We entered the Savannah River late on an August afternoon with the help of an incoming tide. Serving as the 4th largest container port in the Nation, ships come and go 24 hours a day, usually with the tides.
As we passed the statue of Florence Martus, Savannah’s Waving Girl, we could see the master on the Downtown Dock signaling us. We would be the last boat to tie up for the evening.
On a Saturday night and Savannah’s riverfront is alive with both tourists and locals. This Saturday, music from an art festival in the park just north of our dock filled the air. Behind the park across the cobblestone street made with ballast from ships of years past, were centuries old four and five story brick buildings with restaurants and shops on the ground floor.
After hosing off the salt and cleaning ourselves up, we headed out the gate at the top of the gangway. Jackie Tar, our miniature golden doodle, had already made friends with everyone on the dock. A boat from Hilton Head, just down river from us. Recommended that we to head north along the waterfront to the Rocks Restaurant inside the Bohemian Hotel. The fried green tomatoes and jalapeno sauce was sensational.
Laid out by founder James Oglethorpe in 1773, downtown Savannah features 22 park-like squares, each with its own theme, most of which have statues or fountains in the center. All of the squares are filled with old, large oaks and their hanging Spanish moss. Although some of the lots in the historic residential section of Downtown are big enough for large colonial style homes, most homes are three and four story townhouses with entries off second story stoop porches. Many of them are individually designed and have very unique character. A number of churches are interwoven between the squares and homes. Many of the town’s shops and restaurants are on the first floor of major corners. The Downtown can be toured by horse drawn carriages, trolley type open buses, rickshaws or, as we did, on bicycles.
After spending the morning touring downtown, we headed to the Pirate’s House for a late lunch. Since the early 1700’s this tavern has been the hang out for pirates including such famous buccaneers as Captain Flint, who died in the tavern after saying to his faithful mate, Billy Bones, “Darby, bring aft the rum”. Beneath the tavern is a tunnel through which drunken tavern patrons were transported to waiting ships on the river. These shanghaied “sailors” would awaken already underway to foreign ports, with no choice but to sign on or swim for shore.
Our next stop, Harbour Town at Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island has been in need of dredging for over 5 years. We’re told permits are now in hand and dredging will start November 2013.
Hoping to get through the shallow entrance and docked before half tide, we pushed off the Savannah dock at slack high the next morning, and rode down the River just behind the slack, to the ICW. With the dredging problems, there were only a few boats at our destination. Normally when we visit this area the harbor is jam-pack with boats. Since it was so empty we managed to dock right in the middle of shops, restaurants. The Plantation’s summer season was in full swing.
Dining on our aft deck with takeout from one of the dockside restaurants, we could listen to Jimmy Buffet songs being sung and strummed in an outside lounge a few feet away. After dinner, and yes ice cream, we could hear in the opposite direction Gregg Russell entertaining under the liberty oak at the center of the yacht basin, which was built around this grand old tree. Gregg’s shows are about the kids who had filled the wood benches surrounding the tree, and wish we had our grandkids aboard to listen and engage in Gregg’s interactive program.
Sea Pines Plantations has the best bike trails of any of the Sea Islands. Most of the trails are completely separated from the roads, and others run independently. Most are under oak and pine canopies, which in the summer temperature feels 15º cooler. Several of the bike paths run along magnificently landscaped golf courses, and skillfully sited and architecturally enhanced homes, painted to blend with the landscape. We spent the next two days exploring the trails, with lunch at South Beach the first day, and the Beach Club the second.
We departed Harbour Town on the third morning heading south to explore Saint Catherine’s Island shoal at low tide. This island, which was the first Spanish outpost in Georgia, is owned by a private foundation and is not open to the public. After maneuvering around Middle Ground, in the center of Saint Catherine’s Sound Inlet, we anchored just off the northwest corner of the Island in Walburg Creek. With low tide, we walked about a mile out into the Atlantic between two small sand islands where we found several red sponges. As night approached, we watched an amazing sunset while relaxing on our aft deck.
After an equally beautiful daybreak, we headed for Blackbeard Island, at the southeast corner of Sapelo Sound. Currently a National Wildlife Preserve, Blackbeard Island was one of the hideouts for Edward Teach (Blackbeard). As legend has it, Teach buried his private loot on the Island. We anchored at the mouth of Blackbeard Creek in 12 feet of water and headed south on the Creek by tender. We had entered at near high tide. By the depth gauge on the tender we could have made it down the Creek, although our 5 foot draft would have been close at one point. The Refuge has a dock off the Creek about 2/3’s of the way around the Island. Daytime use of the Island is allowed. Past the Refuge dock is a great anchorage, near where the Creek meanders within 100 feet of the ocean separated with dunes you can climb over. The Creek continues a little further past this point and then enters the ocean over a drying shoal. With the tide starting to recess we wandered the deserted beach, while Jackie Tar ran circles around the birds, and we collected sand dollars, the most we had seen in some time.
Blackbeard Island backs up to Sapelo Island and is 97-percent owned by the State of Georgia. Visitors to the Island must be part of an organized tour or guest of one of the Island residence. We anchored on the Duplin River off of Doboy Sound at the south end, just north of the Island’s Marsh Landing pier. Our guide met us there, arriving at the pier on the 9:00am morning ferry from the mainland. Most of the 47 residences on the island are second homes, as there are no schools and few facilities.
As many as 400 slaves were on the Island in the early 1800’s and recent history of the Island includes a large plantation operated by successive Island Owners. The Island’s current community of Hog Hammock includes descendents of these slaves. The two most notable island owners are Howard Coffin, founder of the Hudson Motor Company and R.J. Reynolds, Jr. of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. During Coffin’s ownership both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover visited the Island, staying in what is now known as the R.J. Reynolds Mansion. This is the same house owned by Coffin and previous plantation owners. The Island has a facility for the University of Georgia Marine Institute, a lighthouse and a large grass airstrip that R.J. Reynolds’ used for his DC3.
Our last stop before heading back to Brunswick Landing Marina, our hurricane season home for the year, was Saint Simons Island. We chose to anchor on the east side of Lanier Island, north of the fixed bridge connecting Lanier and Saint Simons Islands. We chose first to head back up the ICW by tender to explore Little Saint Simons Island. The Hampton River separates Little Saint Simons from the big island and can be entered off the ICW between markers 222 and 223. Although there is enough water for our boat at high tide, we chose to make this trip by dingy.
Maneuvering along the Hampton River we saw several opportunities for good anchorages. We landed on Little Saint Simons Island just north of Pelican Spit, on the beach where the river entered the ocean.
Little Saint Simons Island is privately owned and the owners operate the Lodge on Little Saint Simons, a bed and breakfast that accommodates 32 guests. This island is one of the least developed of the Sea Islands and is filled with indigenous wildlife of all types as a result.
On our last day before heading back, we loaded our bikes on the dingy to transport to shore and rode to the Saint Simons Village for lunch and then to East Beach. Our ride took us along the side golf courses and the beautiful homes shaded by canopies of oaks with hanging Spanish moss. A truly amazing adventure.