Slow and Steady
We made a deliberate decision to “stay inside” on the Intracoastal Waterway as we headed south. Sure, it can be tedious as you wind your way through the red and green navigational markers guiding us through the shallow areas. We like to take it slow (6-7 knots = 7-8 mph), using one engine at a time as we saunter down the waterway. Tidal currents sometimes give us a boost of 2-3 knots but it can also slow is down by the same measure. We are literally going with the flow!
We've been on the ICW for a month and still, the bridges take our breathe away. For fixed bridges we can usually read the tide boards at the base of the bridge with our binoculars to determine if there is enough clearance (63.5 feet) for us to get under. Every once in a while we realize that there's not enough room for us to clear the bridge. (Insert deep inhale and deep exhale.) Oh well... there's nothing to do but pull over, set the anchor and wait a few hours while the tide goes down.
With our trusty Waterway Guide in hand, we plan our itinerary in 50 mile jumps. The Guide (really it's more like a cruisers bible) gives us details about bridge openings, marina specs and recommended attractions along the way.
Favorite Coastal Towns
In keeping with our desire to go off the beaten path, we've enjoyed exploring some of the coastal towns along the waterway. Certainly Charleston and Savannah are highlights, but we have been particularly enchanted with several small coastal towns along the way. What a pleasure to stop for a few days and get a feel for the towns, their history, culture and their people.
Southport, North Carolina
The charming seaport of Southport, NC is a short 30-minute drive from Wilmington. You have probably seen Southport if you saw Richard Gere in Nights of Rodanthe or movies like A Walk to Remember and Safe Harbor. It is frequently used as a small town backdrop for films needing a laid back coastal feel.
The area has forts dating back to 1836 to defend against pirates and intruders from the American Revolution and the Civil War. While visiting the local maritime museum, we learned that in 1946 a tanker off the coast near Southport was sunk by a German submarine. Who knew that World War II had come so close the shores of the U.S.? We certainly didn’t!
Georgetown, South Carolina
Georgetown is a cool little town located in the Lowcountry part of coastal South Carolina, just a days voyage north of Charleston. The town has a number of museums and has worked hard to preserve and share its history. Michelle Obama's family came from this region and we were intrigued.
In the 1850’s Georgetown was the hub of the South Carolina rice trade. Rice was an incredibly profitable crop which could be grown in the low country using a “tidal flow” technique. This planting method was commonly used in West Africa and the plantation slaves provided the expertise to establish rice production in the early 1800’s. If you're ever in the area, the Rice Museum for a great explanation of the history of the rice crop and its role in the local culture.
We also found the fascinating Gullah Museum in an unassuming commercial building off the main street. Gullah is the culture which developed as slaves from differing countries created a language and culture that connected them to each other. The museum is owned by a family dedicated to preserving the history of the culture. From our tour guide, Andrew Rodrigues, we learned that Michelle Obama’s family roots are in the Georgetown Gullah culture in Georgetown. The whole experience of listening to Andrew talk about the history of the Gullah in the Georgetown area was spellbinding.
To prepare for our time in Beaufort, I downloaded a copy of A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy. (I love the digital catalogue of my local Bud Werner Library!) The late author lived, worked and wrote about this life in the marshlands around Beaufort.
Moss-draped oaks frame every view in old Beaufort. The downtown area is a National Historic Landmark District, and visitors can tour the many Antebellum mansions from the comfort of a horse-drawn carriage.
One of the first things to learn about Beaufort, SC is the correct way to pronounce the town's name. Very quickly we learned that it's Beaufort (Bew-fort), South Carolina, as compared to another ICW town, Beaufort (Bow-fort), North Carolina. Confusing the two pronunciations will earn you a sharp rebuke from the locals.
Historic Brunswick, GA is a cruiser-friendly town and the gateway to some amazing barrier islands. Just 30-miles from our favorite Cumberland Island, Brunswick provided a wonderful stopover before our heading out to the Cumberland National Seashore.
Settling into our berth at Brunswick Landing Marina, felt like moving into a retirement community. The marina is well-known for offering free beer to their customers. Fifteen docks filled with live-aboard boaters gather for happy hour, yoga and free laundry facilities. A nearby park hosts the farmers market pavilion and great restaurants abound just minutes away in downtown Brunswick.