Recap: Holiday Season in the Southeast

Christmastime in Georgetown, S.C.

I’d never heard of Georgetown, S.C., until some sailing friends from Annapolis, who were ahead of me in heading to the Bahamas, posted a photo to social media of a margarita they were enjoying there. And the margarita looked pretty damned good, I have to say (can’t find the post…must be gone). So when the timing and logistics worked out favorably, I put Georgetown on my itinerary.

All of the write-ups about the harbor area were a little sketchy, with warnings about super-shallow water and too-soft mud for anchoring. I called about a slip at a marina so I wouldn’t have to worry about the mud (and could also do a bunch of laundry since the machines at the marina in Myrtle Beach had been out-of-order for several days before my departure) and the folks there assured me there was plenty of depth for Further to fit. And there was. On top of that, their facilities were immaculate and the crew working there very nice. It was a great place to hunker down for a nice blow that ripped through the night after I arrived. But what was really great was the town itself.

The Harborwalk in Georgetown

Georgetown’s downtown area features a pretty little main street with a boardwalk that hangs over the water in front of cute shops and parks, and runs along a good portion of the entire harbor. At the head of the harbor is an honest-to-god working steel mill (I thought those had all decamped to Asia decades ago) and a working paper mill (this part of the country having once been a huge lumber/paper region…does the name “Georgia-Pacific” ring a bell?), and at this time of the year, the whole shebang was done up for Christmas. All of the storefronts had Christmas lights, trees in the parks were decorated. There was even a tiny little skating rink (on synthetic “ice”) with rental skates for the area’s kids to get into the spirit of the season.

I not only enjoyed a couple of great meals (complete with the Army-Navy football game on TV, among other contests) and a cozy feeling that this was just a genuinely nice place, but I even got the same good margarita that had sent me here in the first place. Simply put: I dug Georgetown.

Which was a continuation of what had begun on the waterways south of Myrtle Beach. Heading down the Waccamaw River was amazing: truly wild country, right there on the over-populated East Coast of the United States. A quaint little city with a lot of history was plunked down there (along with some seriously high-rent beachfront property not too far away) and then, south of Georgetown, the wildness took over again.

Motoring along the ICW through the Thomas Yawkey Wildlife Center. This part of South Carolina was simply stunning. I had no idea prior to this trip

South of Georgetown, at the mouth of Winyah Bay, the ICW turns to the west at the Thomas Yawkey Wildlife Center. That name might not ring a bell to many of you but Tom Yawkey was the owner of my beloved Boston Red Sox for a good chunk of the 20th century. We won’t get into the various and sundry aspects of his ownership (blatant racism, mistreatment of great players, unending mediocrity for decades); the guy owned the Sox. He’s a Boston legend. And down here in South Carolina, his wealth set aside a huge chunk of amazingly beautiful marshes, seafront, islands and woodlands. In fact, that whole area of eastern South Carolina is now a place I would very much like to come back and explore someday, preferably by muscle-powered craft such as a canoe. It was that lovely. Of course, it might have helped that this was in December and I was, quite literally, the only boat out there. In any case, I quite enjoyed my travels through the area.

I made it to the outskirts of Charleston that evening, and stayed at the Isle of Palms Marina (verdict: meh; and when you consider what they charge for such meh-ness, a hard no) and in the morning got right back on the road. A drawbridge and a borderline-low fixed bridge made the initial hour kinda puckering, but nothing untoward happened and I cruised past Charleston and back into the marshes of South Carolina.

Sidebar: I’d like to check out Charleston someday but at this point, especially after the two-week delay in Myrtle Beach, I was in delivery mode. I wanted to get south. I was hoping to make Savannah, Ga., in two days from Georgetown, and that would mean boogieing down the ICW.

At anchor on the Coosaw River, north of Beaufort, SC

After seeing speeds that ranged from 9.5 knots to 3.5 knots, I was able to ride a favoring tide and anchored for the night in a broad, marshy area north of Beaufort, S.C., on the Coosaw River. Again, it being December, I was the only one on the water, so after edging up near the shore on the north side of the river and setting the anchor, I rigged up my Christmas lights in the cockpit, had a nice dinner and, after enjoy a dark, star-filled sky, turned it to sleep…

…and was awakened by a loud BANG in the cabin around 1:30 a.m. I awoke and turned on the lights and my whole world was at a tilt. It was true: Further was heeled over at about 45 degrees, almost as if she were out sailing on the ocean in a stiff wind. I checked my instruments and, of course, it was operator error: I had anchored too close to the river’s shore, in water that, once the tide ran back out, was too shallow for the boat’s keel. Further was in the mud.

There was nothing to do but wait it out so that’s what I did. Fortunately, it wasn’t long until the tide bottomed out, and when the water raced back into the Coosaw, Further was floating and happy again. And in the morning, I got back underway around 7:30 a.m. and rode that still-incoming tide with an eye toward making the 9 a.m. opening of the Lady’s Island Bridge in Beaufort.

Which I did, but not before being freaked out by the engine oil-pressure gauge looking awfully low. I nursed the boat through the opening and turned hard to starboard, where there was a free municipal dock. After securing Further to the dock, I checked the oil and, to be honest, it looked a little low. I put in a quart of oil and ran the engine…the gauge looked better. Shut it all down, checked the oil again and, when it seemed fine, started up the engine once more. Again the gauge looked fine. So off into the now-outgoing current Further and I jumped.

And again our timing was impeccable. We hit a couple of places where we were fighting adverse currents, but for the most part, we hit a lot of places with the current at our back…and we flew. Past the US Marines at Parris Island, around the back of Hilton Head Island and through the watery heart of Savannah, until we pulled up at Isle of Hope Marina southwest of town. I spent two nights at that marina and got to see an old friend from California now living in Savannah, and then, on the Ides of December, continued heading down the ICW.

Made it to Brunswick, Ga

I had a two-day window before another big winter storm was forecast. My goal was Brunswick, Ga., where my friends on board Kiana were holed up, along with a vibrant cruising community, at the Brunswick Landing Marina. That marina was located in an inlet the US Navy used to use as a hurricane hole: it’s a narrow, very protected spot and remains a hurricane hole for cruising boats. Thing was: it was ninety miles in between Savannah and Brunswick, there really wasn’t anything but low marshes and inlets open to the sea (hence this whole region being known as “the low country”). Ahead of the storm, the wind was blowing out of the northeast—and hard. It was a complete mess out on the Atlantic but the ICW wasn’t too bad. A couple of the sounds with wide openings were quite gnarly, with big winds, choppy seas and slow going. Still, in many of the creeks we were again getting a nice push by the tides—so much so that we wound up averaging more than eight knots over the sixty-one miles en route to our anchoring spot on the North River. This time I was smart enough to stay in deep enough water so I had a pretty restful sleep, despite the wind continuing to rage out of the northeast.

Brunswick’s claim to fame (hey, don’t knock it: a good Brunswick stew is to die for)

I woke to a grey, misty rain with fog and poor visibility—not the ideal conditions for the initial bit of this final leg to Brunswick. I’d stopped at the North River because the next few miles of the trip were through a notoriously shallow area on the appropriately named Little Mud River. This morning, the tide was rising, so if we did manage to bump the bottom we could wait a bit and have more water to help us out.

No such help was needed. We rolled through that shoal-filled area, cruised around the back side of St. Simon’s Island and passed under the Sidney Lanier Bridge in Brunswick before lunchtime. The oil-pressure gauge again had me worried at times, but we made it. In fact, the only crazy thing that happened on this leg of the trip was that the final bridge of concern, the Mackay River Bridge out to St. Simon’s Island (the Lanier Bridge is huge; big enough for freighters and tankers to pass under), the VHF antenna at the top of Further’s mast struck the underside of the bridge. Now, it’s a whip antenna—just a piece of wire, basically—so it rebounded right into place again but, seriously?! After 675 miles down the ICW and all of those pucker-inducing bridges in the Carolinas with nary a tap, this final bridge, that’s not supposed to be any kind of an issue, the antenna bends?! Argh!

No matter. With the help of two marina hands I got Further nestled into her slip, reconnected with the folks on Kiana, and settled in for Christmas and New Year’s in Brunswick

Christmastime in Brunswick

Which turned out to be an amazing stay. Brunswick Landing Marina is huge and a large number of cruisers make the place their home, whether permanently or between cruises to more exotic locales. The marina crew is super helpful and the community is very active. Hell, it’s like an old folks’ home in that there’s always something going on, from free (yes, free) happy hours three nights a week to free (yes, free) laundry facilities to yoga classes and arts-and-crafts seminars to regularly scheduled events such as holiday potlucks and gatherings at nearby establishments.

One of my fave parts of Brunswick: sipping a porter outside in December

But as with Georgetown, S.C., what really made the place was the town itself. Like Georgetown, a funky little downtown area featured great shops and restaurants (including a good brewpub), a weekly farmer’s market in the park next to the marina, and deals at a lot of establishments for those staying at the marina. On top of that, the first Friday of every month is a community party with the main drag shut down, a few stages set up on which area bands to perform and vendors with pop-up shops all up and down the street. First Friday was a great evening with a whole bunch of cruising friends wandering the town, and on other days and evenings I enjoyed the town myself, including one restaurant with a Sunday night prix-fixe deal that was out of this world.

The rest of the time in Georgetown was spent prepping for the coming travels southward. I ordered a TON of stuff online and had it delivered to the marina. I changed out the oil in Further’s engine (which addressed the oil-pressure gauge issue, though I do think I want to replace the sending unit at some point). I did a host of other odd jobs on the boat and got her ready to go.

Christmas twilight from aboard Further in Brunswick

Although to be honest, I quite liked the scene there at Brunswick Landing Marina, so when it came time to go, it was with a long backward glance. Folks call the place “Velcro Marina” because people get in there and then never leave. And I can understand why. It’s not the kind of marina where people go day sailing a lot—it’s a couple of hours to the open ocean from the dock—so I don’t know that I’d settle in there for TOO long. But I thoroughly enjoyed my twenty-five days in Brunswick.

But a week and a half after the New Year, after a storm that brought torrential rains, frenetic lightning and reports of a tornado at nearby St. Simon’s Island, a new friend I met on a crew-finding website flew in and a weather window opened up. So it was time to move on, and this time, we’d be heading out of the ICW into the open Atlantic Ocean. Finally!


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