ABC…not as easy as 1-2-3

in Intracoastal Waterway / Life at Sea / Sailing the World
variety store charleston south carolina

Cruisers often talk about provisioning for the Bahamas before leaving Florida, but no one ever mentions booze provisioning for the Carolinas when you’re in Virginia.

We’ve been plum out of rum, vodka and wine pretty much since Norfolk, Virginia, and it isn’t for lack of trying to find some. We’ve asked strangers all over North and South Carolina to point us to the nearest liquor store. And we always get, “You mean the ABC? It’s about 15 miles up the road. Take a left at the Hardee’s…”, and so it goes with the driving directions, which are of little help to us, as we wander around town on foot.

It turns out “ABC” isn’t some juvenile-sounding liquor store chain; it’s short for “Alcoholic Beverage Control,” which, apparently, is the product of an 1892 vote in favor of prohibition, after which the government set up a dispensary system in the form of state-owned, strictly controlled liquor stores. So the idea of controlling alcohol consumption in North and South Carolina is a historical institution, which adds to the quaint, colonial feel to the area. Unfortunately for cruisers, though, these ABC Liquor Stores are often nowhere near a town center.


But ABCs aren’t the only interesting relic of state government in the Carolinas, either. On this trip so far, we’ve learned that:

  1. Pump-outs aren’t subsidized in North Carolina. We paid $17.50 to get our holding tank pumped out, which was a surprise, since in New York and most other states, pump-outs are free.
  2. The NC Coast Guard requires boaters to keep a written record of the dates and locations of all pump-outs done in North Carolina. The USCG checks this any time they board your boat, which seems to happen often along the ICW.
  3. The Coast Guard requires that the valve on a boat’s macerator is not just closed, but has a wire tied around it. Eh? The presumption being that if someone were to accidentally disassemble our settee, then accidentally reach inside our locker and accidentally open the valve, expelling waste into the harbor, they would fail because of the wire so fastidiously tied around the valve? Really?

In any case, I blame bureaucracy for the fact that by the time we reached Charleston, we were pretty much a dry boat. And we were definitely in need of a drink after the previous day’s trio of fiascos: 1) we ran aground in the middle of the ICW channel at low tide, 2) the 31-foot Ben Sawyer Bridge was incorrectly listed in our guidebook as being 65 feet, which meant we got stuck for 2 hours waiting the bridge to open, and 3) since the bridge didn’t open until sunset, we had to navigate the 10 last miles to Charleston with a flashlight in the dark trying to steer clear of barges, unlit markers and bobbing lobster pots.

ryan horsnail hideaway turf to surf icw run aground

Ryan, frustrated by being stuck in the ICW channel

intracoastal waterway ben sawyer bridge

View of our anchorage spot, while waiting for the Ben Sawyer Bridge to open

sailing with cats hideaway catalina 34

Charlie, wondering how we could run aground here

But we persevered in the dark because were in a hurry to get to Charleston and prepare the boat for the arrival of our friends Bill and Grace, who were going to spend a week with us on Hidewaway sailing south. It took all of Saturday to get ready, scrubbing down the interior, doing the laundry, ordering a new hot water heater (ours broke in North Carolina), vacuuming the rugs, and converting our “junk room” back into the guest room it was originally intended to be.

There was just one, last, evasive chore on our list: stock up on liquor. And this was crucial because everyone knows it’s just plain impolite to have guests on board and not offer sun-downers.

So, the search was on. After a greasy brunch of fried flounder with fried oysters and French fries with a side of fried macaroni and cheese at The Variety Store, we were ready to take on prohibition. And, as it turned out, the Variety Store had a well-stocked ABC Liquor Store next door. So we checked off that last chore before Bill and Grace arrived to start their vacation in the adorable city of Charleston.

And what better way to see Charleston than to go out on the town with a group of sailors on a Saturday night to celebrate 3 milestones: Ryan’s 40th birthday, our 1-month cruising anniversary, and 1000 miles of travel on Hideaway?

With Matt and Jessica from s/v Serendipity and our friends Bill and Grace, we hit up the Southend Brewery for drinks and carried on the evening to Magnolia, a white tablecloth restaurant with stellar food where we got looked up and down with disdain because, though our scruffy foul-weather jackets were acceptable casual-wear in every port we’d been to so far, they were anything but acceptable in swanky Charleston. Women, despite the cold, were decked out in short skirts, sequins, big hair and high heels. And men wore freshly pressed shirts, chinos, leather belts and hair gel.

We stuck out so much that when we asked a stranger on the street if she could recommend a nice wine bar, her response was, “Well, you could try Bin 152 around the corner.” Then, looking us up and down, she said, “But not dressed like that.”

So we drank until our presence got as loud and unclassy as our clothing. Then we dragged ourselves back to Hideaway, where a nightcap turned into a dozen and the evening wrapped up sometime around 4 am with me hugging Jessica with drunken affection, Grace psychoanalyzing cruising couples, the guys smoking cigars up on deck and, most likely, our live-aboard neighbors grumbling about the noise…with the exception of a lone college kid live-aboard named Steve who came over and joined in the shenanigans.

If partying with 20 and 30-somethings is the proven method for fending off your 40s, then I can say for sure that Ryan had a good run at preserving his youth this weekend.

Meanwhile, classy, traditional Charleston may have learned the lesson that owning a yacht doesn’t necessarily make you fancy, or even classy.

southend brewery charleston south carolina

Jessica, Matt, Bill and Grace at Southend Brewery, Charleston, SC

The Variety Store Jessica, Matt, Ryan, Grace and Bill at Magnolia, Charleston, SC

magnolia restaurant charleston south carolina

Tasha, Grace, Ryan, Jessica, Bill and Matt celebrating Ryan’s birthday at Magnolia

celia sailing with cats hideaway turf to surf

Celia and Jessica on Hideaway

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