Visiting Australia and New Zealand at the end of the summer was lovely, but tiring. So when the Mayhem Consultant and I looked for a November vacation, we picked the simplest thing we could find: a small boat cruise that left from the Inner Harbor of my Baltimore and sailed down the IntraCoastal Waterway to Charleston.
The Waterway is fascinating and not well known unless you've actually sailed on it. About 3000 miles long, it roughly parallels the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and is a collection of bays, canals, saltwater rivers and sounds. The result is a navigable channel with many fewer hazards than traveling on the open sea. (There are two sections around the Gulf that don't connect, but you can sail straight from New Jersey to Florida on the Atlantic stretch.)
The Chesapeake Bay is a big stretch of the Waterway, so all we had to do was take a taxi down to the boat, cruise and eat for a week, then take a short flight home. In between Baltimore and Charleston, there was a lot of really nice history!
The Independence carries about 120 passengers and is operated by American Cruise Lines. The company specializes in small boat cruising to a variety of American destinations, from the islands of New England to Mark Twain cruises on the Mississippi to Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.
After admiring the dragon paddle boats in Baltimore's Inner Harbor (they're a stone's throw away from the historic ship Constellation) we set off. The history started right away as we cruised by Fort McHenry, site of the historic bombardment that led to Francis Scott Key composing the verses that became THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER.
Another piece of history was when the captain announced over the loudspeaker that the red, white, and blue buoy we were about to pass was the Francis Scott Key buoy, and it marks the spot where he watched the bombardment during a long night when he and several other Americans were interned on a British ship until the battle was over. (The Brits thought Baltimore could be rolled over like the Capital in Washington. They were WRONG!) The buoy is a surprisingly long distance from the fort. No wonder Scott Key could only see the 'rockets' red glare.'
Norfolk was our first stop, and we took a coach tour of the Norfolk Naval Base. Impressive! I'd heard of it, of course, but didn't realize that it is the world's largest naval base, home to 75 ships, lots of aircraft, and employer of thousands of people. (Over 60K, according to our guide, a young navy man, over 40K of them naval personnel.) It was quite literally awesome.
On our second day, our boat parked in the Outer Banks and our tour was to Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers did the first powered flight. It's a story every school kid knows, yet being there and hearing details of how Wilbur and Orville made it happen was moving. It was so interesting I might do a whole blog on it someday.
Still heading south, the next day we were in Beaufort, North Carolina. Not to be confused with Beaufort, SOUTH Carolina. We were told that the two city names are pronounced differently– it's BOW-fort, NC, and BU-fort, SC — so that when ships passed each other at sea and sailors called out their home ports, the cities could be distinguished. Clever!
Beaufort, NC, had a lovely historic district, even in the rain. I was particularly taken by the Victorian apothecary's shop. In the windows were "show globes" filled with colored water. The globes are the symbol of an apothecary's shop, just as three golden balls means a pawn shop. But I was told that sometimes the color of the liquid was a warning system, with red indicating a plague in the town, while green mean all was clear. It was said this was the origin of red and green traffic lights, but I'm not sure. More research is necessary!
Next was Wilmington, North Carolina. I knew little about it except that it wasn't Wilmington, Delaware, but it proved to be delightful, with a beautiful historic district and a waterfront that USAToday said was the best in America last year. The Bellamy Mansion is beautiful and has a sophisticated antebellum design that provided for a natural cooling ventilation system. We had a great tour, the first I've ever been to in a southern mansion where the issue of slavery was discussed in a straightforward and respectful manner.
The trip ended in Charleston, South Carolina, another city with a historic district full of gorgeous houses. One of the things that had interested me about taking this cruise was that I hadn't been to ANY of these sites before. Even in Baltimore, where I've lived for many years, I've never seen anywhere near as much of the city's very large and important port: "The port that built the city that built the state."
Things look different from the water–and that's all good!
All of these places could easily be worth a full blog, and I'm not doing them justice at all. But I have pies to bake, and cranberry relish to make, and potatoes to mash, so I'll sign off here, with the suggestion that if you ever have a chance to cruise the IntraCoastal Waterway, grab it! Someday we might do the next leg of the cruise, from Charleston to Jacksonville, Florida.
Meanwhile–are you cooking anything special for Thanksgiving? If so, what? There is no meal of the year that is as much about tradition, both American and family!