Our visit to Charleston was in fun contrast to our transit through the Carolina low country rivers of the ICW.
Days 43 – 45, November 26 – 28
We had been looking forward to our visit to Charleston for pretty much, well, forever. Who doesn’t? Characterized by laidback gracious hospitality and historic homes, Charleston is magnetic. Arriving by boat made it just that much more à point.
The trip from Isle of Palms to Charleston was little more than 11 miles. We delayed our departure for an hour or so to let some strong thunderstorms and dramatic lightning pass through, then left in the rain with blustery southerly winds.
The river leading to Charleston Harbor, Sullivans Island Narrows, was swollen and flooding over its banks. Remember all that flooding we have been through? It’s still going on. We therefore ignored all the dire warnings about shoaling into the channel where so many have struggled not to go aground. Today, none of that was our problem. The bigger challenge was getting beneath the Ben Sawyer Bridge. We were fine, but because of the high water there was a lot less clearance than published on the charts.
Once through the bridge, out of the river and out onto lower Charleston Harbor, the weather was doing it’s thing. The current was against a stiff wind and there was a fiesty chop running. Esmeralde responded by doing her thing. Kicked into high gear, she cruised through the mess at a comfy 16 knots. Sometimes faster is definitely better. The sailboats doing six knots were having an unpleasant, wet and rough ride.
We sped past Fort Sumter to the south, where the first shots of the Civil War had been fired in 1861 when Confederate artillery fired on the Union garrison. We continued on past the site of Fort Johnson, an historic site from the colonial era, and then made the direct shot up to the west side of the Charleston Battery and into the Ashley River. The renowned MegaDock, otherwise known as the Charleston City Marina, was an impressive sight as we drew alongside for our slip assignment.
At 1530 feet, the MegaDock is the longest free-standing and floating fuel dock in the southeast. The marina covers 40 acres. The walk from the far end of the MegaDock to the shore access point is rumored to be half a mile (although I can’t confirm that). In keeping with the mega-theme, mega-yachts are the norm here. We were assigned a spot just in front of the 213-foot three-masted schooner Adix. Wow. Just wow. Esmeralde felt a little twinge of envy. Not much, but maybe just a little!
And thus began our visit to Charleston.
A walk ashore confirmed that Charleston itself is not exempt from all the flooding in the region. Although the water had receded to normal levels by the time we arrived, it was clear that the river had overcome its banks that morning, flooding the parking area and nearby streets, leaving quite a muddy mess in her retreat. It wasn’t the prettiest welcome to Charleston.
The rain did finally stop. The sun came out and the winds shifted into the northwest and blew hard. We hitched up the dogs and wandered inland to explore the city. It took us longer to cross busy Lockwood Drive than it did to deliver the boat from RI. Or so it seemed.
I don’t like to complain here on our web site, but they could really use a pedestrian bridge or some alternate way to get from the marina across into town without fearing for our lives. Waiting for the lights to switch for pedestrian crossing took the better part of a lifetime. It’s probably not an issue if you just do it once a day, but with the dogs needing a good walk, we were doing it three times a day (each direction) and it really got old after three days.
Anywhooo. Once across the roadway into the city, life changed. Walking the graceful residential neighborhoods was delightful. They morph as you move from block to block, some areas modest or a little rough, some elegant and sophisticated, and a little of everything in between.
During our two-day visit we really enjoyed the pace and the feel of the place. In addition to doing numerous loads of laundry I enjoyed one six-mile walk that took me through countless neighborhoods loaded with historic homes, down to The Battery and White Point Garden, up along East Bay Street, and back in to the shopping meccas of King Street and the Historic Charleston City Market. I topped it off with a side-trip to the almost-historic Harris Teeter for some provisioning, and lugged my purchases back to the boat with a final hike across town. All very enjoyable, including a shortcut through the delightful College of Charleston campus.
Back at the boat, Bruce did battle (again) with the heater. This time it was installation of a new custom coolant reservoir. Once again I will defer discussion of this contentious topic to a later post dedicated soley to it’s full explanation. It deserves nothing less. Let’s just say I know more about Charleston now than Bruce does, as he spent a lot more time in the ER than on the streets of that fine city.
Other than The Epic Heater Battle, our visit was fun. We didn’t do the best job exploring the culinary feast that Charleston is capable of offering, but in our own little way we enjoyed what we could. For convenience, we had a meal at the Marina Variety Store Restaurant adjacent to the marina. I have no clue why it is called a Variety Store: it’s not. It’s a local spot, a little bit of a dive with a warm and friendly feel and food that really wasn’t bad at all. It served our needs when we needed a quick easy meal close to the boat.
Our best meal was at the trendy Rappahannock Oyster Bar where we enjoyed a great meal at the impressive copper bar inside the restored 19th-century cigar factory. Very civilized.
As some of you may know, Bruce has been active on social media during this trip and we are continually astonished at our expanding “fan base”. Apparently, his posts are attracting attention from all sorts of folks, especially desk jockeys stuck in their offices when they would prefer to be out exploring as we are. It’s a hoot!
During our visit to Charleston we connected with a few more of these social media contacts, including Sean and Louise from the trawler Vector, and Fletcher, a local Charlestonian who took the trouble to wander down to the docks at the marina to visit with us. Our meetings with these folks along the way, our “friends from inside our computers,” is an increasingly fun and satisfying element of our cruise.
We enjoyed our visit to Charleston, but the reality is that we barely scratched the surface of what this great American city has to offer. So much history, so much charm. We will have to go back and try to dig a little deeper. It would help if by then the heater works like a charm and we can scratch that off our list.