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Hilton Head to Savannah on the Spirit of Harbour Town
© by Mike Keenan
Savannah Ferry Boat, photo by Mike Keenan

It's 8.45 a.m. at Hilton Head's Old Town harbour in Sea Pines Plantation located at the toe of the foot-shaped popular island in South Carolina. Across the water, I see the Harbour Town Golf Links PGA course that annually attracts the best professional golfers. On the dock, I notice brown pelicans and smaller black cormorants warming in the sun. Pelicans are ugly on land, but in the air, beautiful as they effortlessly glide millimetres above the water.

I'm on a quick 75-minute Vagabond Cruise , boarding the Spirit of Harbour Town , a million-dollar passenger yacht zipping from Hilton Head Island to Savannah, Georgia under the command of Captain Chuck Davis from Oklahoma who has been charting this course for 14 years but is due to retire this year to "go fishing." Clearly, Chuck likes the water.

The iconic red and white striped lighthouse begins to fade as we cross Calibogue Sound and past Dafuskie Island , our vessel slows from its 19 knots pace for smaller boats and docks. We travel on the ICW, the Inter-coastal Waterway , passing myriad yellow high grass along the way, a fine contrast to the deep blue sky. Eventually, we hit the Savannah River shipping channel with industry along the shore including large round oil tanks and assorted funnels; not exactly a picturesque view with tiny Fort Jackson on our port side, a Revolutionary War fortification complete with moat and drawbridge.

Remarkably, Savannah is the second largest US shipping channel after New York/New Jersey, and we witness container ships lumbering along with their heavy loads. Captain Chuck points at one and says that it sails with a crew of 25, carries 4200 containers piled high on its deck, and takes a full day to unload. Savannah's seven church steeples appear along with the large Marriott and Hyatt hotels, the city's gold dome in between.

A. THUN Gallery, Pete the Cat wall, photo by Mike Keenan   Captain Chuck, Captain of Spirit of Harbour Town, photo by Mike Keenan   Container Ship Under Talmadge Memorial Bridge, photo by Mike Keenan    Johnny Mercer statue, co-founder, Capitol Records, photo by Mike Keenan    Paula Deens The Lady & Sons Restaurant, photo by Mike Keenan   Savannah Courthouse, photo by Mike Keenan

Farther down river is the massive 1991 Talmadge Memorial cable-stayed bridge which spans a total length of 3.1 km (1.9 miles), carrying four lanes of traffic, built 312 m (1,023 feet) high to accommodate the ships. From the dock, we stroll along ballast rocks that form a rough cobblestone pathway to River Street.

Savannah is adorned with 22 charming city squares , extraordinary architecture such as the Telfair Academy with five imposing statues (now an art gallery) outside and lush botanical gardens worthy of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil a best-selling non-fiction work by John Berendt published in 1994. The high speed cruise allows us four full hours to sightsee, shop, take a trolley tour and find a restaurant for lunch.

We try celebrity chef Paula Deen 's The Lady and Sons Restaurant on West Congress St., and it's the first time my lunch has been started with a complimentary biscuit and pancake. The adjoining store is full of cookbooks and fine cuisine miscellanea.

A few blocks down in the City Market on Julian St., I visit the A. THUN Art Gallery owned by Chuck Hamilton who represents 14 local artists, one of which is James Dean whose work features "Pete the Cat" paintings Dean became fixated with a stray that he took in that later disappeared. He cranked out portraits of "Pete" which took hold in Savannah and led to a series of illustrated books now used in the pre-K to second grade throughout the school system.

In Ogelthorpe Square (Savannah's founder) adjacent to the Owens-Thomas House amidst huge live oaks, I'm drawn by the sweet sounds of a trumpet playing Earl Gardner's "Misty" and I am happy to drop a dollar bill into the collection pot. I meet a large African-American gentleman sporting an "Obama" baseball cap who reminds me that Nelson Mandela died today and accomplished more after age 72 when released from jail than most do in a lifetime.

Savannah River industrialization, photo by Mike Keenan    Savannah Square Artwork, photo by Mike Keenan   Ship Ballast Rocks used as cobblestone, photo by Mike Keenan   The Roseway on Savannah River, photo by Mike Keenan   Trumpet Player in Square, photo by Mike Keenan    Tug Boat Edward Moran, photo by Mike Keenan

On the return trip, the waterway dramatically drops nine feet with the tide and we encounter a large cabin cruiser stranded on a sand bar just inside a directional buoy. Captain Chuck responds to their call for help by unleashing a large wake with a surge of his engine, and as I peer backwards, it seems to have done the trick. The boat tour costs $68, and it's well worth the excursion. On board, they also sell Savannah trolley tours for $21, but I recommend a leisurely stroll through the beautiful squares.

Spirit of Harbour Town, photo by Mike Keenan
Spirit of Harbour Town, photo by Mike Keenan

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.

The Story Of Hilton Head South Carolina
The History of Preservation in Savannah, GA

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

American Civil War - Google Images    - Wikipedia
Savannah is the oldest city in the U.S. state of Georgia and the county seat of Chatham County. Established in 1733, the city of Savannah became the British colonial capital of the Province of Georgia and later the first state capital of Georgia. A strategic port city in the American Revolution and during the American Civil War, Savannah is today an industrial center and an important Atlantic seaport. It is Georgia's fifth-largest city and third-largest metropolitan area.
Each year Savannah attracts millions of visitors, who enjoy the city's architecture and historic buildings: the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low (founder of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America), the Georgia Historical Society (the oldest continually operating historical society in the South), the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences (one of the South's first public museums), the First African Baptist Church (one of the oldest African-American Baptist congregations in the United States), Temple Mickve Israel (the third oldest synagogue in America), and the Central of Georgia Railway roundhouse complex (the oldest standing antebellum rail facility in America).
Savannah's downtown area, which includes the Savannah Historic District, the Savannah Victorian Historic District and 22 parklike squares, is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States (designated by the U.S. government in 1966). Downtown Savannah largely retains the original town plan prescribed by founder James Oglethorpe (a design now known as The Oglethorpe Plan). Savannah was the host city for the sailing competitions during the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta.

If you go
Vagabond Cruise: www.vagabondcruise.com
A.THUN Art Gallery: www.athun.com
The Lady and Sons Restaurant: http://ladyandsons.com/
Trip Advisor: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g54273-d1487933-Reviews-Vagabond_Cruise-Hilton_Head_South_Carolina.html

Travel Aid
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Maps (Google interactive map): http://maps.google.com/
Maps (Mapquest) U.S. & Canada: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp
Maps (Mapquest) World: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp?country=GB
Media Guide (local newspapers with current listings): http://www.abyznews...
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/
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