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Our home is not in Charleston, SC, but it is where Hally-lu-ya!, our Catalina 36, rocks in the water. So, if "home is where the heart is," Charleston is our home after all.

Our sailing friends understand this. Our family is not so sure. Even though we have spent countless long weekends there flopping about in the harbor for 12 years, it was a new experience to take a relaxed week enjoying the local cruising experiences.

Charleston sits on a low peninsula formed by the Ashley River on its south side and the larger Cooper River on its northeast side. The two rivers converge at the mouth of the harbor to form the Atlantic Ocean (native lore). The harbor is thus a pie shaped sailing area in protected waters that enjoys a predictable daily sea breeze that varies between 10 and 20 kts. For 150 years before England established the colony of Charles Town in 1670, European explorers and settlers had found the natural features of Charleston to be very desirable but were constantly frustrated fighting various American Indian tribes for this beautiful and bountiful land. Even today, wonderful tomatoes come from neighboring Wadmalaw Island, and a Wadmalaw Sweet onion is the best. We keep them a secret and send foreigners over to Vidalia, GA, for onions. As famous as it is for its role in the War Between the States, Charleston was even more prominent in the Revolutionary war. History still lives in Charleston. The natural harbor combined with its rich land resources, made it economically vital then, and the same features that gave it maritime importance years ago remain today to be enjoyed by recreational cruisers.

Cruising is all about being flexible and following the most attractive tack each day. We had planned another Memorial Day week trip south intending to travel through gentile historic Beaufort and upscale Hilton Head, SC, and maybe into Georgia abundant with stately Live Oaks and lazily hanging Spanish moss. We fueled our boat, stocked the fridge, and topped off the water tanks. An early schedule was set for departure with others to meet near City Marina on the ICW for a bridge opening to leave Charleston. Morning arrived with un-forecast thunderstorms and more ugly weather promised. Why leave while we were safely tied up in our warm and fuzzy slip? I had been thinking that it might be a good idea to make Charleston our cruising destination for a week, and this was looking like the perfect time to do it.

By 10:30 the skies were clear, and the day was beautiful. This was too late to leave and comfortably get through certain sections of the ICW at needed tide levels and arrive at Dataw, our desired first destination, and have adequate time to enjoy being there. This triggered plan B. Our friends were invited to motor their boat over to our marina for lunch and later to sail the harbor for the afternoon with the ability to quickly duck and cover if the weather took an evil turn. If the weather cooperated, the next day we would head to a nearby up river retreat to join some other friends for an overnight anchorage. Mother Nature graciously complied.

Our friends had just sold their Catalina 30 on an inland lake and had bought a brand-X 38' older boat they named Know Cents. Carolina coastal boating was new for them. Even though these folks have lots of sailing experience, they were not familiar with Charleston currents, container ships, local navigation, and especially skinny water. I felt it my duty to help them earn their coastal cruising certificate by packing in as many experiences as possible in the 3 days they had to play. After a great lunch in our cockpit, we loaded their “new” boat with beverages and snacks for an afternoon harbor sail and sightseeing tour.

Charleston Harbor is surrounded with places significant in American history that are easily seen from the water. At the harbor entrance is Fort Sumter, Charleston’s best known fortification, where the first shot of the War Between the States was fired. There is also Fort Johnson, Fort Moultrie, and Castle Pinckney. Throw in Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina (big red roof), Yorktown aircraft carrier, Sullivan’s Island, James Island Yacht Club, Carolina Yacht Club, City Docks, Harbor Pilots landing, multiple container ships, tour boats, the Charleston battery and the new Ravenel Bridge, and you have the frame for the Holy City’s distinctive skyline profile with lots of church steeples dating from hundreds of years ago. The harbor waters are constantly alive with boating activity, much commercial, but there is always plenty of room for a good day sail out the Cooper (ship) channel or the Ashley River and crossing middle ground out to the entrance jetties past Fort Sumter. Morris Island lighthouse to the south and Sullivan’s Island lighthouse to the north used to mark the safe entrance to the harbor. Now there are giant range makers with lights powerful enough to be seen from miles at sea. It took several hours of sailing around the harbor to introduce the various landmarks to our new Carolina cruisers. Each site has its own interesting story worthy of a book.

If you have been sailing on a lake for years, you are simply not ready to see a depth meter stubbornly display less than 30' when outside the ship channel. Frequently, the depths are in single digits and cause for panic for recent lake sailors. It takes more than an afternoon’s sail to overcome the angst of folks in their boat navigating around more shallow areas. But here we were, enjoying a typical 18 kt. sea breeze under sunny skies with plenty of room to sail for hours while pointing out the many Charleston area landmarks and historical features. Container ships are extra impressive to folks who normally only see bass boats whizzing by. Charleston Harbor is a visual banquet.

Navigating thinner water under 7' deep in narrow channels is part of enjoying the coast. There is a neat anchorage in Nowell Creek less than 5 miles from downtown Charleston. It is surrounded by marsh and trees with a nearby bridge only barely visible. You can imagine yourself being miles from civilization. We led our new friends there to meet others, each in our own boats, for an overnight anchorage. It was a perfect evening with a fresh breeze. After a raft-up for an extended happy hour on Hally-lu-ya!, our friends separated to go have their first local anchoring experience. They had almost completed their certification requirements.

While we were enjoying the happy hour(s) party in our cockpit, a well-kept Catalina 30 came though our anchorage to drop their own anchor above us adding to the beauty of the scenery. It was an idyllic setting. Sleep came easy when Mother Nature’s light went out. Soon after the tide changed around 1:00 a.m., the C30 drug anchor and banged into our friend’s boat. Everyone was up for the show as the very apologetic couple on the C30 tried to sort out their mess and re-anchor. The next morning I could read the name on the C30. It was Sound Mind. Sound Mind had hit Know Cents. Ironies are great. Fortunately, no harm seemed to have come to either boat. Now all that Know Cents needed to do to complete their certificate was to make it back to their slip safely (they did), and they earned the “hit by a boat dragging anchor” merit badge as a bonus.

As we came back under the big new Ravenel Bridge, the Local tall ship, the Spirit of South Carolina, was out for a sail and was tacking up to the bridge. The Spirit was built with the lines and structural construction details of the classic tall ship known to all as America of the America’s Cup fame. She is a gorgeous ship operated by the Maritime Foundation for education purposes. The students were working very hard with the tacks as we were entertained by her progress.

Thus was the 3-day experience of our new coastal cruisers in Charleston. With more time, each historical site and nook and cranny seen and not yet seen will be explored in greater detail. For us, having the balance of the week left, we went to the Charleston Yacht Club for an awards banquet for the GulfStreamer Race (Daytona to Charleston). The next day we bought fresh local Grouper as it was being cleaned. We ate it that evening on our boat along with the fresh local vegetables we picked up at the farmer’s market open once each week in Mount Pleasant. Sunset in the cockpit of Hally-lu-ya! looking from our slip across the Charleston skyline was a special pleasure and went nicely with a glass of wine. The next night we were shagging to Carolina beach music at a neat old restaurant on Sullivan’s Island. All of these places are within 10 miles of downtown. If I had my Sunfish with me, I could have raced in the weekly fun race on Thursday nights at the James Island Yacht Club, but we did day sail our 36 a couple of times. The opportunities to do things are almost endless, and a week’s worth of time was used up without even going downtown to enjoy the charming ambiance of the historic Battery mansions or Rainbow Row as Spoletto (international arts festival) was getting started. We did visit the sweetgrass basket display in the new park under the big bridge on our way out. Sweetgrass baskets were once a functional craft, but now they are art. The baskets are a simple example of living history in Charleston.

The greener grass syndrome affects us all. The view from afar can make a distant place on the horizon take on a seductive aura. However, wherever your “home” is, it surely has many very special qualities to earn being your destination from time to time. Even more importantly, I think that it is people who make our experiences special, not places and things. That is why people who sail Catalina 22s report having as much fun as those on a Catalina 470 (my apologies to Catalina Yachts who seeks to sell us larger boats).

Our grass is looking greener to those coming from just over the horizon. Welcome home. Glad we came. And the rest of y’all, I hope a convenient tack brings you here soon. The sweet iced tea is ready.

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Fort Sumter


Hally-lu-ya! at anchor Nowell Creek


Spirit of SC with Ravenel Bridge, Yorktown in background


Charleston skyline

 


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