Before we got out of chronological order with our Lightning Strike story, we left you off the coast of Georgia, near Savannah, in late June 2020. Time to pick up the story and tell you all about our summer in South and North Carolina. As you know from Andy’s last post, it was eventful! And we haven’t even told you about our visiting friends and family, surprise encounters, and MONKEYS. Lots to read here, folks!
Hilton Head, SC
Way back in the springtime, in the US Virgin Islands, Andy and I took a look around us and said, “We won’t be heading south for hurricane season this year.” Just to put a rubber stamp on that decision, we decided to make two marina reservations for June: Hilton Head Island and Charleston. Both are drivable from Atlanta in a half-day, and both are places we had visited before by land. It gave us a goal, and in all the uncertainty of the pandemic, it was nice to have some structure around our schedule.
Then our time in Florida kept dragging out with boat repairs and projects, and we had to move quickly to get north of the Florida state line, for insurance requirements. After the big push north, we were both wanting some down-time – something Hilton Head delivers, with long sandy beaches and seafood shacks on every street corner.
So it was with delight and relief that we navigated the Tybee Roads Inlet to Calibogue Sound and began looking for the iconic Harbor Town Lighthouse. I’ve visited it before and paid no attention at all to the boats docked beneath it. Yet here we were, approaching from the sea.
The Harbor Town Marina is very nice. It’s a little pricey, but it’s also the only marina available to ships with masts over 65 feet (ours is 75). So it was our only choice, but the amenities made it worthwhile. The dock hand met us to catch our lines and check us in with a nice welcoming bottle of wine. Then we had access to all of Sea Pines’ beaches, restaurants, pool, and tennis, a good and reasonably priced laundry room, dinghy access to the Salty Dawg restaurant, and best of all – Hilton Head’s famous bike paths! All the bicycle companies on Hilton Head will deliver your bikes to you, so we had alternate transportation starting from Day 2 till the day we departed. I love riding bikes, and I especially love being able to ride a bike to the beach, or the grocery store, or dinner, with relative safety. You can easily bike from one end of the island to the other. (We didn’t this time – but one day I will.)
Kyle and Rachael joined us for a long weekend starting Thursday, July 2. Rachael is our soon-to-be daughter-in-love, and it is always a treat to get to spend time with her and our son. I love how much they love each other, and take care of each other. Plus they are just fun. Rachael had not ridden a bike since childhood, but she got her bike-legs back quickly (and bravely). We went to the beach, lounged at the pool, and celebrated the Fourth of July with a cookout, fireworks, and watching Hamilton on Disney+.
Also, the same day our guests arrived we also ran into an old friend from childhood. Keith Pritchard and I went to elementary school together, and back in first grade he used to telephone me every day. (Remember land lines? One per household? Haha!) We stayed friends throughout high school and then reconnected on Facebook many years later. He owns a condo in Hilton Head and happened to be here while we were, so we met him and his buddy Ann a couple of times just to catch up.
After everyone went home, Andy and I basically had a vacation of our own. I celebrated my 54th birthday with some time at the spa (ahhh! Relaxation!) and dinner at a French restaurant (ah, escargot!). Then it was time to return the bikes and raise the sails for Charleston.
Morgan Island (Not kidding about the monkeys!)
However – my BFF Ruthie has spent a lot of summers at Edisto Island, and we texted a few times during our SC sojourn to see if we could coordinate a visit. Our schedules never lined up – BUT she told me about Morgan Island, which is near Edisto, and is a MONKEY REFUGE.
Yes. There is an island of monkeys off the coast of South Carolina. Who knew? This site gives a little information: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/south-carolina/morgan-island-sc/ The island hosts a colony of about 4000 research rhesus monkeys.
Of course we had to go see.
A little research on Active Captain (the Trip Advisor of anchoring sites) revealed that while this island is NOT open to the public, anchoring is permitted in the Morgan River off of Morgan Island’s beach. So you can park your boat there overnight and take your dinghy closer to the beach to get some photos and video of the monkeys.
Honestly, this was one of the coolest things we’ve seen in a while. Several speedboats came along between 4:30 and 6:00 pm looking for a glimpse of the critters, but we discovered that they prefer to stay inland, under the trees, until closer to 7 pm. Once the sun begins setting, you can hear a jungle-worthy outcry of monkeys, and then maybe a half-hour later you start to see movement on the beach. With binoculars you can pick out individual monkeys, or mothers with little ones. But we had to dinghy a lot closer to get some decent iPhone shots.
Charleston – The Visitors
The next morning we were up early to weigh (raise) the anchor. I would have loved to take the dinghy back towards the beach one more time, to see if the monkeys were visible in the cool morning, but we had a long sail ahead of us, with friends arriving at our marina that evening.
We’ve been friends with Chris and Terri Goethe forever, as well as Bill and Beth Yates. (Went to church with Chris when I was a teenager, and met Bill and Beth in college.) Andy, Chris, and Bill worked closely together at Velociteach for many years, and Bill is our EVP there. We’d been wanting to have all of them visit ever since we began this adventure, and Charleston was the ideal location. For one thing, it’s less than a day’s drive from Atlanta. For another, Chris grew up here and knows all the great places to eat!
Also, Chris is one of the most natural extroverts I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, so he was our cruise director and arranged all kinds of fun things for us to do. We ate oysters, had a wine-tasting, sampled vodkas at the Firefly distillery , and visited historical sites like the Angel Oak and Patriots’ Point. The ladies took a day to shop on King Street, which was such a nice break for me from boat life.
The highlight, though, was the day we took the boat out for a day sail and then anchored right off of Ft. Sumter for lunch and a swim. The water temperature was perfect and we all enjoyed lounging in the water.
Also – THE FOOD! I did not realize Charleston was such a foodie heaven. Chris got us started with several recommendations, but even after the Goethes and Yates had to leave, we kept exploring. Our favorites turned out to be 167 Raw (an upscale oyster bar), The Oyster House (a more affordable oyster bar) and The Ordinary (also a raw bar – clearly, we love our oysters). We ate there three times during our month stay. Oh, so good. This year was the first time I’ve disregarded the rule about only eating oysters in months with an “R.” I enjoyed them at least twice a week through July and August, with no negative effects. Maybe only because this is 2020, when nothing happens as you expect.
After the Goethe/Yates visit, we had a couple of days to clean the cabins and prepare for our daughter Anne and her buddy Madison to arrive. Anne is a college student at Kennesaw State and Madison is her former roommate and a recent KSU graduate. We continued our tour of Charleston restaurants with them, and repeated our visit to Ft. Sumter. But we also threw in a few other goodies, like a Ghost Tour one night and a visit (or two!) to Jeni’s Ice Cream. Anne introduced me to Jeni’s, which has not been good for my weight loss efforts, I can tell you.
A brief visit home to take care of some business, and then back to Gratitude for our visitor – my sister, Kristie (whom we call Kiki cause that’s how she said her name when she was a toddler). She has been working hard the past few years changing her life – picking up the pieces post-divorce, raising her kids, rehabbing our old family home, and getting her nursing degree. She’s been working all through this COVID-19 pandemic and had not taken a trip away from home in WAY too long.
Our original plan was for Kiki to drive to Georgetown SC on the same Saturday that we sailed there. Then we’d hang out in Georgetown, maybe visit Pawley’s Island, and drive back into Charleston for a day to see the sites there.
As the old joke goes, however, you wanna make God laugh? Make some plans! A couple of days before Kiki’s arrival we began to pay attention to a potential tropical storm. As the time drew nigh, we made a Plan B for Kiki’s visit to stay at dock in Charleston, in case this storm reached hurricane status.
So that’s how we weathered Hurricane Isaias. From Kiki’s arrival in Charleston on Saturday until the storm began its approach on Sunday, we tracked the weather religiously and made our contingency plans. We booked a hotel room close to the marina, to have a more stable place to ride out the storm if it looked really bad. We reviewed the hurricane plan we filed with our insurance. We doubled the number of lines securing us to the dock, and re-tied all the knots.
Charleston – The Hurricane!
Up until about the day before, we were braced for Isaias to strike Charleston as a Cat 1 hurricane. Then it became clear that we’d get a lot of wind and rain, but the full force of the storm would bypass us and strike further north, around Wilmington.
On Sunday afternoon, after Andy and I went through our preparations checklist, Kristie and I checked into the Hilton Garden Inn a mile and a half away. We could have stayed on the boat, but the reservation was not cancellable, so why not have a little hotel vacation? We made the most of it, with a tapas-style picnic from the grocery store. Prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe, Spanish olives, hummus and crackers, and some salami. And a bottle of Meiomi Pinot Noir. And the air-conditioning turned down to 68, just because I could. 😎
Meanwhile, Andy stayed aboard Gratitude. We invited him to the hotel with us, but he chose to ride out the storm aboard Gratitude.
(Andy) We had been watching the storm very carefully (i.e. obsessively) for several days. I’ve found that when a big storm is headed toward us, one of the best things I can do is talk to the other ship captains in the area. Some of them have been doing this a very long time, and they have a good sense as to whether or a particular storm is a concern. So I walked up and down the very long dock to measure their concern. Consensus: none of them were particularly worried. Some had ridden out very big storms on this dock, and the Mega Dock in Charleston is a truly massive, floating dock that is made for this. One local captain told me he had ridden out Hurricane Michael in this very spot, and everything was fine. He assured me that we were in the very best spot on the east coast to ride out a hurricane.
About 11:30 a.m. Monday, rain arrived in earnest, and by 5:00 p.m., the wind was howling and giving out an eerie low moan, but we had tied nine dock lines and had put out all of of fenders, and the boat did fine. The massive dock rose and fell with the waves, and while it was unsettling, there was never a time that I felt like I was in danger. The worst parts of Isaias passed a few miles east of us, and went on to hit Wilmington very hard. By midnight, the storm had passed, and conditions were calm once again.
(Karen) We came back to the boat on Tuesday morning and took Kiki out for a day sail, so she could experience at least a little time on the water. It was a fun day out, and she was thrilled, but as we docked, we had another (scary) problem with our propulsion (again! Phooey!) so after we tied back up to the dock we resigned ourselves to another few days of ordering parts and arranging repairs. Kiki left on Wednesday morning, but I think she had fun in spite of all our original plans getting tossed. Kiki can roll with the punches better than almost anyone I know, and getting a pajama-picnic with my sister was good for my soul.
We ended up staying in Charleston for another 9 days. Between the hurricane, the boat repairs (the propulsion issue turned out to be the propellers), and the lightning strike, we needed that time to get our groove back. I didn’t experience the same anxiety I had last spring, when we were new to boating, but all the upheaval definitely took an emotional toll.
On our last day in the Holy City, we got up early, went for one last run ashore (while we could!), and then I returned the rental car while Andy prepped for departure. It was a victory, then, for us to get underway by 9:15. And then we made GREAT speed getting to our anchorage in Winyah Bay, just south of Georgetown, SC. We don’t know if it was the new props or the sea conditions, but we clocked about 8 knots the whole day, arriving at the Winyah Inlet before 5 pm. I cooked some scallops and rice and we enjoyed the peace and quiet of a deserted anchorage. Big sky, calm water, surrounding marshes. Ah, peace!
Up early again the next day and at it again. This time we got underway by about 7:15, and Andy took the first helm shift. I did one of my III Nation workouts, which required lots of burpees and jumping and stepping up and down, so it was a bit challenging as the boat bounced over the waves. I’m hoping that I strengthened all those little connecting muscles that improve balance and stability. 😂 The weather was damp and drizzly till mid-morning, but the sun finally broke through with its cheering effect.
We anchored that night at Bird Island, a little north of Myrtle Beach, and the next morning headed for a dock at the Bald Head Island Marina. Have any of you ever been to Bald Head Island? It is BEAUTIFUL! You can only get to it by ferry or private boat. It is a vacation spot blessedly free of high-rises and condos. Instead you find shingle-clad houses and wooden bridges. Everyone gets around by golf cart or bicycle. There are several restaurants at the marina and a little footpath to the beach. We only had one night in this place, (and I forgot to take pictures!) but I am definitely coming back!
Our ultimate destination, after another day sailing and night anchored near Wrightsville Beach, was Beaufort, NC. We stayed here for a couple of weeks, so that we could leave the boat at a dock and go home for Anne’s 21st birthday. Beaufort is an utterly charming town. There are good restaurants, historical tours, nature tours, and meticulously maintained homes all within walking distance of the marina. And if you rent a car and drive just a bit, Atlantic Beach (beach!) and Morehead City (shopping!) are a short distance away.
For our boating friends, we stayed at Beaufort Docks, a small but very nice marina. The dockage rate and fuel prices were the best we found throughout the Carolinas, and the convenience to town could not be beat.
It was in Beaufort that we hosted our final Carolina visitor: my Aunt Dot. At 82, she is exercising extreme caution about leaving her home these days, but she made an exception for us and drove 2+ hours from Wilson, NC for a day trip. She has been to Beaufort many times over the years and had no need to do the touristy things. Instead we gave her a tour of the boat, ate seafood at The Sanitary (appropriately named for these times, and good food!), took naps, and visited the General Store for ice cream cones. More importantly, we reveled in great conversation. Aunt Dot has always been my favorite aunt, and she is a treasure to talk with: intelligent, well-read, involved in her church and community, and delightfully funny. She is who I want to be when I grow up. 🤩
Our next journey will take us from NC to VA, where we finally enter the Chesapeake Bay! It will be a long sail – close to 30 hours, we predict. If all goes as planned, that will be our final chapter for 2020’s East Coast tour. But it’s 2020, so who really knows?