July 2018

Sailing to St. Catherine’s

Author: Becca Edwards

The old pivot switch was a mainstay during our youth. Exam time and you’ve skipped class one too many times? Time for the pivot switch, make a pot of coffee and cram. Not into a boyfriend/girlfriend anymore? Time for the pivot switch via “It’s me, not you.” Ready to quit a job? Time for the pivot switch and a quick résumé refresh.’
I recently reunited with the old pivot switch during a sailboat trip to St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia over Memorial Day weekend with my family and my best friend Brucie Holler and her husband Greg Schenkel.

Facts about St. Catherine’s Island (SCI):
One of Georgia’s barrier islands, SCI is situated about 35 miles south of Savannah.
SCI is made up of 22,000 acres including salt marsh, barrier beaches, maritime forests of different compositions depending on elevation, and old-field successional forests.

From the pre-Columbian era, to the Spanish colonial, English colonial, antebellum, postbellum and modern day, SCI’s history reads like a veritable page-turner.
A variety of shorebirds and migratory songbirds nest on SCI.

Several native and non-native mammalian species can be found living on SCI, including ring-tailed lemurs and a rumored zebra.

Leaving Friday morning, we had planned on sailing on the outside to St. Catherine’s Island, anchoring for the night and watching ring-tailed lemurs frolicking about the beach in the morning, before heading to Ossabaw Island for the type of quiet that turns back the clock, and then finishing with an afternoon of debauchery on Daufuskie Island. But tropical storm Alberto, which should have been named tropical storm Debbi Downer, blew us off course.

Pivot Switch #1: New Game/Diet Plan
I think everyone along the Atlantic is experiencing storm fatigue. Maybe even our weather apps. Predictions alerted us of scattered showers throughout the weekend and severe storms and high winds and seas by Sunday. With three children and two prone-to-sea-sickness adults on board, we decided to scale the trip back to just two nights on St. Catherine’s Island. (Note: We experienced very few weather issues.)

We also decided to make the best of our situation, a.k.a. no-holds-barred eating. For some, this meant charcuterie and rosé wine starting at 11:30 a.m. For others, lemon Le Croix soda, boiled peanuts and jalapeño chips for lunch. And for some others, one or two of Brucie’s homemade sea salt chocolate chips cookies at any hour (even breakfast).

Pivot Switch #2: Dropping Anchor
Dropping anchor in chartered waters is typically somewhat simple and celebratory. Par for our St. Catherine’s course, it was the latter but not the former.

After getting some boat work done in Beaufort the week prior, somehow our anchor line was switched. In short, this meant rather than effectively anchoring at 6 p.m., it was more like 7:30 p.m. Nevertheless, we still were able to blow up our inflatable unicorn and watermelon in time to watch the sun set and say cheers to the day and our location via an evening swim and cocktails.

Pivot Switch #3: The Tarp
One by one, the children and Brucie fell asleep that first night. Bug-less, star-filled and slightly breezy, the evening welcomed the rest of us to leisure in the cockpit and talk about all things from serious current events to comical past transgressions. Sipping an Italian wine from Amanda Russ (Pomodori restaurant), I had this sense that life was complete. All I wanted to do was to float on into bed with my husband and get my back rubbed while completing a crossword puzzle.
However, that wasn’t an option.

Instead, the radar warned us of a 2 a.m. rainstorm, and we opted to prepare. Tarps, ties and lines materialized from the mid-cabin garage and random lockers. In the minimal light the evening sky and one headlamp provided, my husband Lee tried to show Greg Schenkel and me fancy nautical knots to secure the canopy over both the forward cabin and the mid-cabin. Greg and I nodded haphazardly and then worked the nylon ropes with deft but far too creative hands. Our knots showcased a new hybrid of the bowline that was still effective but not aesthetic.
Overall, this operation, much like dropping the anchor, required more energy and time than anticipated. We all fell asleep quite readily, knowing damn well it wouldn’t rain now that we were utterly and completely covered.

Pivot Switch #4: The Dinghy
Morning came without rain but with high hopes of a tranquil beach trek. Hell bent on seeing ring-tailed lemurs and the rumored zebra, I poured some kombucha while Brucie made scrambled eggs and turkey sausage. All nature-loving aspirations fell off the vine, however, as countless music-blasting boats and speeding jet skis began to populate our anchorage.

We felt protective over this protected land. Like Lowcountry Vikings, we armed ourselves with sunscreen, snacks, and opinions about our new neighbors as we set out for battle and launched the dinghy. Come hell or high water, we were going to do our best to ignore the noise and find the solitude.

At least until our brand-new dinghy, with a brand new motor, died.

A confluence of misadventures happened next. Prior to the dinghy actually dying, Lee dropped Greg off to kite board in an area that turned out to be too shallow.

Meanwhile, my daughter Ruth Love and I looked for ring-tailed lemurs and she somehow ended up losing my vintage pair of Ray-Bans on the beach. As I tried to speak to Ruth Love about the importance of being responsible, I realized that I had applied sunscreen to everyone but myself and my nose was aflame. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of my other daughters starting to urinate in the tide pool (not cool), another one holding some sort of dead sea creature (again, not cool), and my husband dragging our dinghy across the beach (super not cool, because he already had a bad back, and obviously there would be a problem with getting back to the sailboat).

I growled and then asked, “Hey Lee, what’s wrong with the dinghy?”
“It’s dead,” he responded.
“Dead?”
“Dead.”
“What’s our plan?”
“I’m thinking we can just meet someone on the beach and maybe they can tow us.”

Annoyed at this point with all our derailments, I set into motion a master plan. Asking Brucie to watch all my daughters and pleading with Lee to not hurt his back, I ran down the beach toward the expanse of sand where the countless number of music-blasting boats and speeding jet skis were hanging out.

As I tried to endear myself for a dinghy tow for our entire party, I met Brooks. Brooks, a mechanic and on his second date with Jennifer, was sleeved with tattoos, burned to a crisp and came across as someone who really supported the second amendment and Coors Light in a can.

“We are stranded. Can you please tow our dinghy to our sailboat? My husband is down the beach dragging it.” I said.

“No ma’am, I can’t. I don’t have a tow line,” he responded.

I did not know whether to be more upset about his inability to tow us or the fact that he called me ma’am. As I contemplated my ire in the sweltering sun, Lee and Greg rounded the bend tugging the dinghy.

Anyone who has ever met Lee knows he is magnetic and can speak good-old-boy. And anyone who knows Greg Schenkel knows he is just about the most likable guy on the planet. All these qualities worked in our favor.

Lee and Greg hit it off with Brooks like old friends, and he turned out to be a great guy. We tinkered with the dinghy’s motor until it had no other option but to work.

Once everyone was collected from the beach, we boogied to the boat. We did not set up the tarp as we had the night before. I thought of the omission as a flirtatious gesture to welcome the wind and rain. Plus, we were zapped from the sun.

Pivot Switch #5: The Take Away
The next morning, we awoke feeling ridiculously rested—the kind of rested that makes you forget your name. Brucie made breakfast fajitas and gourmet coffee.
As we made our way back to Hilton Head Island, Lee regaled us with stories about the waters we traversed. In Bear Creek, he told about bears actually swimming at one time across the creek. In another section, he recounted the rich maritime history that soaked the land with characters and storylines.

As we tied up to our dock on Calibogue Cay, it occurred to me the true pivot switch of our trip was letting go of preconceived notions or plans and simply living life in the Lowcountry. For anyone who ventures out, boating in our waters reminds us that being present is the hardest yet easiest thing we can do. And the pivot switch is always an option.

Becca Edwards is a wellness professional, freelance writer, and owner of b.e.WELL+b.e.CREATIVE (bewellbecreative.com)

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