanks to the lightning strike - the electronic chart plotter still provides a "map" of our route, but without GPS or autopilot, the chart plotter doesn't have a clue where the boat is, and Rene does all the steering by hand (the old fashioned way). Currents are against us for the first two hours, giving us a boat speed of 3+ kts (can you tell we need a bottom cleaning?). We finally get a favorable current and do 4-5kts, but get stuck at the entrance to the Ashepoo Coosaw Cutoff. It's almost low tide, and we nearly run aground on a 5' shoal at the entrance. Rene's able to reverse us out of there in time, and we anchor in 10' of water until the tide comes in. Three hours later, we finally feel comfortable enough to try the entrance again. It's still more shallow than the chart indicates, but we make it across the bar. Once inside, we have 10+ feet of water...much better! Thanks to our delay, we don't make it to our planned anchorage at Toogoodoo Creek. We find another spot at Alligator Creek near 7pm, and drop anchor there. It's not protected from wind or waves, but the forecast shows a quiet night and we get lucky. We're back underway at 6:45am to take advantage of high tide (we have some shallow spots for the next 15 miles). The ICW is beautiful, we pass gorgeous plantation-style houses set far back behind the marshes, and get to the anchorage across from the Charleston City Marina by 3pm. The anchorage is busy, but we find a spot between a couple of smaller boats near the bridge. As usual, we end up resetting one of the anchors after the tide changes that night, but it seems to work and we're still in the same spot the following morning. Things are looking better already!

After spending a day on the boat, we go into town on Friday. The city marina is across the channel from our anchorage and has a dinghy dock that we can use for $5/day. Unfortunately, Stacy's bike blew a tire our last day in Beaufort, and Rene's back tire has nearly worn out its own repair job. We're not as mobile as we'd like to be, but King St and the waterfront are within 2 miles of the marina. It's hot, but walkable. We also find a bike shop that can order new tires and inner tubes for the bikes, but it'll be a week before the tires arrive. If we want to explore Charleston over the next week, it'll be on foot or by taxi. We've tried to use the city's bus system, but never quite time it correctly. The two routes that come within a half-mile of the marina only stop once every 30 to 60 minutes, so making connections to other routes can be difficult. Fortunately, taxis are pretty cheap within downtown Charleston - typically under $5 each way from the marina to the historical/tourist area.

Wednesday we play tourist and head to the South Carolina Aquarium. The aquarium is incredible, and has both indoor and open air exhibits representing six South Carolina regions: a Blue Ridge Mountain forest, South Carolina's Piedmont (foothills) region, Carolina's coastal plain, a salt marsh aviary, the Carolina coast, and best of all, the ocean, which includes a 2-story, 385,000-gallon salt water tank. The Great Ocean Tank has 700 different species of fish, including a huge moray eel, puffer fish, six sharks, a 280-pound loggerhead sea turtle, and many of the usual suspects that we see when we scuba dive. Speaking of diving, we got to watch two divers enter the tank, give some information on the various species of fish, and feed the fish. There are nearly 100 volunteer divers who take part in the feedings, and they patch into a PA system inside their masks when they're underwater. The children at the aquarium loved it, as did we big kids! The aquarium also has a new exhibit, "Penguin Planet", which houses 4 of the cute little guys in their own climate-controlled (60 degrees) environment. If you're ever in Charleston, we'd highly recommend a visit to the aquarium. You can get more information at their website at

After the aquarium, we catch a water taxi to Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum. Patriot's Point is across the harbor from the aquarium, and is home to the aircraft carrier "USS Yorktown", the diesel-powered submarine "USS Clamagore", the destroyer "USS Laffey", and the Coast Guard cutter "USS Ingham"; as well as a Vietnam support base exhibit and a Cold War submarine memorial. We have a fantastic time viewing the crew quarters, engine room, and other areas in the aircraft carrier, and even get to wander along the flight deck checking out all of the airplanes that are included in the exhibit. We also do a quick walk-through of the submarine, although we get the impression that there must have been a height restriction of 5'6'' for crewmembers. The sub is definitely not for the claustrophobic! Unfortunately the destroyer and USCG cutter are closed to the public; it turns out that both ships are being removed from Patriots Point next week. The destroyer is going into dry dock, and the cutter will be relocated to a museum in Florida.

We get a surprise on Friday morning when Stacy goes to make coffee. Flip the LPG solenoid switch to "on", turn the stove dial to "light", push the "ignite" button, and...NOTHING. We're officially out of propane. What? No caffeine this morning?? Aaarrrggghhh!! To be fair, we've figured that we were overdue for a tank refill. After all, our last fill was in Marathon back in May, and we use propane daily. That said, the tanks are connected to yet another gauge that has never worked properly. Like our diesel fuel gauge, the propane gauge tells you that there's plenty of fuel...right until the time that you run out and the needle switches to empty. Not knowing whether a bus or taxi would welcome propane tanks on board, we strap the tanks onto Rene's bike and walk to the U-haul store that - you guessed it - also fills propane tanks. Rene bikes down the street to the bicycle shop (no tires yet) while Stacy gets the tanks filled. Then it's a hot trek back to the marina.

Talk about a productive weekend! Saturday we dinghy over to California Dreaming, the restaurant on the far side of the bridge from our anchorage. While we plan to have lunch there, we also have an ulterior motive: we can leave our dinghy at their boat dock while we eat and make a quick taxi run to West Marine and the UPS store. We've had a few things shipped to Charleston, and we really need to pick them up before we leave next week! The cabbie is a little surprised to drop us back at the same restaurant where he picked us up, but we're sure he's seen stranger things... Back on the boat, it's like Christmas morning. So many packages to open! The best one...our new ice maker! A huge thanks to Chris & Robin (the ex-Watergate folks we met in Beaufort) for introducing us to the EdgeStar portable ice maker. This thing makes a tray of ice in 6-10 minutes. Some of our friends have recessed/mounted ice makers on their boats, but we never thought we'd have one since we don't have the wall or cupboard space. The EdgeStar is a little bigger than a bread maker, and plugs into any 110-volt outlet. Now we'll always have plenty of ice for our rum drinks, gin & tonics, and foo-foo blender drinks. And yes, we already have a cordless blender, so let the margaritas begin! Have we talked you into visiting us yet? :-) What can we say...the little luxuries really get us excited. "We make ICE!" (Is this what the cavemen felt like when they created fire?) And if you think we're goofy over the ice maker, just wait until we get a water maker...

Plantation Tours
Sunday morning we're up bright and early. We have to get to the marina by 8am to catch our shuttle out to the Ashley River Road plantations. Quick note: if you're ever in Charleston and don't feel like renting a car, there's a shuttle for $20pp that will take you from the Visitor's Center downtown out to Drayton House, Middleton Place, and Magnolia Plantation & Gardens. The shuttle leaves downtown at 8:45am, gets to the first of the three plantations (Drayton Hall) just after 9am, and picks people up from each of the plantations starting at 2pm. You really only have time to do two plantations, but we've read that they'll come get you later in the day for an extra fee. In the middle of summer, 5 hours outside is plenty!

Drayton Hall
We start our day in Drayton Hall, the oldest preserved plantation home in the US. John Drayton bought the 350-acre plantation in 1738 and began construction on the Georgian-Palladian home (Georgian in the front, Palladian in the back - very unique). John Drayton was one of the wealthiest men of his time, and owned over 50 properties and 75,000 acres of land across the Carolinas and south to Brunswick, GA. Being the third son, he wouldn't inherit the family estate, Magnolia (which, by the way, can be visited just a few miles down the road). Drayton built Drayton Hall to be his own grand estate, and years later he also bought Magnolia from his nephew.

The house and grounds of Drayton Hall have certainly witnessed their share of history. During the American Revolution, troops from both the British and Continental Armies camped on the grounds at one time or another. The British army used Drayton Hall as a field headquarters for the British commander in 1780, and several thousand troops encamped on the grounds. That summer, the house became the headquarters of another British general, Charles Cornwallis. Two years later, the American armies moved in; ultimately, Charleston was saved and peace was restored, but at Drayton Hall, the fields, ornamental gardens, and many of its buildings would have to be rebuilt.

The Civil War saw much of the same, as Confederate soldiers camped on the grounds of Drayton Hall. After Charleston's surrender, Union armies destroyed many of the plantations along Ashley River Road, and Drayton Hall was one of just three plantation houses on the Ashley River to survive the Civil War. Legend has it that John Drayton hung yellow flags around the house and grounds, indicating that the house was a smallpox hospital. Soldiers who were burning everything in their wake saw the flags and stayed away.

Later generations of Draytons used the plantation for weekend and summer visits to the country. The last descendant to use the home was Charlotta Drayton. She would tell people she was going "camping" when she stayed at Drayton Hall, whose only modern conveniences were a wood-burning stove and an icebox that was later replaced by a refrigerator (powered by an extension cord plugged in at the caretaker’s cottage). After Charlotta's death, the estate was left to her two nephews; her will stipulated that no modernization or major changes would be made to the house. The nephews decided they couldn't keep up with the costs of maintaining the home, and decided to sell it soon after. Thank goodness they turned down the developer's offer to make the plantation a golf course! Instead, they sold the house and grounds to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who has owned it since 1974.

Today, the unrestored home is completely devoid of furniture, which really allows visitors to appreciate the architecture and little touches inside. From the front veranda, we enter the home into the great hall. The hall, and much of the rest of the house, has only been painted three times in nearly 300 years; the current wall paint is over 130 years old, so visitors are cautioned against touching or leaning against the walls. The plaster work (ceilings, accents, etc.) in the great hall and subsequent rooms is so intricate and really beautiful. As symmetry was extremely important to the home designs of the time, we often walk into a room, only to see another doorway - bricked up, this time - where a false door once stood. In one room, you can still see the markings where seven generations of Draytons have measured the height of their children on a door frame. This tradition continues today, when the Drayton family has their annual get-together each Thanksgiving at the house.

The guides obviously love what they do, and by the end of the tour everyone agrees that the decision to restore the house rather than preserve it was the better option. If you ever get to the area, we'd highly recommend a visit.

Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
Our shuttle picks us up at Drayton Hall at 11am and takes us a mile down the road to the family's original plantation, Magnolia. Founded in 1676, Magnolia Plantation & Gardens (all 600 acres) is home to the oldest public gardens in America. The house itself was destroyed by fire during the Civil War, and has been rebuilt for tours. The grounds were originally used for growing rice, but were flooded with sea water during the Civil War. In an effort to keep the estate and share the beauty of the gardens, Magnolia Plantation began opening its doors to visitors in 1870.

The plantation includes its famous gardens, the main house, a nature tram, a boat tour, an Audubon swamp walking tour, a petting zoo, and slave cabins. After paying the base entrance fee (gardens, nature trails, & petting zoo), all other activities (tram, boat, swamp, etc.) require additional fees. It actually works well (albeit pricey), so you can do as much or as little as you want to. Given our time constraints, we start with the nature train that will take us around the perimeter of the property to see the plantation’s wetlands, lakes, forests, and marshes. We're enjoying ourselves before we even see our first animal - temperatures are nearly 10 degrees cooler under the tree canopy, and we get a great breeze from the moving tram! Over the next half hour, we spot two 9' alligators, turtles, egrets, herons, turkeys, and a beautiful red hawk.

After a quick lunch at the cafe, we stop by the petting zoo to see the goats, deer, chickens, fox, bunnies, and beautiful peacocks. One of the peacocks apparently likes guests, and hops on the fence to have his picture taken. Next thing we know, he's jumped to the ground and is walking among the cafe tables looking for crumbs. Please don't feed the animals! Next up is the plantation's famous gardens. Spring is probably the best time to visit to see everything in bloom, but the walk is still lovely as you go past trees, along the Ashley river, and cross bridges over mirrored lakes.

Since we have a 2pm pick-up, we don't have time to walk through the Audubon Swamp Garden. It's supposed to be a fantastic walk, and is the best place to take pictures of alligators, turtles, and birds up close in their natural habitat. It takes 1-2 hours to really do it right, so give yourselves plenty of time if you ever get there.

Downtown Historic Home Tours
As if we haven't see enough historic homes, Monday we head to Charleston's historic district to see the "urban plantations". While there are many homes in downtown Charleston that are open for tours, we select three based on TripAdvisor reviews and our own expected tolerance levels. Thanks to our plantation tour yesterday, we better understand the difference between historic preservation and restoration. Preservation efforts try to maintain the house in its current state, allowing for updates to insure visitors' safety (e.g. reinforcing floors, ceilings, or banisters that are no longer stable). Restoration tries to bring the house back to its former glory - in terms of colors, fabrics, furniture, paintings, etc. - and tends to be much costlier than preservation alone. Of the three homes we've selected, we find that one has been preserved, one is still undergoing a massive restoration project, and one is still owned and inhabited by the family. In the last case, the owner lives on the third floor, and visitors can see the family treasures - antiques, historic documents, family portraits, etc. - throughout the first and second floors. We're also happy to report that we've finally mastered Charleston's public transportation (at least the downtown shuttles), so off we go...

Aiken-Rhett House, c. 1820
We start with the Aiken-Rhett house, which has been preserved rather than restored. As the website says, "the Aiken-Rhett House stands alone as the most intact townhouse complex showcasing urban life in antebellum Charleston." William Aiken, Jr. was a wealthy merchant and governor of South Carolina. He and his wife traveled throughout Europe and purchased a considerable amount of fine art and furnishings, many of which can still be seen in the house today. In fact, the governor's descendants continued to live at the house until 1975, closing off various rooms and their contents over the years. Consequently, the house has survived virtually unchanged since the 1850s. And what a fantastic tour format: you get an MP-3 player loaded with an audio tour to wander at your own pace, and there are docents throughout the house to answer any questions you may have. The tour starts in the slave quarters, which includes the kitchen/warming room and upstairs bedrooms. Next you head into the courtyard to view the gorgeous old magnolia trees, the carriage house (which still contains the family's two carriages), the horse stable, and two privies (bathrooms). In the main house, the family rooms still contain actual family heirlooms, and old photos let you compare what you're seeing now to the home's appearance a century ago.

Edmondston-Alston House, c. 1825
After catching a DASH trolley to Charleston's high battery, we arrive at the Edmonston-Alston house. It's the oldest mansion along the battery, and is still owned and occupied by an Alston heir. Edmonston-Alston is a lovely house, with beautiful family heirlooms and original family furnishings, a massive piazza (i.e. balcony) to capture the sea breezes, and a breathtaking view of Charleston Harbor and Ft. Sumter. (Legend has it that the first shots fired on Fort Sumter from confederate controlled Fort Johnson could be seen from the home's piazza.)

The house was originally built by a wealthy merchant, Charles Edmondston, who later found himself in a financial bind and sold it to a rice planter, Charles Alston, in 1838. The Alstons were later joined to the Middleton family by marriage, and visitors are reminded that Edmonston-Alston is the sister property of Middleton Place Plantation (the Middleton and Alston family heirs own both properties). If you're interested in seeing both properties, you can purchase a combination ticket at a reduced rate.

As we walk through the home, we're a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of artifacts - a letter of secession, a pardon of Alston by President Andrew Johnson for his participation in the war, countless pieces of family silver, china, furniture including a gorgeous writing/compartment desk, over 2000 books in the library, and a number of first edition Audubon prints and sketches. This definitely feels like more of a showplace than a home.

Nathaniel Russell House, c. 1808
We take a quick walk from the Edmonston-Alston House to the Nathaniel Russell House on Meeting Street. This home has undergone an extensive (years-long) restoration process, and the results are spectacular. Like the Aiken-Rhett House, the Nathaniel Russell House is owned by the historic society. Researchers have worked over the past few years to determine and replicate each room's original paint colors and gold accents, the restoration of plasterwork and carved mantelpieces (involving the removal of 22 layers of paint), and the refurbishment of the home's signature piece - a free-flying, curved, 3-story staircase. etc. The home has 9 rooms, including 3 oval rooms, 3 rectangular rooms, and 3 square rooms (that symmetry thing again). While the home doesn't have many original family heirlooms, it has been tastefully decorated with hundreds of period pieces (furniture, china, silver, portraits, etc.) donated from around the country. The restoration of the Russell House is ongoing, and we've been told that eventually they will add carpets, draperies, and such. We've read that if you only make it to one home tour, this is the one to do. We completely agree!

Before we leave, we learn that hundreds of private homes are available for viewing during the Spring & Fall. The Fall tours start in late-September and go on for 6 weeks. The Preservation Society needs 700 additional volunteers so that they can have a volunteer in each of the rooms on the tour. If you're ever in Charleston during the private home tours, we hear it's an event not to be missed.

Time to head south...
Well, it's just about time to start heading south again. We've been in Charleston for two weeks now, and we have to be in Fernandina Beach, FL the first week of September to catch our flight to Seattle for a visit with Stacy's family. Our cockpit enclosure repairs have been finished - gotta love same-day pick-up and delivery service! We were really trying to get back to Beaufort by Friday (Aug. 21st) for a new friend's birthday party at our favorite pub, but it doesn't look like we'll make it. Raymarine still has our course computer (aka the navigation system "brain"), and they require two weeks from the time the part is received to actually look at it (any repairs then require additional time). Given our Fernandina Beach/early-September deadline, we've given up the idea of having the nav computer shipped back to us here. That said, we're not taking any chances by rushing ourselves, either.

We've also been waiting for our new bike tires, and they finally arrive on Wednesday. Rene puts them on our bikes Thursday morning, and we head to Jestine's Kitchen for lunch. If you've ever been to Charleston, you've heard of Jestine's. It's only been open since the 1990s, but all of the recipes are from a woman who helped raise the owner. It's down-home southern cooking at its finest, with all of the grease, butter, fat, sugar, and other "bad" stuff that comes with it. After starting with their signature cornbread (served with butter slices drizzled with honey), Rene gets the Thursday special - sausage gumbo - and Stacy orders the meatloaf (it comes in a 4oz and 8oz portion, with two sides). Both are outstanding, and we're too stuffed to try any of their desserts. (Fortunately, they have a bakery a few doors down, so Stacy stops by that to pick up a few things the following day. If you ever make it to Jestine's, you've gotta try their Coca-Cola cake!)

We've decided that we really are leaving this weekend. The canvas is done, the bike tires are fixed, the lifeline netting is up, and the boat project bins are stored back in the lazarette. Saturday we make a final ride into town, where we take a few pictures around town and bike down to the south end to take another look at the Battery, along with Tradd Street and its famous cobblestoned "Rainbow Row". Rainbow Row, near Tradd and East Bay, is a cluster of homes built in the mid-1700s; they were renovated in the 1930s and 1940s, and are painted shades of pink, blue, yellow, etc. The entire south end ("South of Broad") is a collection of gorgeous old homes, and it's well worth the trip just to enjoy the architecture. After the bike tour, we stop off at Tommy Condon's for lunch, followed by a last provisioning run at Harris Teeter's. We drop everything back at the boat, and Rene makes a final run to the dinghy dock to retrieve the bikes and fill our water jugs. After raising and securing the dinghy on the davits, the boat is ready for tomorrow's journey.

We've had a great time in Charleston, and have managed to make it productive as well. A few boat projects:
  • we finally installed the lifeline netting (and got sunburned in the process)
  • propane tanks were refilled
  • the interior wood got a much-needed cleaning
  • cockpit canvas repair is done (and the guy even added UV-protective strips to increase the life of the zippers)
  • boat waterline cleaning (things are growing again in the ICW)
We should also offer our apologies to the history buffs out there: we didn't tour Ft. Sumpter. We know its historic importance, but have seen a few forts on the trip already. We'll be back in Charleston next near, and promise to go see it then!

Notable restaurants, bars, etc.
As always, we managed to find some great spots to eat, drink, and be merry...
  • California Dreaming: we love this place, especially because it has its own boat dock! The restaurant is located across the channel from the city marina on the far side of the bridge. Our dinghy ride to California Dreaming is even shorter than the dinghy ride to the marina, AND they have great sandwiches and entrees. What more can a cruiser need?
  • Tommy Condon's: this is an Irish pub located in downtown Charleston. We only had a beer and an appetizer, but have heard good things about the rest of the menu. We can certainly recommend it as a good spot to enjoy some air conditioning and an ale.
  • Southend Brewery & Smokehouse: Amazing! Located on E. Bay at Queen, the restaurant has its own copper casks displayed behind huge windows in the center of the 3-story building. The food is phenomenal, and portions are huge. (The beer's good, too.) We started with a roasted elephant garlic appetizer (pictured above) that came with homemade flatbread, tomato chutney, and a huge wedge of brie. We ate enough that we could've gone home after finishing the appetizer, but we had our hearts set on the BBQ meatloaf with Gouda mac & cheese, and the garlic-crusted pork loin with apple bourbon sauce. Yummy!
  • Mellow Mushroom: some of the best pizza we've had since leaving TX. Their flavors remind us of California Pizza Kitchen (e.g. Thai, BBQ chicken, Caesar, etc.), and their crust is phenomenal.
  • Salty Mike's: a waterfront bar that you pass as you leave the dinghy dock; the crowd varies between college kids and boaters.
  • Bocci's: an Italian restaurant next door to Tommy Condon's. Stacy had the baked spaghetti special with chicken, spinach, red peppers, onions, & spicy rose sauce baked under mozzarella cheese. Rene had scallops with sun dried tomatoes and artichokes, in a Gorgonzola-rosemary-infused alfredo sauce. We started with a bruschetta duo appetizer - half with pancetta & cheese, half with tomato-basil relish.
Shoving Off
Ahhh, Charleston...the city that won't let us go...literally! We get up Sunday morning to make our departure, hoping to leave the anchorage by 9am or so. Up at 8am, Rene goes to raise the secondary anchor thinking we'll have an easy go of raising the primary anchor when we're ready to catch slack tide through Elliott's Cut. As he begins to raise the secondary anchor, a mental warning bell goes off: there's tension on both anchors - not a normal situation given the winds (none) and current (incoming). With a few more turns of the anchor windlass, we soon see the problem. Our primary anchor chain and secondary anchor rode have managed to wrap themselves around a massive piece of debris (debris that used to be on the river floor but is now hanging below our bow). It looks like the grill of an old Studebaker, and must weigh at least 50 pounds! Between the two anchors, there are well over a dozen wraps around this piece of metal, along with a mess of sea grass, mud, and cloth rags. Rene drops the dinghy back into the water and heads to the bow to try to untangle the anchors. He fights with the mess of metal for 90 minutes; every time he gets one wrap loose, 25,000 lbs of boat put more tension on the anchor lines. He's finally able to free the anchors shortly before 10am, and we're off... Next stop, an overnight anchorage followed by Beaufort, SC.

The pictures for this blog chapter:

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Beaufort, SC

Thursday, July 16 - Tuesday, August 4, 2009
We've arrived in Beaufort, SC! Beaufort is only 20 miles from Hilton Head, and we reach our anchorage west of the downtown marina by lunchtime. Stacy has been really excited to stay here, having read all about the town's historic district and cruiser-friendly reputation. Once again, the anchorage is fairly deep and we expect 8' tidal changes. We've put out a Bahamian moor (2 anchors at a 180-degree angle), and let out some extra slack for high tide.

By now, dear family and friends, you've probably figured out that we don't have the best luck anchoring. Why should Beaufort be any different?? Soon after dinner, we start to feel like we're leaning. Could it be from a boat wake? Strong winds on the beam? No, there's nothing like that going on. Suddenly the light bulb goes on...oh, crap! Rene runs topside to test the wheel. He can tell that our rudder is already partly in the mud, but we try starting the engine to see if we can move. It's nearly dark, but hopefully we can move the boat away from shore. No luck...we're stuck here, and it's still 90 minutes until low tide. Yes, it's just going to get worse...a LOT worse! One thing we've learned in Georgia and South Carolina: with their 7-8' tides, the water rushes out (and fortunately back in) incredibly fast. Before all is said and done, the boat is heeling over 30-40 degrees. We're both holding on for dear life, and the cats are sliding along the wood floors as they try to find a comfy spot in the cabin. Periodically something will fall. If we're lucky, it's inside the cabin and we can identify the source pretty quickly. Once in awhile, it's something in the cockpit, which makes us wonder what will be lost in the water by midnight (boat hook? winches? cockpit cushions?). This is horrible! Thank goodness the water finally begins to come back in around 12:30am, and the boat rights itself enough for us to sleep. High tide is at 4:30am, so we set the alarm clock for 6:30am to re-anchor as soon as the sun comes up. Today's 11am low tide is a foot more shallow than last night's, so we can't afford to be stuck through another tidal change. We put out another "V" configuration (two anchors), and this time it holds. Let the fun in Beaufort begin!

As we've mentioned, Beaufort, SC has a reputation for being a cruiser-friendly town. There's a large anchorage area just west of the downtown marina, plus two others a short dinghy-ride away. You can dinghy to Beaufort's free day dock adjacent to the marina, and can take advantage of the marina's laundry facilities and showers ($1 person). If you stay longer than 72 hours, the city just asks that you register with the downtown marina's dockmaster. This helps them keep track of who's in the anchorage (more importantly, they know the boats are insured), but it is by no means an annoying length-of-stay restriction like those being enforced in many parts of Florida. Best of all, the marina and day dock are steps away from Beaufort's historic downtown area. Shops and restaurants are just down the street, and horse-drawn carriage rides depart right next to the day dock. Beaufort's "Old Point" area (aka "the Point") is filled with antebellum homes and is less than a mile walk from the marina. After enjoying a lazy Friday morning, we walk to the Point to wander around and take a few pictures of the gorgeous old homes. Some are even familiar - "The Big Chill" and "The Great Santini" were both filmed at the same Beaufort plantation home, and "Forest Gump" and "The Prince of Tides" shot scenes around town. All of the historic houses are privately owned, so while people are welcome to take photos from a respectable distance, the residents really don't appreciate tourists climbing the steps to look in the windows! After a VERY hot walk around the Point, we go in search of a cold beverage on our way back to the marina. We spot a little place off Bay Street (Beaufort's main downtown street) called Hemingway's, whose entrance faces the river and Waterfront Park. What a find! At first it's just us and the bartender, Sherry, who makes us feel like locals from the moment we step into the bar. She and her husband, Sparky, lived in Marathon, FL, for five years, where he performed in local clubs and she worked at Sombrero Resort. They still spend about a week a month in the Keys for parts of the year, when Sparky gets hired on for a show. We spend the next couple of hours visiting with Sherry and meeting a few regulars, and we leave knowing that we've just adopted our first neighborhood bar since leaving Texas. On the dinghy ride back to Pipe, we pass a motor cruiser with a guy getting ready to row his dinghy to the day dock. The current is going in the wrong direction and storm clouds are rolling in, and he asks if we'd be willing to tow him to the dock. Rene drops Stacy off at the boat to close the windows before the storm hits, and then goes back to tow our neighbor to the dock. By some crazy coincidence, he turns out to be Sherry's husband, Sparky. Now we really know we'll be going back to Hemingway's!

Despite our rocky start, we're thrilled to be here. We've arrived in time to enjoy the last weekend of Beaufort's Water Festival, a 10-day event held each July. The festival includes concerts, a parade down Bay Street, sailing regattas, a golf tournament, bed races, shrimp boat tours, a US Coast Guard helicopter rescue simulation, an F-18 flyover, a skydiving demonstration, an acrobatic plane demonstration, and a boat parade. We missed the golf tourney and the sailing regatta since they were held during the first weekend of the festival, but are around to see pretty much everything else. In fact, our boat is practically part of one show: the aerial acrobatic show runs right over the city anchorage, so everyone has to be off of their boats Saturday afternoon. We're under the flight path (crash zone?), and they aren't taking any chances! We spend Saturday ashore watching the parade that runs down Bay Street, followed by a prime viewing spot along the waterfront to watch the acrobatic plane and skydiving team. There are also a bunch of tents set up in Waterfront Park where vendors can sell jewelry, t-shirts, pottery, leather goods, and just about anything else you can imagine. It's tempting, but boat rule is still in effect! After showers and a change of clothes, we head out to dinner. We'd found an ad for a Greek place a few miles away, but were told that it's more of a lunch place and is only open during the week. One of the locals at Hemingway's recommends Emily's, which has both a tapas menu as well as a full steak/seafood/pasta menu. It's supposed to be a fabulous spot, so we're on our way. One thing we don't even consider - it's Saturday, and it's Water Festival. Did we think about reservations? Of course not! Fortunately Emily's serves dinner at the bar, and we were seated at a secondary bar that is only used by the waitstaff to enter orders in the computer. It was much quieter than the actual bar area, and worked perfectly for us. We were soon joined by another couple without reservations, and had a great time talking to them over some fantastic tapas. Garlic beef, lobster ravioli, foie gras pate, and boar sausage...the garlic beef was so good that we ordered another plate! As for our bar-mates, it turns out that Tom and Nancy live in Charleston, and offered to show us around town when we arrive. We really enjoyed talking to them, and will definitely look them up when we get to Charleston!

Sunday, we get to stay on the boat to watch the boat parade and the F-18 flyover. The Department of Natural Resources (Beaufort's "water police") has laid out buoys parallel to the shoreline, and anyone anchored on the shore side of the buoys can stay aboard, while boats anchored on the far side must be vacated. We assume it's for the same reason as the acrobatic demo - if anything happens during the F-18 flyover, they need a safety zone. We aren't sure if getting to stay on the boat is a good thing - we end up practically on top of a buoy when we swing with the tidal change. Will the F-18s REALLY be able to discern between a boat outside of the zone vs. one inside of it? Doubtful! Our neighbor, who's anchored about 50' away from us, is in the vacate zone; rather than go into shore, he dinghies over to our boat with his guitar. The boat parade is fairly small, but it's fun to see the boats that are decorated, along with the band that plays on the pilot house of a shrimp boat. Just after 2pm, we hear a distant roar of jet engines. Looking behind the boat towards town, we see three F-18s come screaming towards us. They fly right over the boat! Rene tries to take pictures but has to cover his ears in the midst of it. We all feel like our eardrums are about to burst, and the cats run for cover (they don't come out from under the couch for 3 hours). Next thing we know, the fighters are lined up for another pass...again, RIGHT over us! This time Rene sacrifices his ears for his art, and gets some great shots of the jets. It's a (literally) painful - but incredible - spectacle. The show ends by 2:15pm, but our neighbor has been told to stay off his boat until 3pm. We soon find out that Robert does one-man shows when the urge strikes him, and we get an impromptu concert. Fortunately, his guitar is much easier on the ears than the F-18s.

Once the festival is over, Beaufort becomes a much quieter place. There are still tourists walking around, but the huge crowds are gone. The locals we talk to all seem to enjoy the festival, but after 10 long days of nonstop events, they're just as happy to see it draw to a close! Case in point: our "neighborhood bar". Hemingway's offers jello shots for $1 (we never tried one, but we can't imagine they're as good as the ones from the Rowdy crew!). They probably sell 50-100 on a typical Saturday night, but they sell over 800 on the last Saturday night of the Water Festival. The marina and downtown shops have similar stories, and everyone is ready for a breather by the end of the festival. For us, we feel like we have a chance to see the "real" Beaufort. Yes, we're still tourists, but people have more time to chat when they're not trying to take care of thousands of extra folks besides us! The warmth of this place truly seems genuine. It has a small-town feel, where people smile at each other on the sidewalk and cars actually stop to let you cross the street. (Maybe some of you are used to this, but we didn't see it in Houston!) There's a definite sense of history, and the city takes pride in its preservation efforts. We get a closer look at those preservation efforts thanks to a horse-drawn carriage ride on Tuesday morning. Our guide is a gentleman named Bud, and the muscle is provided by Butch, a 13-year-old Belgian draft horse raised in the Amish country. Butch has been working in Beaufort for the past 6 years, and can pull 12,000lbs of rolling weight. Fortunately it's very flat in the low country, and Beaufort's highest point is only 23' above sea level. Over the 2+ weeks that we eventually spend in Beaufort, we walk past the carriage horses almost daily. We can tell you that the horses are extremely well cared for, and are very affectionate with their handlers. The horses probably know the tour route through the historic district even better than the guides, but Bud is a great storyteller and points out several interesting places and facts. We learn that the second island towards the Atlantic from Beaufort is Parris Island, which was actually the first settlement in the US. It was founded by the Spanish in 1520, who left in 1548 due to Indian attacks, heat, hurricanes, etc. Having established another settlement in St. Augustine, the Spaniards left Parris Island to go back down the coast. French Huguenots escaping persecution soon followed, landing in Parris Island in 1562. They set up the Charles Fort, but left in 1574 for the same reasons as the Spaniards. Beaufort saw development in the 1700s and 1800s, first by British merchants, and later by cotton farmers. Antebellum homes are surrounded by Live Oak trees, some of which are 600-800 years old. Even the newest homes in the historic district look as if they're hundreds of years old; thanks to the city's preservation efforts which began in 1973, all remodels and newly built homes must look like their elder neighbors. A few notables on the tour include:

--the First Anglican church, built in 1861: headstones were raised from the graveyard and brought into church, where they were laid along the pews and used as surgical tables for amputations during the Civil War (many headstones still bear the marks from surgical instruments).
--Cuthbert House Inn: Gen. Sherman stayed here on the way to his march to Columbia, SC.
--Secession House: the original articles of South Carolina's exit from the Union were drafted here. The state became the Republic of South Carolina (its own country) for 3 weeks. At that time, Mississippi seceded from the Union and SC joined the newly-formed Confederate States of America.
--Like in Savannah, some houses are painted "hainte blue" to keep spirits out
--The Rhett House, built in 1851 in Greek Revival style: the house was used as hospital #3 during the Civil War, and is now a B&B.
--First Baptist Church: built in 1824 by wealthy cotton farmers for $10,000 (over $3 million in today's dollars)
--The First African church was built as a slave church in 1863. It still contains hand-painted mosaic glass windows, and was the setting for the "Forrest Gump" gospel choir scene
--Many homes are built in the Georgian style, with a "welcoming arms" staircase
--"The Castle" built in 1852: the Italian Renaissance home has 6 doric columns and French windows; its 8118 sq ft includes 29 rooms and 8 fireplaces. It was used as hospital #6 during the Civil War, and was recently purchased for $2.65 million and completely renovated.
--17 people were hanged from Beaufort's 200-year-old "hanging tree"
--While many Beaufort homes have been used as movie sets, others have been rented from the owners for use by movie stars. Our tour points out the home used by Sally Field during the filming of "Forrest Gump", and those used by Nick Nolte and Barbara Streisand during the filming of "Prince of Tides" (apparently the rent on the latter covered 4 years of college tuition for the owners' children)
--"The Great Santini" and "The Big Chill" were both filmed at Tidalholm, a 7,000-square-foot Victorian-Italianate structure built in 1852 on the Beaufort River; the home can best be seen from the ICW.
--The Mary Hext House, aka Riverview, is the second oldest house in Beaufort (c. 1720)
--Novelist Pat Conroy grew up in Beaufort, and now lives on nearby Fripp Island

Over the next couple of weeks, we explore more of Beaufort on our bikes, try a few different restaurants, and visit our new friends at Hemingway's. We dinghy over to Lady's Island and walk to Publix our first week in town, but soon decide it's easier to bike to the stores in Beaufort (about 1.5 miles from the marina). While we took a few pictures during our carriage ride, we bike back over to the historic homes to take more pics for the blog. gives us a chance to go to The Chocolate Tree, a shop specializing in - what else - chocolate. White, milk, dark, fudge, bark, truffles, you name it. Rumor has it Tom Hanks is a major chocoholic and used to buy chocolates here while filming "Forrest Gump". True or not, we really love this place! Favorite restaurants include:
--Emily's: after our first trip for tapas, we go back to enjoy the rest of their menu. Rene has a fantastic shrimp and mussel curry, and Stacy has halibut with peach salsa. Incredible!
--Panini's Cafe: brick oven pizzas, homemade pasta, and more classic entrees. Right next to Hemingway's in an old bank building.
--Luther's Raw & Well Done: a great burger place in the heart of downtown

What's that old saying about no good deed going unpunished? Maybe this doesn't qualify as a "good deed", but we've decided that instead of leaving on Tuesday (nearly 2 weeks after our arrival), we'll leave after Hemingway's pool party scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 2nd. What happens within days of making that decision? We get struck by lightning! We've faced afternoon thunderstorms for weeks now (welcome to Summer in the South), many of which are severe. We have another storm system come through on Wednesday afternoon (July 29), and go through our usual routine of turning everything off at the circuit board and unplugging the power cords from our laptops (just in case). Suddenly there's a flash of lightning and a massive, immediate BOOM, and we just look at each other. Rene turns on a cabin light, and it's still working. We shut it off until after the storm, and then do a full check of the systems. Everything in the cabin seems okay, other than the stereo needing to be reset. Unfortunately, when we turn on the chartplotter/GPS/autopilot in the cockpit, we get no GPS information. Rene spends Thursday making calls to Raymarine and testing various connections; in the end, the technician at Raymarina tells him that it's most likely the navigation system's course computer (the "brain" of the system). There's nothing we can do other than to ship the unit off to Raymarine for repair and/or replacement. Lovely...the unit retails for $2,745. We have coverage for a lightning strike, but have been told that any insurance claim could lead to an increase in premiums and no other company insuring us for up to 3 years. In any case, it's storm season - meaning it'll take at least 2 weeks for Raymarine to get back to us once they receive the unit. It looks like we'll be traveling to Charleston using nothing but charts and our depth gauge...just like "real" sailors!

After a frustrating Thursday, we get a pleasant surprise on Friday: Chris & Robin, our neighbors from the 42' catamaran anchored behind us, have seen "Kemah, TX" on our stern, and stop by to introduce themselves. It turns out that they used to live in Watergate (our old marina), and left to go cruising about six months before we bought Pipe and moved into the marina. Chris & Robin even lived in the same livaboard section as us, and know all of our old friends & neighbors: Deana & Troy, Colleen & Steve, Kat & Trey, Jim & Kitty, Frank & Julie, Mike & Gloria, Chuck & Connie, and many others. They invite us over to their boat, "Toucan Dream", Friday night after dinner, and we have such a great time visiting with them that we don't realize it's 1am until we get back to our boat. Saturday night we have them over to Pipe Muh Bligh, and are thrilled that they decide to stay for an extra day to join the fun at Hemingway's pool party on Sunday. We've had a great time getting to know them, and it seems like we've known them a lot longer considering how many friends we have in common! We hope they're having a fantastic time on their trip north, and we'll definitely see them again on future travels!

Sunday afternoon we head to Hemingway's for their "Pool Party". They actually put a bunch of inflatable swimming pools of various sizes in the parking lot between the patio and the riverwalk, complete with beach chairs, rubber ducks, beach balls, and a sprinkler. Their regulars bring in tons of food, and the bar does 2-for-1 drinks all day. The bar staff even got their distributors to provide giveaways, so we have raffles and relays to win t-shirts, flip-flops, and gadgets. We have a great time sitting in and around the pools for the first couple of hours, and move inside when the thunderstorms hit mid-afternoon. Everyone has been busy cooking, and there's London broil, ribs, shredded pork, meatballs, hamburgers, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread casserole. Someone has made peach and blueberry cobbler for dessert, along with a bundt cake and "Norwegian" chocolate chip cookies. We're absolutely stuffed by the end of the day, but it's been well worth it! Between the bar staff and the locals at Hemingway's, we've really felt like part of a community for the past 2 weeks. A huge thank you to Sherri, Liz, Mo, and Laura for making Hemingway's such a warm, friendly place for us!

Monday is spent doing laundry and a few last-minute boat preparations, and we'll be leaving Beaufort on Tuesday morning. We'll go up the ICW about 30-40 miles, anchor overnight, and should finish the 70-mile trip to Charleston the following day. We'll be doing this without GPS or autopilot...wish us luck.

Pictures for this Blog chapter: