ICW Road Trip
Nearly 3 years ago, in April 2014, we began our long journey home from the Bahamas, up the Intracoastal Waterway. The digital breadcrumbs that marked our passage on our chartplotter have since been erased, but the memories still remain. The tight timeframe of our return – we’d wanted to maximize our time in the Bahamas – meant that we didn’t dawdle, and we skipped many places we’d wanted to visit, and gave short shrift to the stops we did make.
After 10 straight years of attending the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in the spring (even a detour from our sabbatical: https://sabrecalypso.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/detour-and-frolic/), we decided that the event had become too crowded for us. Good for NOLA for recovering from the meager crowds that followed Katrina, but not so good for me. With vacation days freed up, this year we’ve begun what might become an annual tradition of taking a trip down the I-95 corridor to visit or re-visit some of those ICW sites. In our car! Where we can fill the trunk with anything we might possibly need or want, and throw back to our younger days with obligatory road snacks (Twizzlers anyone?), 80s and 90s music (The Outfield!) and lots of time to solve the problems of the world (or make snarky observations about it).
Once outside of the Baltimore-Washington-Richmond metroplex (or traffic cluster#%&k), we found ourselves on roads where (most) drivers use turn signals, look before merging, and drive exactly 0.5 mph below 80 in the left lane (because, you know, 80+ is “reckless”). The trade-off is gas stations where the likelihood of actually being open for business is inversely proportional to (a) the number of signs on the highway advertising them, and (b) your need to use the restroom. And a “South of the Border” billboard every 3 miles until you cross the South Carolina border, and a Ron Jon Surf Shop billboard thereafter. Instead of following the “magenta line” (which tracks the ICW on the chartplotter), we followed the lavender line on Waze; I adjusted the cruise control on the steering wheel to adjust my speed instead of clicking +/- 1 on the autopilot to correct my course.
Romancing the Cobblestones
We made it to our Saturday destination mid-afternoon: Charleston, for an early Valentine’s Day date night. Calypso spent a month in Charleston at the city marina without our supervision, and several days with us on board, so we’re not unfamiliar with the city’s charms. Beautiful weather (70s, sunny, breezy) and a curbside-to-room valet greeted us at the Vendue, just off Bay Street.
The Vendue is a boutique hotel which balances history with modern amenities, and features original art everywhere (I stopped picturing every piece in my house once I saw the prices). Our room had a working fireplace and all the sherry we could drink, as well as an extra-large walk-in shower with 2 rain showerheads and lots of outlets to plug in our chargeables. Our old-fashioned room key (remember keys?) got us free coffee in the café in the morning as well as preferred access to the hotel’s wildly popular rooftop bar. By 3, when we’d arrived at the bar, the place was hopping, with crowds of seemingly uniformed Millennials sporting aviator shades and Louis Vuitton totes. Despite our advanced age and incorrect sunglasses, we enjoyed drinks and the view.
We took a long leisurely walk in the general direction of dinner, ogling the enviably lovely homes and taking care not to trip over the cobbles. You can’t help but hear the whispers of history tickling your ears as you’re looking out from the Battery across the water to Fort Sumter (where, Rick will remind you, the South fired the first shots in the War of Northern Aggression).
Our dinner destination, Husk, is housed in a lovingly renovated historic building to bring you the latest hyphenated hot buttons on the American dining scene: Southern, organic, locally-sourced (yes, I’m sure they can tell you the name of the duck whose leg was confit-ted for your dinner), snout-to-tail, artisan-crafted, house-made, daily-updated, carefully-curated. It was fun to dine at a restaurant whose chef (Sean Brock) was a judge on the Top Chef episode aired just that week. Brock’s Husk isn’t just a restaurant that hits the buttons; it’s one of the restaurants which made them, and does them exceptionally well. From roasted oysters and lettuce wraps with glazed pig ears, to duck confit over grits, dinner was beautiful and delicious. Go there!
After dinner, we tried to go to the Gin Joint for a nightcap, a favorite bar, but – get this! – there was a 30 minute wait to get in! We were taking off early the next morning, so went to the elegant bar at the Vendue instead and used our $25 voucher to buy a round before sliding into our sleigh bed.
Friends in Warm Places
Since our friends Skip and Harriet moved to Vero Beach, Florida, we’ve regularly crossed our own wake by visiting them. We spent nearly 3 weeks at Vero’s Loggerhead Marina on our Bahamian sojourn, so when Rick and I volunteered to make dinner one night during our visit, I strolled through the Fresh Market and the ABC store like I’d been there many times before. Because I had! When you are provisioning a boat for a trip to the Out Islands, you’ve got to prepare for a lot of shortages – you might find plenty of conch in the Bahamas, but not avocados, Wheat Thins or French rose – necessitating a lot of trips to Publix, Fresh Market, Target, the ABC store, and West Marine.
After a smooth ride from Charleston (we did NOT stop in Cocoa Beach to visit Ron Jon – checked that box a long time ago), we had a reunion with our pals involving a long soak in the hot tub and a Hendricks and tonic. Skip and Harriet seem to be part of a diaspora of Sabre sailors in Vero Beach (another cluster is in Sarasota – hey MT, Julie, Christine, Jerry, Brian, Marj!), so, we shared our first evening in the Florida warmth with the former Moondance crew, as well as the Serendipity and 2nd Symphony folks, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over Skip’s smoked pork butt.
Hanging out with some Sabre peeps poolside in Vero Beach.
We had nothing ambitious planned for our Florida visit – nothing is required of close friends other than their company. The biggest activity of our days was quality beach time – beachcombing (sea glass and Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish), basking in the sun, and marveling at the brave creatures who actually went in the water (their technical name: “Canadians.”)
More shells and goodies than I’ve seen on Vero Beach in a long time.
This is not the kind of goody you want to find accidentally! This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Portuguese man-of-war, and there were lots of them on the beach.
Morning beach time ceded to beachfront lunches (Mulligan’s, Waldo’s) featuring that most simple and sublime of Florida pleasures: the grilled fish sandwich.
Rick, at Mulligan’s.
And, since it’s vacation, a glass of wine or beer. Afterwards, shopping or more beach time before returning to Maison Moondance and that inviting hot tub.
Ah, more Florida beach time. The northernmost of Vero’s beaches is lightly visited.
We ended up going out to dinner only once, to a place called Southern Social, but had planned to be called Swine & Co. Pig is the theme here, and they mean it: every appetizer or plate that might be served with or enhanced by a chip, cracker, crispy onion or other saltycrunchy bit is accompanied by pork rinds. So, ceviche comes with pork rinds; corn dip comes with pork rinds; mac-n-cheese is garnished with pork rinds. A bit gimmicky, BUT their sangria makes everything forgivable. And it’s not garnished with pork rinds.
Besides our crossing from Florida to West End, Grand Bahama, the only other overnight ocean passage we made on our Bahamian journey was from Fernandina Beach, Florida, to Beaufort, South Carolina (that’s Byoo-fort, not to be confused with Boh-fort NC). Aside from the relief of making landfall, Beaufort offered the sheer pleasure of her springtime beauty. We were captivated and anxious to spend more time here, so we planned a leisurely visit after our days in Vero Beach.
We’ve been visiting the Lowcountry for years, and I’ve been enthralled by those long wooden piers crossing golden marshes and ending over open water, providing access to the snaky curves of the creeks and rivers of the region. This time, we rented a rambling house walking distance from Beaufort’s historic district with just such a pier, with a covered deck at the end that gave out to views over the Beaufort River (which we’d cruised past aboard Calypso) and the fighter jets taking off and landing at the neighboring Marine base. It took no time after our arrival before we settled on the dock with glasses of red wine.
The dock and marsh at Pinckney Home Place.
Over the course of our many visits to South Carolina, we’ve watched Beaufort bloom – and I’m not just talking about the azaleas starting to pop in the precious February sun.
Beaufort in bloom.
While having the Spanish moss draped loveliness of the setting for The Big Chill and many an overblown novel (ahem, Pat Conroy…), the town is coming to life as more than just a day trip from Charleston, Savannah or Hilton Head.
Beaufort loves its live oaks.
The shops on Bay Street are more numerous and interesting; the restaurants on Carteret are more plentiful, hip and current (we had terrific meals at Saltus River Grill, Breakwater and Wren); and the streets don’t roll up after dark (we were there during an international film festival).
The juxtaposition of river, marsh and antebellum architecture is nevertheless the initial attraction in Beaufort.
Gorgeous Beaufort homes.
And while pricey, one can gawk at the real estate and actually imagine owning it here (albeit with one less kidney), unlike Charleston, where historic district homes (and the attendant costs of refurbishment and maintenance) are attainable only for families who’ve been there for generations, movie stars, and hedge-fund types – who don’t even live there full-time.
We spent hours walking around town, revisiting spots we’d visited before and exploring new ones.
We also hit the road, exploring the surrounding area, including the charming town of Bluffton. However, our plan to visit the state park at Hunting Island – which is Beaufort’s ocean beach – was a bust. It turns out the park was closed because contractors were still cleaning up the wreckage caused by Hurricane Matthew.
En route to our aborted visit to Hunting Island, we stopped for lunch at Johnson Creek Tavern and added to the décor.
The park staff at Hunting Island suggested we go to Fort Fremont for an alternative beach walk. Although the batteries were built at the end of the 19th century, they looked like some of the Brutalist architecture in Baltimore, like the old Mechanic Theater and the fountains near Harborplace.
A stroll along the Beaufort River.
Still in need of a beach fix, we drove to Hilton Head, about an hour away. We used to take annual spring tennis trips to Hilton Head and other places, so it was familiar. The beach here is wide and hard-packed, making for easy walking.
The beach at Hilton Head. Luckily, I wore bright shoes, so there was no risk of losing me among the crowds.
But it’s also crowded, as is the entire island and the surrounding roads. I suppose it’s convenient to have everything you might possibly want or need so close by, but that’s not my vacation style, so returning to our little escape in Beaufort was a relief.
The sun setting on a beautiful week.
And after a week of laid back limin’, perhaps Hilton Head was a necessary transition to civilization and the crazies who drive I-95 in the DC area.