When we arrive in a new city, we always try to find they best way to “experience” that city – often by car, sometimes by foot, and once in a while we pay for an “on-off” trolley or bus tour. But Charleston, South Carolina is a harbor town through and through, so what better way to see the town than by sea. For over 100 years, the Charleston Harbor Tour Company has offered spectacular sea-borne views of the city, Fort Sumter and other Civil War history, and as a bonus the ships are often buzzed by Atlantic dolphins who wade into the harbor in search for fish roiled up by the boats and birds.
For $17.50 each, we were welcomed aboard and found seats in the warm sun within earshot of the Captain’s witty, historic narration. While Kimmer is always more interested in the history, I was most excited to see the harbor’s dolphins, hoping for a quick glimpse alongside the boat. We were old hats at discerning wave from fin since honing our skills on our Maine whale watching excursion, now if only Kimmer could capture one on film.
The cruise travels along the city’s shoreline, which on this late Monday afternoon was teaming and streaming with life. Until the 1840s Charleston remained one of the country’s most populous cities, and, even today, the city’s population is only a few thousand behind Columbia, the state’s capital. And, the city is well-known for its diverse cultural influences including southern American, English, French, and even West African elements.
In addition to the numerous steeples which lend the city its second name “The Holy City,” the tour provided views of the pineapple fountain, colorful revolutionary and civil war homes and Battery Park – revised from White Point Gardens following the installation of the Civil War cannons in defense of the harbor.
The boat cruised past Fort Sumter which was perhaps the most contested and intensively bombed pieces of land in the Civil War. Decades of growing strife between North and South erupted in civil war on April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery opened fire on this Federal fort in Charleston Harbor. Fort Sumter surrendered only 34 hours later, but Union forces would try for nearly four years to take it back.
And, as we headed toward the beautiful Arthur Ravenel Bridge – a 13,000 ft span of silvery shimmer across the bay – the dolphins cooperated enough to offer few brief photo opportunities, including this one as he rose in front out our boat and disappeared.
The history and culture of Charleston is enveloping and much of it is displayed in the shops. Once back on land we stopped at the City Market, several long open air buildings filled with shops and surrounded by restaurants, then drove to Battery Park and strolled the concrete boardwalk along the cool blue ocean nearing sunset. Definitely a day well-spent – here are some photos.