Sunday, July 20, 2014

What?! This blog’s not gonna write itself? Musings on diners and the ditch

When you travel up the US coast on the ICW, you can stop in places like St Augustine and visit Tammy’s Comfort Food diner where the sign that greets you on entering the small greasy ‘prison brick’ swamp green walled diner, says “I’m running out of reasons not to stab you.” 

The emaciated adolescent waitress actually has a great sense of humour and apparently 2 young boys at home. She claims she’s known around town for filling her pick up truck with trash. At Tammy’s you can get deep fried pork chops and battered and fried okra with fried hash browns and … well there is a theme there. 

Friendly and one of a kind, it’s on the main highway along with Walmart Supercenter and the Piggly Wiggly. You could also walk the quaint historic downtown with it’s cobblestone streets and ghost tour operators beckoning. You can also make yourself literally sick with free samples from the rivaling fudge and praline shops… not that I know by experience!
Main tourist street St Augustine - the guy on the right never moved. For days.

You might stumble upon the 4th of July celebrations and be treated to the best fireworks on the planet and share the experience with thousands of patriotic Americans. In fact, you may be caught up in the spirit of it all, and a 2 day stop might become a week!

And then, to make up time, you might decide to head out to sea through one of the inlets where rip currents well, rip. Where the seas could go from a couple feet to 10 feet in minutes and the wind could pick up to 25 knots directly against you. The sky could be building a plethora of monstrous storm clouds to usher you along, with the constant threat of lightning strikes and torrential downpours to compliment the wind and the big seas…
You could be out there on an overnight sail – because up the ICW you just can’t drive in the dark and you have so many hundreds of miles to cover – and of course only as darkness descends, the storms become a mass over you on your radar and in reality, and the crew will huddle inside as the rain beats and whips your boat as it surfs high, then plunges into the caverns between the waves. If you look out your windows – which Shiloh has many of – you will see only grey, sea foam and buckets of rain making it all a ‘perfect storm’ blur….
And this could be your reality for the whole night. Hours of rain and waves and no sleep to be had. You will realise you haven’t eaten the whole day and that it’s not only due to your queasy stomachs, but also the fact that you could barely pour water to drink, let alone grab food from the fridge or spread anything on bread. Cooking?! Hah!
But when you arrive in the next port, 130 miles further north, drop your anchor right in the channel at 6am and pass out ‘til noon, you wake revitalized and convincing yourself that was the much smarter thing to do. By that evening you could be walking around a neighborhood amusement park with rickety rides and an outdoor bingo hall and you could be enjoying it all as much as the locals.

Oh yeah! Outdoor Bingo!

You might forget for an hour or two that you still have the dream of sailing into New York, waving at the Statue of Liberty from your humble boat below… and that it’s more than 500 miles further north.
You have, after all, covered 4 states in the last few weeks, and have started counting when you’ve washed your hair by the state…
You may decide to ‘do a couple days up the ditch’ as the ICW is affectionately known locally, marveling at the endlessly long jetties that reach out from the swampy shores toward you, the millions of homes that line the banks, shacks to mansions and of course the trailer parks, and the smiling waving people in speed boats and jet skis that whiz past. There are the friendly, clean and helpful marinas that fill your always hungry diesel engines (since you can’t actually sail), and the endless supply of free water – gone are the days of .90 cents a gallon like Bequia and the Bahamas. Here, there is everything in abundance.

Historic houses

Local houses

Lovely marina for a fuel stop - Fernandina Florida

There are the rare but lovely uninhabited islands like Cumberland where wild horses roam the expansive beaches, and the trails are beautiful and so well maintained… Then there are the huge factories pumping out smoke and stench and are less than picturesque…
Walking over to the beach - Cumberland Island

You might be tempted to snicker as the boat in front of you hits the shoaling ground just off the marked path, only to hit it like a ton of bricks yourself the next day, all 15 tonns of your boat meeting thick, black, immovable sludge, and though you manage to back up ‘real fast’ to free yourself, you’ll feel much better about that investment you made in ‘TowBoat US’ you made when you first arrived…

But however you slice up your journey, it will NOT be boring.
You might find yourself in Swansboro at Yana’s Ye Old Drugstore diner, plastered as it is with 70’s wood paneling, dusty Elvis and Marilyn paraphernalia, and hungry local fishermen and their families on a Saturday morning, earnestly gulping down hot grits…

There will be many more towns and taverns and some sailing out there as well. Each night you will be in awe as the sky dazzles red orange and fuschia as the sun sets over the anchorages and towns. And as it all chocks up to an experience, you will never for a moment wish you were anywhere else.

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