Sunday, December 1, 2013

Two Charming Southern Belles

Charleston to Beaufort, SC
November 16-18

On our itinerary through the South Carolina Low Country we visited two of the most beautiful cities on the ICW—Charleston and Beaufort. As it extends from Georgetown to Savannah, some of the Low Country’s prettiest features are centuries-old live oaks, gleaming sea-grass flats, serpentine waterways, historic plantations, and sixty low-lying barrier islands.

First we had to get to Charleston. The tidal range in this area is around six feet, meaning that at high tide the water is six feet deeper than at low tide. Depths listed on the nautical charts indicate Mean Low Water (MLW), the average low tide level. The controlling depth of the ICW is supposed to be twelve feet MLW. However, there are multiple trouble spots that are too shallow (or “skinny”) at low tide for a typical sailboat with a draft between five and six feet. We had researched these problem stretches. To death. But we forgot to review one tiny note we’d jotted down about a spot just north of Ben Sawyer Bridge, a half mile from Charleston harbor. While I called the bridge tender on the VHF radio to request an opening, suddenly Pelican lurched and slowed to almost zero. Mid-sentence, I blurted out, “Whoa! We just hit something. I’ll call back!” And then, “Oops, Honey, I’m sorry I announced that on the radio!” Usually we’d keep a minor mishap to ourselves. Happily, as soon as we hit that mid-channel bump we were free and clear of it. Whew! So we made the bridge opening, but better yet, we weren’t hard aground like a couple sailboats we heard on the radio an hour later.

Charleston's old Customs House
 We felt so fortunate that the one full day we could spend in Charleston, our favorite Low-Country city, was spectacular. She welcomed us with unseasonable warmth, her handsome antebellum homes and churches striking a picturesque pose. We did our own walking tour, strolling through the market, down to the Battery, and on back streets not written up in tourist guides. Sunlight spilled onto window boxes and gardens still bright with blooms.

The Dock Street Theater, Charlest
Keith will tell you that I rarely let an opportunity to take a picture of a beautiful old church pass me by. This time the ornamented pink Gothic style of the French Huguenot Church caught my eye. Between 1680 and 1700 more than four hundred and fifty French Protestants (Huguenots) arrived in Charleston as persecution in France pushed them to the New World. Many of them were middle-class merchants, and they helped form the backbone of Charleston society. Today the Huguenot church, the French Quarter, and the names of the most prominent families are lasting reminders of that French influence.
The French Huguenot Church, Charleston

We capped the day with dinner at our favorite Charleston restaurant, FIG. A perfect ending to a perfect day with the first southern belle.

Then on to pay a call to the next charming lady: Beaufort, South Carolina. 
With Claus, Rachael, and "Handsome" in Beaufort
The Anchorage, a tabby house, Beaufort
We caught up with Claus and Rachael Newman, our dear sailing buddies from our last cruise, and went on a horse-drawn carriage ride through Beaufort. It seemed appropriate to tour the old town in period transportation. Beaufort’s entire historic district has been declared a National Historic Landmark. We clip-clopped under canopies of moss-laden live oaks to see antebellum mansions, businesses, churches, and even graveyards. Some historians say that Beaufort may have been the wealthiest city in the United States before the Civil War, that it was considered the “Newport of the South.” Providentially the homes and landmarks of this southern city didn’t fall victim to burning and destruction during the Civil War because it fell to Union occupation in 1861.
Gracious Southern living, Beaufort

Being from a place whose American history began two centuries later than the historical cities in this area gives them a sense of nobility and timelessness. Part of the appeal of our journey is the great stopping places—exciting new “backyards” all along the way. Like these two gracious southern belles.

In the Palmetto State, Beaufort

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