What lies beyond Hells Gate

Veins of the Earth

A few days ago we passed through an area called “Hells Gate”. I felt at the time an impending sense of doom and dread, and the name felt perfectly appropriate. We were entering the Georgia section of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and we have been hearing stories for a while now of how bad the Georgia ICW is, and how at all costs we should avoid it. We were told of how shallow it is, how endlessly winding the course is, and how it is just an endless expanse of boring coastal marsh. I had it fixed in my head that we were NOT going to do this section of the ICW, and that no matter what we would find an ocean passage out to skip Georgia and just make it to Florida already!

The other factor contributing to my sense of gloom and doom has been the weather forecast. Gale force winds and sub-freezing windchills have been the norm for days now, and warmer weather is barely on the horizon. If there was ever a time to NOT go out on the ocean, this is it. There is just no good weather window for us to make even a short ocean passage right now. It looks as if we are stuck on the Georgia ICW.

So the gale force winds arrive and we brave through it, seeking a better anchorage. First our sail breaks. Not a major disaster, but it needs to be repaired before we can use it again. We are further doomed to motoring. Then, we ran aground onto a sand bar and spent most of the frighteningly windy night getting unstuck. (listen to the podcast for more details on that horrific experience).

Then, we anchored near an island that was recommended to us by the dispatch operator at SeaTow, the company that almost had to come haul us off the sandbar. In the morning when we awoke after our night from hell on the sandbar, I was telling K. that I needed some moral support from our community, from friends, from the outside world. I just felt so alone out here in this vast expanse of marshy nothingness. I prayed for some voice to come remind me we weren’t alone. I managed to get online for a brief moment to post a plea for connection on Facebook. (not much cell service out here, and our internet connection is dependent on being near a cell tower). Within five minutes of my “call to the world”, I heard an unusual sound outside and went to look to see what it was. A pelican had landed on our boat, and sat there, completely calm,looking at me! I have been in love with the pelicans since we first started seeing them in North Carolina. Every time I see them fly by, gliding smoothly inches above the water, or flying in great flocks in an ever changing V formation, I have marveled at their dignified beauty in flight. I LOVE these birds and had even declared them my new “totem animal”. Until now, all the pelicans I’ve seen have completely ignored our existence. They have not acknowledged us in any way or come even near our boat. But yet now, here was a pelican who was entirely unafraid of me and looked continuously straight at me. (as much as a pelican can look straight at you — as their long, long beaks cause them to look at a funny angle with their eyes.)

My new friend the Pelican

As majestic and noble as these birds look in flight, they look hilariously awkward and weird up close. I took the arrival of the pelican as a “sign”, and immediately felt a boost in my spirits. A few minutes later, a second pelican arrived, this one hanging out (and pooping) in our dinghy. We had new friends!! We were not alone!

Hitchin' a ride

Since the gale force winds were continuing for yet another day, and we were exhausted from our ordeal the night before, we decided to stay put in our snug, protected anchorage for the day and chill out. (it wasn’t hard to “chill” as the high temp only reached the 30’s.) We took our dinghy over to the large island we were anchored next to and explored. We found an empty, enchanted place that soothed and calmed us after our stress on the water. Areas of tall, stately pine trees towered overhead, dancing in the wind, along with various palms and tropical plants. These were interspersed with areas of sandy plains or “savannahs”, partially covered in sea grasses. We felt odd walking among the palms and along the beach in full arctic clothing, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. If it had been warmer this island would have been a gorgeous spot to set up camp for a few days. We found oysters and sea shells, and got to lay down below a lovely live oak tree in the sun. The island felt like a gift, and we appreciated it! After our stressful experience running our boat aground in a terrifying storm, we felt an increased sense of gratitude just being alive and together and safe.

If you look at a map of this area of Georgia, you see that there an endless number of rivers, big, small and very wee, that look like veins in the landscape. Or perhaps they look like the sensuously curvy branches of the live oak trees. If Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, then this is the land of 10,000 rivers. I looked at this area on Google Earth and it is really stunning to see the number of curvy bodies of water that make their way in twisting curving paths to the sea. Art from Mother Earth. You can see for yourself by looking at the interactive map on the right hand column labeled “Wee Happy Voyage”, which shows our route down the coast. Click on “view Wee Happy in a larger map”, and then zoom WAY in on Georgia and see how beautiful it is. This interactive map shows each anchorage we have stayed at, and K. has been really diligent about logging our journey this way. Check it out! (or see photo above)

So here we are, doing the dreaded Georgia ICW. And even though it’s been freezing cold and stressful and slow, I have discovered that there is beauty everywhere, even here. I have to admit, this landscape is growing on me and maybe this is just where we need to be….

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2 thoughts on “What lies beyond Hells Gate

  1. Daz

    Keep your chins up – Weather looks like it’ll be better soon…
    Make sure you wave as you pass Bruswick, GA. I’m flying out tomorrow for survey and sea trials on our new boat (41′ Island Packet cutter). Judi and I are scheduled to take posession on 1/3, and then we’re going to take her up to New Bern / Oriental for the winter. Hopefully we’ll run into you guys sometime in your travels.

  2. Creature

    pelican medicine: buoyancy + unselfishness

    Pelican people can rise to the top no matter what life throws at them;
    no matter how weighed down them become with life’s trials and tribulations.
    Emotional turmoil is often the weight in a Pelican person’s life.
    Pelican teaches you how not to be overcome by your troubles,
    but rather to rise above them.

    Pelican shares nesting sites and food with others and
    therefore teaches unselfishness.
    Teamwork is key for a person with a Pelican totem.


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