One of the first things my dad taught me about boating is that you must be flexible. Over the years, I experienced firsthand just how right he was. Our family trips were interrupted by sudden thunderstorms, generator malfunctions, losing our dinghy, rescuing dad when he went after it and other catastrophic events that got us towed home early or stuck for extended stays, but you can save your vacation!
Still, every summer my dad plans a family boat trip. Months in advance, he wrote out a detailed itinerary of a four-day voyage from Baltimore to Charleston, SC. My dad, his friend Tony, my sister and I would cruise down on Sababa, our 59-foot Prestige 560. We would spend the night in Norfolk, VA, Nags Head, NC and Wrightsville Beach, NC. My mom and brother planned to fly down, and we'd all reunite at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina. The weather forecast promised clear skies, and Sababa was newly waxed and stocked with frozen food and snacks.
When we picked up Tony from Baltimore's Penn Station the night before we left, he threw his fists in the air and chanted, Boat trip! Boat trip! He and my dad cheered throughout the night. The next day, we pushed off for Norfolk at 5:00 a.m. While my sister and I slept, Tony kept lookout on the fly bridge and my dad coiled lines and put away fenders.
Boat trip! my dad called from the bow.
Boat trip, Tony responded weakly and went back to his cabin to sleep.The travel was smooth down to Norfolk. We toured the Battleship Wisconsin, ate rolled ice cream and listened to a live band by the Waterside Marina. The trouble began on the way to Nags Head. The Belt Line Bridge, our first stop on the Intracoastal Waterway, was under repair and closed until the next week. No big deal. We detoured into the Atlantic Ocean and docked in Ocracoke Island, NC. In the morning, we could continue along the ocean to Wrightsville Beach.When we entered the Atlantic, the water was rough, with waves ranging from six to eight feet. We turned around and headed for the ICW, a route that my dad had not planned. The channel was narrow with shallow spots on both sides. We began to see shipwrecks lining the green marshlands: beached motorboats, sailboats on their sides, old metal ships with rusty hulls.
The next few details happened very fast. My dad went right around a marker when he should have gone left. The depth reader read below three feet. He cut the engine, and we felt a sharp thud. To our right, a large sandbar was jutting out from the water. My dad restarted the engine, but it did not propel us forward. We drifted closer and closer to the sandbank. My dad engaged the bow thruster, but nothing happened. We were going to crash into it. Then, with another jolt, Sababa stopped. My dad tried the engine and the bow thruster again. Nothing. We were stuck.The impact caused the generator intake to suck up sand, and the generator stopped working. After losing our power and air conditioning, the cabin was nearing 90 degrees. When we opened the windows, large wasps flew in and settled on the windshield. We had not pumped out, and our holding tanks were full. We had no microwave to heat up food. We were so close to the sandbar that we could step out of the boat and walk across it. The tide was getting lower, and we were already nine inches out of the water. I stress ate Starburst jellybeans on the fly bridge. The images of shipwrecked boats returned to me. Were we also going to sink on the ICW?
Two hours later, Tom from BoatU.S. arrived to get us out. He said he was going to make a hole around the boat. Tony had already tried to dig us out with a shovel, so we were skeptical. Tom tied up alongside Sababa and ran his propellers to clear out the sand from the stern. Water began to fill the sand bar.In half an hour, we broke free. We cheered. Still, when my dad started the engines, nothing happened. Tom towed us four hours to the Harbor Village Marina in Hampstead, NC. By the time we arrived, sticky and covered in sweat, night had fallen. In the morning, a diver checked out the bottom of the boat and found that the pods had broken off.
My dad made frantic calls as we packed our bags and prepared Sababa to be hulled out. We cancelled all our marinas in Charleston and booked a hotel room in the city. We bought tickets to fly back to Baltimore, then rented a car.
Road trip! Tony called out the window, as we began the three-and-a-half-hour drive.Road trip! we all cheered.
We entered Charleston via the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which we should have crossed under by boat. Losing Sababa wouldn't ruin our trip. As my dad says, Nobody tells the story of taking the boat out, grilling, swimming, having a great time and going back home. You hear the stories of running aground on a sandbar in the ICW. With the right attitude, you can still have a great vacation with the bonus of a story to laugh about with your family. At least in a few years.
If you happen to lose your boat en route to Charleston, here are some of our favorite activities to do by land or sea:
Charleston is known for its cuisine. Locals recommend Slightly North of Broad Restaurant or Poogan's Porch, which serve traditional Southern delicacies. With our family's dietary restrictions eating vegan and keeping kosher we found plenty of options at Butcher & Bee; Basic Kitchen; Minero, a Mexican eatery; and Gnome, which offers a plant-based menu.
Founded in 1670, Charleston is one of the oldest U.S. cities and home to a rich and complicated history. We roamed the Battery, a historic neighborhood enclosed in a defensive sea wall. We also visited major landmarks that caused us to reflect and remember, including ferrying to Fort Sumter, the starting place of the Civil War, and walking among the wispy oaks above the slave houses on the Boone Hall plantation.
Our guide told us that Charleston is so old, it's bound to be haunted. Time to save your vacation with ghosts? We explored Charleston's cemeteries and other paranormal spots, such as the Battery Carriage House Inn and Poogan's Porch restaurant. We also heard stories about some of Charleston's biggest personalities, including John C. Calhoun, Edgar Allen Poe, whom we had known as a Baltimore native, and Arthur Ravenel himself.
Save your vacation with window shopping. Once a historic street used to enter and exit Charleston, King Street now offers an abundance of specialty shopping from the latest fashion trends to unique gifts. Across town, we admired the handmade arts and goods of the Charleston City Market, including jewelry, paintings and handwoven sweet grass baskets.
If Sababa were still running, we would have tied up our dinghy at a waterfront restaurant in Shem Creek. Instead, we took a Lyft across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. We walked through the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, where we were supposed to stay, and took a water taxi back to the city. Later, we took a wave runner tour through the channel and drove to the Isle of Palms Beach, where we tanned, swam and ate ice cream.
How do you save your vacation when things turn south?