Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Headed up the River – the Path of the Salzburgers: by Michael Neal

Captain Michael Neal has been operating boats on Savannah's rivers, creeks, and sounds for decades. He owns Bull River Cruises based at Hogan's Marina, and wrote this account of a trip up the Savannah River. We share it here with his permission.

"We start today’s journey in the tidal rivers and creeks but the islands and marshes aren’t my destination. Soon, we leave the tidal waters and enter into the waters of the Savannah. The Savannah is wide and deep, it is also the home of one of the busiest container ports in the nation. Being a busy port means that there are a great number of large ships using the river. When sharing the waters with these giants it is wise to remember both the Rules of the Road and the Rule of the Might Makes Right.

As downtown comes into view the golden dome of city hall shines brightly in the morning light. Greeting me downtown is a statue that represents a woman that greeted vessels from around the world for over 40 years. The woman was Florence Martus known as “The Waving Girl”. After passing the tourist filled streets, we enter into the largest economic drivers of the area, the Port of Savannah, filled with ships that ply the world carrying cargo to and from far away nations.

We push further up the river, past the industry and into the waters less traveled, the waters of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. It is always amazing to me the contrast of industry next to nature. The salinity of the water has slowly declined as I have journeyed up the Savannah and now the water is fresh, still tidal though, the effects of the tides are felt as far up the river as 45 miles. Traveling past Mulberry Grove and the sites of other long abandoned rice plantations makes me think of the the people that toiled in this area so long ago. Onward, we push up the river past I95, the super highway of today, as we travel up the highway of yesteryear.

The river twists and turns, as we work upstream mile after mile. Years ago a number of the twists were taken out of the river. The river was straightened for barge traffic carrying cargo to and from the city of Augusta. Unfortunately, by the time the work was completed the barge traffic had died. The removal of these twists and turns also unfortunately was not beneficial to the health of the river basin. So the results of this hard work and money spent were a net loss.

A bluff comes into view; we are now 45 miles up the Savannah. This is the site of New Ebenezer, a town that is rich in history. Established in 1736, the town was the home of the Salzburgers, Protestant refugees from Austria. It is home of the Jerusalem Lutheran Church which is the first church in Georgia and the oldest surviving intact building in Georgia.

Today, as we pick up a group of school children at Ebenezer Landing, we have come not to explore the land but a creek that empties into the Savannah. This creek is unique in that it is a blackwater creek. It is so beautiful and significant that it has the designation of Georgia Scenic River and is a National Natural Landmark. At the entrance of the creek, the water stained black with the tannins from the cypress and tupelo trees, mixes and swirls with the lighter colored water of the Savannah. As we work our way into this waterway majestic cypress trees rise out of the water. Some of these trees are said to be over 1000 years old. The water is glassy and reflects the images of this enchanted forest. It is like we have entered into another world.

We can’t travel too far in the creek with the power boat. The best way to explore this creek is either by canoe or kayak. If you don’t have your own, there are a number of companies that run guided trips and a few that might rent them."

Friday, June 21, 2019

Saluting Captain Judy...

Captain Judy 
I love traditions and history. One of my favorite Savannah stories concerns Florence Martus, The world famous "Waving Girl" of Cockspur Island.  She greeted so many ships coming up the Savannah River that returning her greeting with blasts from a ship's horn became a tradition.

I was standing on the river downtown once when a ship passed the Waving Girl statue and gave a prolonged blast on the horn. I asked a friend, "why did they do that?"

"They are saluting the Waving Girl statue."

Now, how cool is that? Carrying on a tradition out of respect for our history is part of Southern Culture, and I love it.

Whenever I pass Captain Judy's (AKA Miss Judy's Fishing Charters) docks on the Island Explorer with a boat-load of tourists, I tell of her history here, and about her dad and his friend Al Capone and the diamond ring and the prohibition-shuttle. She is a living Savannah tradition, in addition to being a pretty wonderful human being. If she is on the dock either returning from or embarking on a charter, she smiles and waves, and we wave back. A few months back, I started having the passengers yell "on 3, HEY CAPTAIN JUDY!" It's amazing how much sound we can make. Judy smiles a huge smile and waves with both arms!

One of several boats running charters at Captain Judy's docks on Wilmington Island


It's fun, and everyone involved laughs. It's a small nice thing to do for someone, and doing small nice things make me feel better about life. It's my own little Savannah tradition.

Savannah's Waving Girl Statue on the riverfront downtown.
To learn more about the waving girl click here.

To learn more about Miss Judy and her fishing adventures click here...

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Be Careful Out There...

Riding on (the) Bow or Gunwale of a (small boat) is illegal if the boat is not equipped with a railing or some other retaining device. As a boat operator, you are prohibited from allowing your passengers to ride on the bow or gunwale. (GA DNR) Click here to learn more...


Bad idea, and illegal. Image courtesy thebaynet.com
BEAUFORT COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A woman who lost her 19-year-old daughter in a boating 
accident in Beaufort County has refiled a wrongful death lawsuit against a former 14th circuit solicitor and members of his family...Read more...

When things go terribly wrong, a Medevac helicopter often gets the call.



As a former medevac pilot, I have seen terrible sights. And flying Memorial Hospital's LifeStar helicopter in this area meant that occasionally those sights involved boats and boaters. I was never called to a fatal boating accident. That was my wife's flight.

Jeanne, a former LifeStar Flight Nurse, was on duty on the day that a family was riding in a boat near Tybee Island. One of the passenger's hats flew off as they sped across the water. The operator made a rapid turn to return to the hat. A woman on board lost her balance, fell from the boat, and was struck by the propeller which severed a major artery and caused a massive and immediate loss of blood. She died shortly thereafter.

TYBEE ISLAND, GA (WTOC)  - An island community is in mourning after a long time Tybee resident ... was killed in a boating accident over the weekend. Her family rushed her to the nearest dock, which was at the Crab Shack, where emergency crews tried to save her.

"It just was tragic," said Crab Shack owner Jack Flanigan.

Flanigan still can't believe what happened. It was business as usual at the Crab Shack, when a boat pulled up to the dock, the people on board in desperate need of help. "I grabbed all the towels I could and came on down, by that time they were getting her out of the boat," said Flanigan.

Everyone was trying to save (the) 38 year old (woman). (She) was out on the water when she was thrown from the boat. (She) hit the propeller. "She was so young and had her whole life ahead of her, and it was over in a heartbeat," said Flanigan.

Flanigan has known (the woman) since she was a little girl. "She's a Tybee girl, been here forever, wonderful person. It's a big loss to that family, to everybody."


Flanigan says the traffic was so bad out on Tybee that getting help to (the woman) wasn't easy. They ended up taking her to the light house, hoping Life Star could get her to a hospital in time, but it was too late. (text courtesy WTOC, edited)

As a captain, it's your job is to ensure that no one falls out of your boat: you must consider all of the things that could cause this to happen and make sure it doesn't. When someone climbs into a boat you are operating, you are responsible for their life.

This happens so often in America that there is a website specific to these events. Click here to learn more about propeller accidents.

One of the ways that people get thrown overboard is by leaning or sitting on the gunwale or side of the boat - this will earn you a fine from law enforcement unless you have a railing that is clearly high enough to prevent you from going over it. Coast Guard rules require a railing that is 39.5 inches in height to excuse a child under 13 years old from wearing a life vest on a commercial vessel. If there is any doubt - put vests on. A sudden heading change or violent rocking motion by wave or wake or wheel has resulted in many unplanned ejections. A sudden acceleration or deceleration without warning can cause a passenger who isn't ready and seated or holding on securely to leave the boat.

Man overboard!

No one thinks this will happen to them. Until it does. Children love to sit on the bow of a boat with their feet hanging over - but a SUDDEN stoppage on a hidden sandbar from 25 or 30 miles an hour can put them in the water - even with a bow rail.  Inertia will rip little hands from railings and squirt bodies through the narrowest of gaps between rail and deck. Then, when the boat resumes forward motion - when the trailing wave overtakes the stern and lifts the boat free of the bar - the child is run over. I flew that kid from the Ogeechee River. The dad was absolutely destroyed by hurting his own son. You do not want to be the dad or mom standing at the nurse's station at Memorial while the trauma team tries to save your child's life. Please, trust me on this.

I have done dumb stunts on a boat myself. I ain't preaching here, I am confiding - it can happen to anybody.

"Did you know that a typical three-blade propeller running at 3,200 rpm can inflict up to 160 impacts in one second? Did you know that a typical recreational propeller can travel from head to toe on an average person in less than one-tenth of a second? However, most propeller strikes CAN be prevented!" (text courtesy thebaynet.com)

There are a number of things that can cause a boat to suddenly and unexpectedly change course and speed. Submerged logs or sandbars, a steering gear malfunction, a throttle or fuel control malfunction, even an air bubble or slug of water in a fuel system: use your imagination and you can come up with more. Ask yourself if your passengers are ready for this at all times while underway. The fact that this has never happened to you yet doesn't mean it won't happen on your next trip.

The mark of a competent and safe captain is that she considers all threats and mitigates them as much as possible. A short discussion before leaving the dock works wonders.

"Hey guys, the most important thing I am going to do today is bring you back to this dock in one piece, alive and well. Let's all focus on that as we have fun." That is the beginning of my safety briefing on the Island Explorer as we leave the dock at Hogan's Marina. And I mean it. Injuring or losing a passenger is too terrible to contemplate; but I do, each and every time.

Simple tips...

While boating, announce "clear prop!" before lowering a motor into the water, starting it, or putting it in gear. This tells your passengers that something is happening and helps with "situational awareness".  Never accelerate without verbal warning - the Boat US phrase is "coming up." You could say, "here we go" or "hang on." Accelerations and decelerations should be smooth and deliberate - unless it's an emergency stop. Because you may have to stop in an emergency, all passengers should be seated or hanging on to a secure handhold when running at speed,  A person standing up and not hanging on to something can fall from even small power changes. When we ride in a car, we sit in a seat with a seatbelt on. In a boat, we are much less secure.

There are many sources of boating safety instruction, some are online, and some of them can reduce your insurance premium. Contact the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or Boat US for more information.

We provide on water instruction on your boat or ours. Call 912 657-5222 for more info.

(Disclaimer: As is the case with our safety-related posts at HelicopterEMS.com,  and our articles in Vertical 911 Magazine involving real-world accidents; it is not our intent to reopen old wounds or cause hurt to the individuals involved or their loved-ones. No one walks out to a helicopter or up to a boat thinking to themselves, "well, I am going to cause pain and suffering today." Our goal is to learn from real-world mishaps in order to prevent their re-occurrence. "What happened? How did it happen? How can I avoid it happening to me?)


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Hale Marine Takes the Beach at Pelican Island - Sandbar Beach Bash '19




On a spectacularly beautiful Saturday, June 15th, Tim and Robert Hale's "Hale Marine Services" held their annual Beach Bash on the Sandbar near Tybee Island. It was a fun event and boaters came in droves. The Hales named two charities as recipients of the day's fund-raising efforts. First, the Fresh Air Home, which offers children - who might never get to experience the beach and the surf - a vacation-experience in a summer-camp setting on Tybee Island.

The second charity the Beach Bash supported was the SAVE RANDY DAVIS project, a fund-raising campaign to support Randy Davis and his family as they deal with his kidney failure, hospitalizations, loss of income, dialysis and eventual kidney transplant. We are on the SAVE RANDY DAVIS team and we are extremely grateful to the Hales for supporting Randy, Sherry, and the boys. The Hales sold raffle tickets for an assortment of prizes and people lined up at the food tents for burgers, hot dogs, T-shirts and coozies.

This story and event sponsored by
Hale Marine Services, Savannah, GA. 


This was a fantastic day, and even with so many people and boats packed onto the sand, we never heard an unkind word. Boaters helped each other onto and off the beach, and looked out for each other's fiberglass.  It was boater-nirvana. 

Yamahas appear to be the motor of choice in Savannah, as their numbers dwarfed any other makes, with the exception of one Mercury Powered monster center-console fisherman.

We wrote about the Sandbar in another post on this blog, and that day was wonderful too - just a wholly different vibe than the Beach Bash. We ran into several friends, including good-natured Sean Herb (whose family name goes all the way back to "Herb Creek") and his crowd of fun-loving friends.

The ever-joyous Sean Herb, of one of Savannah's great families.

There were several dogs roaming around, all friendly and ready to play. Music came from all directions and American Flags were streaming freely in the breeze on many of the boats. It was a great party - and we look forward to next years 'bash.

Miss Ashli Benson loves boats and beach's. And so do we.

John Henderson, owner of Coach's Corner, took the day off for R&R.
That's him on the ski.

No beach party is complete without corn hole and volleyball.
There were games of each going on all day. 

The Hale Marine HQ tents... good food and good times.

Mostly Yamahas, with an occasional Suzuki, E-tec, or Mercury.

This year's Sandbar is huge, with lot's of shoreline to pull up on.

When the Gecko shows up, it's a party!

See you next year!

Want to see it from the air? Click here!



Sunday, June 9, 2019

An Island Adventure - Little Tybee's "Mosquito Ditch" to the "Washout"




For a Savannah Boater, it's great fun to explore the tidal creeks that wind through the marshes; but doing this requires some planning, and a look at the chart before going helps out too.

It's critical to know the tide schedule and consider the effects of winds on tide levels. The last thing you want to do is get stuck up a creek for hours in an open boat without enough food, drink, shelter, or bug spray. An adventure could turn into a survival situation if you don't do your homework first.

I first transited the Mosquito Ditch on board my friend Keith Williams' boat, a 24' center console with a 250 Yamaha on the stern. We ran the ditch at the earliest moments of a flooding (rising) tide, and I was amazed that we could run in that narrow creek in that little bit of water. Near a long narrow hammock named Cabbage Island, there is one hard turn, very tight, and Keith put the bow of his boat right up into the grass at that point, keeping the motor and propeller in clear water.

Our sand and mud bars, our oyster rakes, and our winding creeks with lots of wrong-turns make a guided tour the first time a good idea. You will encounter many forks in our tidal creeks, and you may regret taking the wrong creek. People have gotten lost.

When performing this trip, you leave wide water and the tidal creek gets progressively tighter and tighter. It's most challenging at that turning point I mentioned above. Then as you move towards the ocean the waterway gets wider and deeper as it sweeps back and forth in ever-widening switchbacks. You will pass a beautiful hammock and marvel at this unspoiled wilderness so close to civilization.


Standing up as high as possible on your boat, and looking at the general direction of where you want to go helps with orientation. That long narrow island I mentioned is your initial objective no matter which way you are you are running the ditch.

It's a good idea to run the ditch an hour or two BEFORE high tide. If you bump and stick, you will have more water shortly to re-float your boat. And you are not in a time crunch for a wrong turn. If you were traversing the ditch 1.5 hours AFTER high tide, with water falling, every wrong turn would add to your anxiety and increase the risk of getting stuck for hours. Having the GPS "track" function on makes it easy to go back from whence you came.

Although I don't have a definitive reference; from reading "A Georgia Tidewater Companion" by Buddy Sullivan, I can deduce that the United States Army Corps of Engineers had the "mosquito ditch" dredged in order to introduce saltwater into the interior creeks of Little Tybee Island. Standing fresh-water pools would serve as breeding grounds for hordes of the pests, and set the stage for malaria, yellow fever, and other diseases, which Savannah suffered from during the days of slavery and riverside rice plantations. The introduction of saltwater into freshwater breeding areas helps control infestation.

On a warm summer day, you are much more likely to encounter horse flies in the tidal creeks, so bug spray along with sunscreen are a good idea. Bullfrog makes a combination-spray that we like.

In most cases, you would be first running the Mosquito Ditch from the mainland side (or Tybee Creek) towards the ocean side, via Little Tybee Creek. Upon arriving at "The Washout," so named because tides and storms wash tons of sand to and fro and reshape the opening yearly, you will find wide-open beaches upon which to land and explore.



This is a magical maritime treasure, and you would do the rest of us a great favor by picking up any trash you find laying on the beach - it all ends up in the ocean eventually if not picked up. I believe dogs are prohibited on Little Tybee but I see them on the washout beaches often.

From the washout, the area where Little Tybee Creek opens to the sea, it is possible at high tide to get out into the open ocean. I have done this in that same 24-foot boat that my friend Keith owns, but we bounced off the sandy bottom several times as we "ran the bar."

Stump Moore was doing this once in a skiff, and a wave turned his boat sideways and swamped it. He died of a heart attack trying to recover his gear and get his boat back in order. The sand moves around here from year to year-- a lot--so charts are worthless, and the way you find the bottom is by hitting it. Take care if you decide to go that route, and definitely wear a life-preserver.

My friend Julius and I were transiting the ditch one day when the police boat came swooping through the turns. They stopped to chat and told us they were doing training for a new boat officer. Other folks go back there too, so if you are going to get an all-over tan, keep your clothes handy.

If you would like to experience the mosquito ditch and the washout, either on your boat with a captain who has been there, or on a chartered boat, text 912 657-5222 and we can put your trip in motion.








Here's an aerial image of the Washout and  Little Tybee Creek. Image courtesy VisitTybee.com


It Was Almost a Disaster!

I was conducting new boater training yesterday for a couple of young guys, and I wanted to show them the importance of understanding the dif...