Charleston is a fun city to visit; we’ve never missed a chance to stop here. I think of it as the real, classic “Deep South” – gracious architecture, gracious hospitality, tradition, and, oh yeah, the FOOD. We arrived in late evening racing just ahead of some severe thunderstorms that heralded a cold front. The next day, therefore, was cold and blustery and we were tired, so we hung out at the marina and did “ship’s work;” refueling, taking down and stowing the jacklines and other equipment we needed in preparation for the offshore trip from St Augustine, updating the log, and giving the boat and ourselves a good wash.
Next two days were the Easter weekend, sunny and bright and just perfect for our plans of being outdoors and doing all our favorite Charleston things, walking downtown, people-watching and architecture-watching, eating and drinking and shopping. There was a farmer’s market, and a parade, and Sunday afternoon a big section of the main downtown street was closed to traffic to turn it into a pedestrian mall. Continuing on the festival theme, several of the restaurants put tables and chairs out, expanding sidewalk café style into the street. I love reclaiming the middle of the street from the cars! And somewhere in town there was (a) a beer; and (b) a chocolate ice cream cone; with my name on it. At least, that was the plan. And although we did all those things, this visit, the memories turned out to be about the people, even more than the place.
We met Steve Dowdney at the farmer’s market where he staffed a stall containing lots of tasters of southern-style foods, preserves and sauces and creamy grits. We got to chatting, and learned that he was also a former liveaboard and hoping to live aboard again; his story(as well as his peach chutney recipe) was written up in the Charleston paper a few years ago. At the end of the conversation, he refused to allow us to pay for the food we purchased. Not that it was a big-deal amount of money to either of us, but the gesture, whether old-fashioned southern hospitality, or boater’s camaraderie, just put a goofy smile on my face for the rest of the morning.
We continued our foodie theme of the day with visits to two cooking stores, and I’m sorry I never got the name of the wonderful sales associate with the blond hair and yellow shirt. She had a lot of fun with the challenge of finding products in her store that would work with our liveaboard life, once I explained that my gadget drawer was the size of a shoebox, and things had to be chosen with an eye to sliding, breaking, rusting … no glass, no bulky one-purpose items, no electricity required, and an oven the size of a toaster oven. She brought nesting plastic mixing bowls with non-skid bottoms, a collapsible colander, a few odd-shaped spatulas and mixing spoons, for our inspection; it was like a treasure hunt. We had a blast, and got some cool new toys. Which, of course, we promptly put to use cooking up the food we got from Steve Dowdney; thank you both!
Perhaps the most fun sight was during the street festival on Easter Sunday. We were sitting at an outdoor table (in the middle of the street!) eating pizza and listening to some street performers, when I saw a woman strolling down the street, elegantly dressed and wearing the archetype of what I could only call a classic “Easter Bonnet.” And then another. And another … I loved how these ladies honored their tradition with both flair and a sense of fun; and my respect only increased when the leader of the group (who told me that the group called themselves the Charleston Hat Ladies and that she herself had the delightful title “Top Hat”) told me that they aren’t just about fashion, they were a group who liked to volunteer for various good local causes, and just do it while wearing these wild hats.
So filled with the memories of those, and other, people we met along the way, we were ready to sail off again. The stretch from Charleston north the NC/SC border is probably my favorite of the entire trip for its scenery and peace. I was feeling pretty grumpy when I realized that I had miscalculated and we were faced with foul currents that slowed us down considerably for about 30 miles of the Waccamaw River. Dan, though, is always one for out-of-the-box thinking. He asked, “What’s the problem? It just means we get to spend more time in one of your favorite stretches!” And we did.
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