Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tybee Island

The beach at Tybee Island with the tide going outAfter Mike and I cleaned up and secured Whispering Jesse for long-term storage at the Delegal Creek Marina, we returned to my parents' home for one of my mother's fantastic lunches. Then the four of us headed out to Tybee Island for the afternoon. I had not been out to Savannah's famous beach spot since 1997, when my parents hosted a family reunion shortly after buying their vacation home on Skidaway Island. All I remembered from that visit was the beach, the pier and a little ice cream shop. Tybee Island didn't leave much of an impression that day.

This time, I was very much impressed. Tybee Island reminded me of a smaller, less commercial version of Key West. Even though it was a Monday in mid-October, the beach was busy and the streets were bustling. Of course, the weather was beautiful, so you couldn't blame people for coming out to take advantage of it.

The Tybee Island pier and pavilionMy main purpose in wanting to return to Tybee Island was to scout it out as a possible day-sailing destination. It is only about a twenty-mile sail from Delegal Creek Marina, so I imagined sailing up there, stopping for lunch, and then sailing back. The eastern, oceanfront side of the island is nothing but beach, which would require anchoring and dinghying in, but the western, sound side of the island has a restaurant with its own deepwater dock, A-J's Dockside.

We drove down Butler Avenue, the main drag, peeking toward the beach at each intersection to locate the Tybee Island pier. Unlike most beachfront communities, which have their main drag right next to the beach, the island's was set back a block, making the beach quieter and more inviting. We found a paid parking place on Strand Avenue, near the south end of the island, and walked out to the pier. It was busy with sightseers and fishermen. It's legal to fish off the pier and there were people who looked like regulars, with their wagons and their coolers, manning multiple fishing rods.

The Tybee LighthouseThe tides at Tybee are dramatic. In the time it took us to walk to the end of the pier and back, the ebbing tide revealed almost forty yards of additional beach. Kids were boogie boarding in the retreating water, and families were looking for shells in the wet sand. Mom and Dad went to check out the aquarium display while Mike and I took a walk on the beach.

We regrouped at the car and went to find A-J's on Chatham Avenue. The parking lot was empty, but a man out front was watering the flowers, so we figured they were open. The man informed us that they were not but that they would be promptly at four o'clock. We had an hour to kill, so we went off to see what else the island had to offer. We had spotted the Tybee Lighthouse at the north end of the island on our way to the pier and backtracked to find it. It was impressive but not as impressive as Fort Screven, right across the street. The walls were immense. My dad, who is a history buff, said that when this part of Georgia was contested territory, Fort Pulaski, located almost three miles up the Savannah River, and Fort Screven would fire cannonballs at each other. Mike and I tried to imagine cannon big enough to fire balls that far. No wonder the walls were so thick.

Dad, Mom and Mike on the back deck at A-J's DocksideThe hour went quickly, and we were back at A-J's for their early dinner opening. We took a table on the back deck, overlooking the dock, and ordered beers, a Mexican Sol for me and Yuenglings for everyone else. We ordered the conch fritters appetizer to share and studied the menu. Jimmy Buffett was playing on the sound system, but he was singing someone else's song. I made a comment that was heard by a passing waitress, who rolled her eyes and told us that the restaurant was almost always tuned to "Margaritaville" on the satellite radio. I smiled and kidded her, "All Jimmy, all the time!" She groaned and walked away.

The deepwater dock at A-J's DocksideWhile we waited for our fresh seafood dinners, I got up to check out the docking situation and then to inquire about overnight rates. The manager told me that the rate was $2 per foot per night, which is pretty steep. The marinas we stayed at on the sail down from Solomons ran from $1.50 to $1.75 per foot. I asked what amenities that included besides easy access to the restaurant, and she just smiled. In the summer, she said, the dock was always crowded with boats, implying that the rate was not a factor. I thanked her and told her I would be sailing her way soon, hopefully next spring.

The food was good, the service was excellent, and the atmosphere was mellow, made the more so by the constant Jimmy Buffett assault. We had definitely found our first Savannah day-sailing, or possibly overnight sailing, destination.

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