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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Nineteen

"Charleston is a way of life, not a place." So said one of the tour guides. It's probably a pretty accurate statement. Charleston meets or exceeds all the superlatives one can conjure. It is charming, it is old, it is historic, the people are wonderfully friendly, the food is superb and it is by the sea. It shares so much history with other East coast cities and yet it has the distinction of having thrown its own "tea party" rebelling against the British Stamp Act four years before Bostonians did it, and of being the start and finish location of the "Around Alone" races, where sailors sail solo around the world, and of being the home of the Citadel, the home of the Yorktown, the world war II aircraft carrier, a submarine, a navy destroyer and a coast guard cutter, all of which can be toured. And of course, Charleston is the location of Fort Sumter, where the civil war started.

The tour guide at Fort Sumter gave, in my opinion, one of the more accurate and objective descriptions of the conditions that led to the war of any I have heard, be it from northerner or southerner. The civil war is certainly one of the saddest chapters in American history, and unfortunately more misinformation seems to be believed than accurate facts. Regardless how you feel about the war, if you ever have the opportunity to tour Fort Sumter, be sure and do it. You will come away with a new perspective about the struggle. I will share one interesting story that we had not heard before. It seems that newly re-elected President Lincoln planned to visit Fort Sumter on April 12, 1865, the anniversary of the start of the war, to deliver a major speech and ceremoniously bring the war to an end, but time and circumstances prevented his attendance. The ceremonies were held in his absence with speeches delivered by his representatives. He was naturally concerned about the event, since he knew emotions would be at a high pitch, since Lee had surrendered only a few days before. Communications being what they were in the aftermath of the war, Lincoln did not hear of the success of the ceremonies until April 14th. Relieved, he and Mary attended Ford's theater that night. One can only imagine how different reconstruction may have been had Lincoln delivered a speech that no doubt would have excelled his Gettysburg address.

We were privileged to be in Charleston when the "tall ships" arrived. As near as we could ascertain, a tall ship is one that is old, preferably built of wood and powered primarily by sail. It should also be big and it should be actively sailed and not primarily a museum piece. The ships came from countries all over the world and are touring the United States in recognition of the turn of the century with a grand finale at New York. We toured three of them and came away with a new appreciation for the complexity of these magnificent works of art and the seamanship it takes to sail them. First, we toured the HMS Rose, which is a replica of a British war ship. She is a three masted, square-rigger with an all-volunteer crew dressed in costume of the 1700s. Her length was 179 feet and she could carry 13,00 square feet of sail and twelve cannon. She creaked and groaned and smelled of wood and sweat. She was wonderful. Next we toured the Bluenose II a 157-foot cutter rigged schooner that could carry 11,000 square feet of sail. Finally we toured the Libertad a gigantic four masted, square-rigger used by the Argentine Naval Academy. One hundred and twenty cadets were on board and they acted as tour guides. Their English wasn't the best, but it sure beat our Spanish. The ship was over 300 feet long and carried in excess of 20,000 square feet of sail. Her masts were of steel and all the fittings and tackle seemed incredibly oversized. The complexity of the sail rig and manpower needed to sail the Libertad left us more than slightly overwhelmed. Suffice it to say, don't miss visiting one of these ships if you get a chance.

We took the usual tours of Charleston in both horse drawn carriages and self guided walking tours. It seems that downtown Charleston was saved the indignities of urban renewal because the city was so poor and neglected from the end of the civil war until after World War II, that there was money only available to make do with buildings that by and large were constructed before the civil war. By the time the city was prosperous enough to rebuild, the residents realized they had the largest collection of antebellum homes and buildings in the South and that they should be preserved. Thus, laws were enacted that prohibited modern architecture and any construction higher than the highest church steeple (245 feet). The result is that a great deal of downtown Charleston consists of cobblestones, quaint narrow streets, and innumerable buildings that are over two centuries old. Most are now shops and offices, but many of the old homes have been renovated to like new condition and are probably out of the financial reach of all but the wealthiest residents. Some can be toured, but all can be appreciated from the outside and some of the stories about their design and construction, let alone their occupants, are just this side of believable.

We stayed four days in Charleston and could have stayed much longer, but we will see more the next time we pass through. The weather was favorable for an offshore passage, so we sailed out of Charleston harbor on Sunday the 18th of June 2000 and headed Northeast. Our plan was to sail overnight to Wilmington, North Carolina, but the wind abandoned us that afternoon, so rather than motor all night, we opted to re-join the Intracoastal waterway at Georgetown. We arrived at a fine anchorage just inside the Georgetown inlet at dusk. Thinking we had made a great decision we were just settling down for dinner, when the mosquitoes and no-see-ums attacked with a kamikaze commitment. We hastily closed all hatches, cranked up the generator and turned on the air conditioner. We're not fond of running the generator all night, but with the heat and bugs we really had no choice. The generator only burns about a half gallon of diesel per hour, so it only burned about five gallons for the night, but the noise of the generator and the noise of the air conditioner put a damper on our preference for fresh air, peace and quiet. Communing with the great outdoors and all that.

The next day we motored North on the waterway stopping for the night at Longwood Island on the Waccamaw River. The Waccamaw is a very pretty river. It is wide and slow moving with interesting wooded areas along the banks, interspersed with occasional marinas and homes. Again, because of the heat and bugs, we ran the generator and AC that night. The following evening we tied up at Hugh's Marina by Shallotte Inlet. Same story with the generator and AC, because this marina had no electrical outlets available for our use. Inconvenient, but the overnight fee was cheaper this way. Most marinas charge one dollar per length of the boat for the privilege of tying up to the pier for one night, connecting to shore power, using water and showers. In our case, that is $40 per night. We can run the generator all night for $5 and get all the water we want when we buy fuel. The next day we made it to Southport where we had mail waiting. We tied up at the marina in deference to their holding our mail for us. following day, June 22, we sailed up the Cape Fear River to Wilmington. We took advantage of one of those rare opportunities where we had a strong southerly wind combined with a flood tide to enable us to make the 20-mile run in record time. We arrived shortly after noon and tied up at Bennett Brothers Marina. We wanted to visit this marina, because it was highly recommended to us an an economical marina for our annual haul out, which we plan to do in October or November. During the haul out, while Sojourner is on blocks, we will clean and repaint the bottom and do all those chores that cannot be done in the water. We stayed there three nights, as it was indeed a very nice marina, with air-conditioned showers, restrooms and laundry facility. When you live in your own house, you take these amenities for granted, but when you live on a boat they are luxuries.

After our stay at Bennett Brothers we moved to the city pier in the heart of Wilmington. This is a rather unusual benefit provided by the city. The piers are right on the river in front of the Hilton Hotel. Tie up is free, but there is a one-week time limit. If electricity and water are desired, arrangements can be made with the Hilton, which after payment, invites cruisers to use the hotel restrooms and pool. A great deal when you consider that downtown shopping and restaurants are a short walk away. This visit was also a rendezvous for us with friends from our stay in Marathon. most southern coastal cities, Wilmington is rich in history, beautiful old homes and charming people. Each city we have visited so far has had something unique to call its own and Wilmington was no exception. The mansion that British General Cornwallis used for his headquarters in the "colonies" has been beautifully restored and is now a museum. Many other notables including George Washington either visited the city or lived there. The city is full of historical markers attesting to the birth, residence or death of some famous son or daughter of the city. And of course Wilmington is the final berth of the USS North Carolina, the famous World War II battleship. She is beautifully maintained and certainly worth a visit. Next stop is Morehead City and Beaufort, North Carolina. Stay tuned.

Dates: ,
Locations: Charleston, SC; Wilmington, NC

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.