Friday, June 12, 2009

The Low Country

I got hooked on recorded books in the late 70's. The technology was cassettes in those days and I must have gone through five or six of those yellow Walkman sport tape players with the FM radio built in. In the 90's CDs came out. I stuck with the tape players, however, because the CD players skipped if you used them while you biked or jogged.
Then my daughter got me an Ipod Nano in 2006. Now I can download the books on CD to my computer and transfer them to the Ipod. I love it! I can strap the tiny little thing to my right arm and bike and read to my heart's content. (no safety lectures, please)

Right now I'm re-reading "The Prince of Tides" by Pat Conroy. The book is set in the "low country" of South Carolina just below Charleston. I had forgotten what a good writer he is. Here's an excerpt:
"The moon quivers on the water of an inbreathing tide, a pale disc nickeling in the current. Above us the stars are in the middle of their perfect transit through the night and constellations are reborn in the luminous mirror of tides below us. On either side of us, the marsh accepts the approach of the tides with a vegetable pleasure -- an old smell of lust and renewal. In the low country the smell of the tides is offensive to visitors. But it is the fragrant essence of the planet to the native born. Our nostrils quiver with the incense of home, the keen pasteel of our mother country. Palmettos close ranks at head of each peninsula and the creek divides into smaller creeks like a vein flowering into capillaries. A sting ray swims just below the surface like a bird in nightmare. A wind lifts off the island like a messenger bearing the odor of moon sage and honeysuckle and jasmine. In an instant the smell of the night changes, recedes, deepens, and recedes again. It is sharp as vinaigrette, singular as bay rum.”

Is that some pretty stuff or what?

In the spring of 2005 I found myself single-handing "Sails Call", my 34' sail boat from Florida to North Carolina. It was a good time to be alone and on a boat in the low country. I found solace behind her wheel and renewal under her sails that year. I was taking her up the Intracoastal Waterway in four-day legs. The remote barrier islands of South Carolina had Indian names like Wapoo, Edisto and Kiawah. I cruised by them, slowly taking in the sights and smells Pat Conroy describes so well in his book. On one stretch, there was no marina to pull into for the night, so I anchored in a wide spot of the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway), lay in the cockpit, my head on a makeshift pillow, and watched the stars slowly appear until they were pinpricks on Elvis velvet. It was better than therapy.

The ICW , when you get close to Charleston, narrows to a manmade channel called Elliott Cut. The current there, heavily influenced by the tides, can either keep you dead still while your knot meter says you are doing six knots, or whip you through the cut at 12 knots with your motor idling! When I went through the cut, the tide was ebbing back through Charleston Harbor rushing into the Atlantic so the current was very swift. It was indeed the closest thing to sailing downhill I have ever known.

I had read up on Elliott Cut in the guidebook, but I didn't anticipate the trouble I would have with a draw bridge that stood between me and the entrance to Charleston Harbor. I knew the bridge was there. What I didn't know is that it only opens on the half hour. As the small bridge loomed, I hailed the bridge tender on VHF channel 13 asking for passage. He radioed back and said I would have to wait for another 20 minutes. This meant that I would have to turn the boat into the swift current and motor against the flow for 20 minutes, and this I did. But even at full throttle, I could still detect my stern slowly sliding back toward the bridge. I could imagine hearing the 40-foot mast crunch into the span and I cursed myself for not reading the cruising guide more thoroughly. About then the bridge tender saw me struggling and graciously opened the bridge early. As soon as I turned the bow around, I felt the surge of current shoot me through the open bridge like a bullet. I radioed my thanks and he drawled back, "You're welcome, Skipper."
Charleston Harbor was a busy place and I spent the next two hours dodging huge freighters and tankers and even a war ship until I got back into the slow and serpentine ICW and the same lazy pattern as before.