November 15, 2003|
Isle Of Hope, Georgia
Georgia On My Mind
By Bernadette Bernon
- At first light, with tears in our eyes, we hauled up the anchor,
steered Ithaka in a slow circle around Zia Lucia, and waved good-bye to David
who’d gotten up early to say good-bye. Douglas blew three long lamenting
calls on our conch horn, as we finally turned away, ghosted out of little No
Name Harbor, and began to retrace our GPS track out through the shallow Key
Biscayne channel toward the open ocean. Shauna and David were our last touchstones
to the cruising community, dear friends who’d shared “re-entry” with
us, the emotional roller coaster ride of coming home. After experiencing
so much together, this, finally, is where our paths diverged.
After about 45 minutes of motoring into the wind and waves,
over depths that showed only two or three feet under Ithaka’s stern,
we finally tip-toed toward the last shallow GPS mark, turned left into deep
water, relaxed a
bit, trimmed the sails, and headed north with our thoughts, toward Savannah,
an ocean passage of a couple of days. Saying good-bye always makes us quiet
for the first few hours of a journey.
Ithaka sets sail from Key Biscayne, away from cruising friends, and on to new adventures in Savannah, Georgia.
Douglas and I like to stand a two-hour watch system all night,
especially the first couple days at sea. This way, during the day, the person
can go below for longer periods and sleep uninterrupted, while the person
on watch maintains control, checks position, watches the horizon for ships
squalls, trims the sails when needed, and so on. By catching up on sleep
during the day, we feel a little better rested during the middle of the night,
it’s harder to stay awake. Trading watches is how we spent our first
day out of Key Biscayne, one of us always up in the cockpit, and the other
either reading or snoozing. With good winds but overcast skies, we were close-hauled
with Ithaka’s sails sheeted in tight, and made fantastic time, riding
the Gulf Stream.
Gray curtains of rain began appearing here and there on the
horizon before sunset the first day, and after darkness fell we tracked more
on our radar. By morning, we’d sailed through a couple of doozies,
with their downpours and increased winds clocking around and requiring us
sail by furling in more of the genoa, and lowering the mainsail one reef
point. With a bit less sail area, Ithaka lost nothing in speed, but she was
over, and the ride more comfortable. Day two brought more squalls, and a
more persistent driving rain.
The wide-open inlet at St. Simons Island is where Ithaka tucked in for protection from the building elements at sea.
Sailing about 30 miles offshore, to position ourselves in the strongest northern
flow of the Gulf Stream, we picked up a warning from a local Coast Guard station
on VHF channel 16, announcing that a large line of thunderstorms was moving
at 35 miles an hour directly toward us. They cautioned boaters to stay in port,
and suggested that those on the water seek shelter immediately. There was no
shelter for us, so for two hours Douglas and I worried about our impending
rendezvous with this monster-system, and kept checking the horizon. When the
dark squall line finally emerged, we reefed Ithaka down some more, and over
several dramatic hours sailed through pounding rain, high winds, and dazzling
lightening bolts striking all around us. We were glad for one thing, though;
for a change this all came during daylight hours. Normally, it seems, these
beasts are nocturnal.
Night after night, we had the dramatic sunsets in the Georgia marshlands all to ourselves.
About 350 miles north of No Name Harbor, we turned west, exited
the speeding Gulf Stream, watched our speed drop to normal numbers, and ducked
Intracoastal Waterway, just south of St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. Once
Ithaka was in the protective lee of St. Simon’s, and headed north into
the Georgia marshes, our world changed for the better. The water calmed. The
still-strong winds carried us along through green grassy avenues and creeks.
Dolphins jumped alongside us as we soared from mile marker to mile marker,
and a watery landscape unfolded as beautiful as any we’d ever seen.
As far as the eye could see in the rainy mist were valleys of bright-green
grasses undulating in the wind, and thick green-black forests of towering
firs. The banks along the sides of this natural inland waterway were a ribbon
black mud at low tide, and here and there were graceful long-legged egrets,
white as snow against the black, foraging for their dinner, or just standing
elegantly watching the world go by. As we motorsailed along, we watched the
tide change, and the slowly rising waters swallow the ebony ribbon, till
only the top half of the marsh grasses rose above the brackish water.
The reliably consistent mile markers all along the American Intracoastal
Waterway show you where the channel is, and keep you out of the shallows.
So this was Georgia! Wow! What a feast for the eyes. To think
that three years ago, on our hurried voyage south from Rhode Island, we’d sailed offshore
past this state. We’d been freezing in ice storms up north, and just
wanted to reach Florida in double time, where we could peel off our gloves
and fleece hats as soon as possible. We’d no idea how spectacular Georgia
is, and what we were missing.
Our first night in the marshes, we nuzzled into Wally’s
Leg, a beautiful little creek off the main artery, dropped the hook in 12
feet of water, and
throttled back on the rode to make sure the anchor was well dug in. No worries.
This was thick Georgia mud. If any squalls found us in here tonight, they
could knock themselves out. We were going nowhere.
You could lose yourselves among the undulating marsh grasses of the Intracoastal Waterway in Georgia
That evening, we studied our chartbook, and Skipper
Anchorages Along The Intracoastal Waterway (a compilation of best anchorages,
and fuel prices) to review our route and see where we could bring Ithaka
to rendezvous with some friends who lived in south Georgia. As we traced our
along the waterway, the names on the charts painted a picture of the old
south, sometimes evoking a simpler life in times gone by -- Buttermilk Sound,
River, Old Teakettle Creek, and Possum Point -- and occasionally evoking
the tragic human dramas that once played out here; one of the most poignant
called Escaped Negro Creek. Sitting in our cockpit that evening, Douglas
and I looked out over the marsh-scape around us, and imagined the story that
have inspired that name.
We decided to aim the next day for a marina called Two-Way
Fish Camp (the name as well as the location intrigued us), where we could
leave Ithaka while
we visited inland. Two-Way was located about five miles up a winding, well-protected
creek. It was reasonably priced, and the fellow on the phone won me over
with his musical accent and promise to lead us in through the last of “them
dad-blang shallows” if we ran into trouble on the way. Ithaka spent three
days tied up at Two-Way, while Douglas and I hopped in the car with our friends
Al and Teresa, whom we’d first met two years ago when they were running
a private school in Honduras, and Ithaka was hauled there for bottom painting.
Now living back home in the Barbeque Belt of Georgia, Al and Teresa rolled
out the red carpet for us, driving us through thousands of acres of “pupwood”(the
soft wood used to make “paypuh”), filled us with all kinds of lore
about the Okeefanokkee Swamp, and gave us a big ‘ole dollop of southern
hospitality. We ate our way through three days of home-style Creole, Cajun,
and Low Country specialties; barbecue; country-style hams, burgoos and stews – until
we were plum wore out, and had gained about 100 pounds! Douglas and I each
dream of one day returning for yet another dinner with Al and Teresa and their
family at the infamous Jimbo’s BBQ in Homerville.
Al and Teresa
From Two-Way, stocked with provisions from the Piggly Wiggly,
we hugged Al and Teresa, and set off on the marshy waterway toward the Isle
Of Hope, our
gateway to Savannah. On the way, we anchored the first night tucked up in
a secluded creek, watched snapping turtles circle us, flocks of birds soaring
overhead, alligators sunning on the banks, and a heartbreakingly beautiful
sunset. Deciding that things couldn’t get much better than this, we
lingered for two days, enjoying our solitude, catching up on a few boat projects,
some writing. Being back in the hustle and bustle of the United States, we
were craving the balance of quiet times more than ever before. The Georgia
marshes, which we had all to ourselves, were a gift.
A country dinner would be incomplete without Jimbos Barbeque Sauce world-famous and bone-sucking good!
After we finally picked up the anchor, and carried on, we passed
the Ogeechee and Little Ogeechee rivers and puttered through Skidaway Narrows – every
turn of the waterway revealing a scene more beautiful than the one before.
Then, just west of Burntpot, close to mile marker 46A, we dropped Ithaka’s
anchor again, in 10 feet, at the Isle Of Hope. This was an exciting stop. Here,
we’d finally meet in person friends we’d made over the internet,
Kenny and Mary, who live in nearby Sandfly. It was a bit like a blind date!
A couple of years back, we’d gotten to know Kenny when he contacted
us through this column. A lieutenant colonel in the Army, he’d been following
our story online, and had told his friends Al and Teresa in La Ceiba, Honduras
about it. We’d ended up meeting Al and Teresa in La Ceiba because of
Kenny, and later we spent great times with them in the Bay Islands of Honduras,
in Venezuela, and most recently just a few days before in Homerville. Finally
in Isle of Hope, the triangle of friends was joined. After so much correspondence,
and after discovering we had so many mutual interests – Kenny is a gifted
writer who’d shared his hilarious short stories with us -- finally
meeting and hanging out with him for a couple of weeks was a thrill for Douglas
Kenny’s dream is to go cruising when he eventually retires from the
Army, and he’s doing his best to entice his girlfriend Mary into the
sailing and cruising life. Over the next two weeks, as we hung around on Ithaka,
or at Kenny’s house, or Mary’s house, or as we poked around Savannah
together, it was fun to give them ideas about boats and places they’d
like, and then see their reactions and how it fueled their ideas of what’s
possible. It reminded us how some of the places Douglas and I have been over
the past three years once seemed so distant and unattainable to us, and now
that we’ve gone there, one step at a time, they seem so accessible
and easy. What a difference a few years make!
Kenny and Mary
Meanwhile, Kenny and Mary showed us Savannah – a breathtaking city to
walk through. We came to understand why, during the “War Of Northern
Aggression,” as many southerners still call The Civil War, General Sherman,
who said he “could make Georgia howl,” could not bring himself
to torch Savannah. It was just too beautiful. In the daytime Savannah is genteel,
hospitable, and beautifully planned, a city that William Harris wrote, in his
page-turner Delirium of the Brave (a great historical-fiction mystery), “danced
a slow waltz with time.” At night, though, Harris saw other dimensions,
calling Savannah: “Georgia’s state within a state, her penultimate
zone of forbidden but tolerated pleasures, a beautiful and sassy child… a
defiant and seductive lady.”
The infamous Mercer house, which climbed to fame as the site
of the murder in the equally bestselling book Midnight In the Garden
Of Good And Evil
When we weren’t all together, Kenny lent us his truck while he was at
work, so Douglas and I were able to do some errands during the day – an
incredible help to us – and go visit some other old friends living
in Savannah, and in Colombia, South Carolina. In the evenings, we strolled
town. Then Al and Teresa drove in, and for a few days we all made a big old
southern-style party out of it.
Everywhere you look in downtown Savannah, is dazzling architecture,
shady parks, and southern charm.
A highlight of our time in Savannah was a walking tour with
guide, Sharon Gaylen, which began in her ante-bellum home on Calhoun Square.
we strolled streets overhung with Spanish moss, and paved with ballast stones
from trading ships. We passed Forest Gump’s bench, took pictures in front
of the home where the murder in the bestseller Midnight in the Garden
of Good and Evil took place, visited elegant churches and synagogues, and were mesmerized
by Sharon’s history of the city. We read aloud the plaques on statues
of southern heroes. For example, General James Edward Oglelthrope, the founder
of Georgia, stands proudly in Chippewa Square, dressed in military uniform
and facing south, his back never turned on his enemies and the dangers from
that direction. Sharon explained that the Spanish had settled in Florida
and wanted to capture English territory to the north. Georgia served as a
to keep them out of the Carolinas. Even in death, Ogelthorpe was keeping
his eye on the ball.
Behind almost every garden gate in downtown Savannah, it seems,
are spectacularly lush gardens that thrive in the humid air.
In colonial times, Georgia stood for freedom of religion, except
for Catholicism, which was not allowed. The Georgian colonists feared infiltration
attack from the Spanish, who were Catholics and had settled Florida, and
he didn’t want to take any chances. Another statue, of a soldier in Forsyth
Park, honors the fallen soldiers of the Confederacy. That soldier faces north,
said Sharon, “for obvious reasons.” (For information on an excellent
private walking tour, contact Sharon Gaylen at firstname.lastname@example.org)
We visited the Congregation Mickve Israel Temple
While we were in Savannah, we also celebrated a reunion with
Naomi and Thea, good friends of Douglas’s from graduate school, and Thea’s husband
Matthew. They too squired us about as we reminisced, laughed, and compared
how all our lives have meandered since we’d last seen each other. Late
afternoons we often stopped into the Driftaway, a favorite local watering hole
in the town of Sandfly. We poked around Moon River, forever immortalized in
the chestnut that became one of Andy Williams’ theme songs, and we began
to imagine what it would be like to live in Georgia. What we’d seen so
far, we loved. It’s funny how cruising does that to you. It makes you
imagine all kinds of different lives for yourself, and endless possibilities
for change and growth. And that feels mighty fine, as they say ‘round
With Al and Teresa, and Kenny and Mary, we had a night of terrific
Irish music at Kevin Barry’s Pub
Finally, it was time to mosey onward, to tear ourselves away from our friends,
this beautiful state and its hospitality. Douglas and I had agreed to do a
slideshow-lecture in the Chesapeake, and we were pushing the time frame as
it was. Reluctantly, with promises to meet again up in Newport, we hugged our
friends good-bye for now, pulled up the anchor, puttered Ithaka back into the
marshy waterway and headed north.
Thinking back on Georgia, we’ll remember most fondly our
friends, the spectacular unfettered sunsets, and having peaceful anchorages
all to ourselves.
Cruisers often say that one of the hardest things about the
cruising life is the number of times you have to say good-bye to people with
shared intense times. Saying good-bye in Georgia was like that. I thought of
our friends David and Shauna on Zia Lucia, starting a new life for themselves
back in Key Biscayne, and wished they’d been here to share all this with
us here. For a good long time we’d keep Georgia on our minds.