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by Dan and Jan Ahart
The next day, June 12, 2000, we took advantage of the free bicycles at the Jekyll Island Marina and pedaled into the shopping center about a half-mile away. We only needed a few groceries, mostly fresh fruit and veggies, plus we wanted to mail a package and look around a bit. Jekyll Island was purchased in 1886 by the Jekyll Island Club, better known as the Millionaires Club. Members included the Vanderbilts, Astors, Rockefellers, Armours, Goodyears, Pulitzers, and Maceys. Membership was based on inheritance and the entire island was guarded against interlopers. A magnificent Victorian clubhouse was built as well as "cottages" for members. Other amenities included a golf course, tennis and horseback riding. The most notable guest was President McKinley, who visited there in 1899. The island was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1947 and today, for a fee, one can visit the clubhouse and cottages. The rest of the island is what one would expect in the 21st century. Motels, water parks, souvenir shops, fishing trips, restaurants, golf, tennis and of course, lots of beach front to play on.
We left Jekyll Island at 1100 local and continued North via the waterway to St. Simons Sound and then St. Simons Island. We chose not to stop at Brunswick and continued on the waterway, which used part of the Mackay River, which emptied into Buttermilk Sound. Leaving Buttermilk Sound, we entered little Mud River. The waterway along this portion of the coast of Georgia is a series of dredged channels, creeks rivers that meander a great deal but run roughly North and South. The waterways drain a huge marshy area into the Atlantic by running North or South to the nearest estuary or sound. The tides in the area range from three to six feet depending, I am sure, on complex hydraulics. But it appeared to us that the width and depth of the sounds and waterways had a great influence on the tidal range. It seems that if the flow is restricted via narrows, the tidal ranges are higher. Conversely, if there are no restrictions, the tidal flows are less restricted and the ranges are lower.
Traveling the waterway on flood and ebb tides makes for some interesting experiences. A river or creek that connects with a sound to the South and a sound to the North will have both North and South flowing water into and out of each sound. On a flood tide for instance, while exiting a sound traveling North the tide adds a knot or two to the velocity of the boat. Upon reaching midpoint between sounds, the incoming tide now slows the boat a knot or two because the sound to the North is filling. If the rivers are long enough and the timing is just right, a flood tide will provide assistance in one direction followed by assistance from an ebb tide a few hours later in the same direction. Sounds weird and it is. Needless to say, being that lucky is the exception. In our case, it seemed that we were always against the tide. However, one advantage of the salt grass marshes is that they offer little resistance to the wind and if the wind was just right, we could put up a sail, usually the genoa and get a little additional push. But, most of the time, we just motored slowly along while watching the birds and occasional porpoise.
Speaking of porpoise, we don't recall seeing any while we were in the Bahamas, whereas here in the murky waters of the low country they are plentiful. It may be that they can sneak up on fish easier if the visibility is lower. After all they "see" more by sonar than eyesight. The water is so clear in the Bahamas that the predator fish must use speed alone to catch prey. We enjoy watching the activities of porpoise. They seem busy all the time, either fishing or playing. They are even active at night. If it is a moon lit night, they can be seen briefly, but if it is a dark night all one can hear is their quick exhale and inhale as they can be silent and barely ripple the water if they want to. We also saw very few pelicans in the Bahamas; probably for the same reason as the dearth of porpoise. Pelicans dive on their prey and in clear water they can probably be seen by the fish in time to avoid being caught.
We arrived in Savannah at 1530 local on June 8th. Looking at Savannah on the charts, we wondered why the city is located where it is, because other than being on the Savannah river, it is otherwise surrounded by marshes. Once we arrived, we understood why. The land upon which the city is built is 40 feet above the level of the river at high tide. It has never flooded. When James Oglethorpe established the city in 1733, he picked the location on the advice of local Indians. As expected, we found Savannah to be a charming and historical city with very friendly people. We took a Gray Line tour, which included identification of most of the historic sites as well as a tour of one restored antebellum home. There are many buildings dating from the early 1800s but very few from earlier years due to several fires that swept the city prior to an ordinance requiring homes to be built of brick or stone. Ogelthorpe laid out the city with relatively small home sites of 60 by 90 feet, but he included 24 "squares" or pocket parks that provided relief from the crowded homes. Today, most of the squares are full of statues and monuments, which of course, makes for interesting tours. Besides the obvious colonial and civil war history of the city, it was the home of the song writer and musician, Johnny Mercer, the Girl Scouts were formed there, Jingle Bells was written there and myriad movies have been made there including "Forrest Gump." We were also interested in seeing Bonaventure Cemetery and the Mercer House, which were featured in the movie, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." John Muir, the famous naturalist who is credited with founding Yosemite Park in California, camped out for a week at Bonaventure. The oldest cemetery in Savannah is Colonial Park, which is the resting place of several famous people, including Button Gwinnett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and General Nathanael Greene, who lead the Southern Command during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, many gravestones were vandalized by union troops who bivouacked there during General Sherman's occupation. Many headstones were actually removed and damaged. After Sherman and his troops left, the broken stones were incorporated into part of the cemetery wall and can be seen to this day. And one last famous person; John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church used to live in Savannah. All in all, Savannah is a great place to spend some time. But as charming as it is, our most memorable experience was the friendliness of the people.
We left Savannah and continued our journey North through more miles of salt grass marshes interspersed with beautiful waterfront homes shaded by huge old oak trees. We anchored for the night off Hilton Head Island, which has developed immensely since the last time we visited 15 years ago. There are now water taxis, tour boats and mega-yachts all over Calibogue Sound. The next day, we sailed out into Port Royal Sound and around Paris Island, one of two basic training bases for the Marine Corps and on into Beaufort, S.C. We did not stop at Beaufort, as we had visited there before, but admired it from the water. It too is a charming city and the location of several movies including "The Big Chill." It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon when we sailed past Beaufort and noticed a peculiar behavior among the natives. There are two very shallow areas in the river where dozens of boats were anchored. The inhabitants of the boats were, by and large, wading around visiting with each other. At first, we thought that perhaps there had been an accident, but as we drew closer, it was apparent that these were social happenings. Picnics on the sand bars if you will. Children played in the shallow water, some people had dogs (with PFDs) and everyone had refreshments. Clusters of women were visiting and clusters of men were visiting. The two sand bars appeared to be about a mile apart and between them were water skiers and other pleasure boaters as well as several cruising vessels passing through. There is a very nice city marina in Beaufort and a free, city provided pier for transients, plus there is ample anchorage for dozens of boats. The river is probably a quarter of a mile wide close to the city.
Continuing North, we anchored for the night along the southern shore of St. Helena Sound. We chose the spot very carefully so as to have some protection from the light winds off shore and keep us well clear of the waterway. As is usually the case, within and hour another sailboat anchored about 200 yards from us. I don't know if we are just good at picking out anchorages or if other cruisers figure if we're there it must be a good place. The next day we motored to within 10 miles of Charleston.
As one would expect, there are many bridges to traverse while on the
waterway. The ones that carry a great deal of traffic are now high
rise affairs with at least 65 feet clearance and can be negotiated
very rapidly and safely. However, many bascule or lift bridges and
swing bridges are still in use on the less traveled roads. For some
reason, each state uses a different radio frequency to contact the
bridge tenders, so there is always someone on the radio calling for
a bridge opening on the wrong frequency. Then, to add to the fun,
some bridge names are shown on the charts and some aren't. If the
name isn't shown, we use a local landmark to identify the bridge to
ask for an opening. Once we learn the name, we mark our chart accordingly
for future reference. Some bridges open on request and some open
according to a schedule and most do not open after dark. Some of
the operators are friendly and some are rude and some talk as if they
have their radio microphone in a bowl of grits. We always thank them
for opening and wave to them as we go through regardless how they
sound. We are just thankful that we can get through at the inconvenience
of many motorists. Charleston is next. Stay tuned.