Floating snowbirds in the rush to drift south

The lure of warmer waters
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As the northern hemisphere winter approaches, there's an American and Canadian phenomenon which takes place every year. It's the floating 'snowbirds' who are in a slow rush to drift south to warmer climes. Some take to the Atlantic Ocean, others drift down the Inland Waterway.

They are drifting, because, as one Snowbirder commented this week, 'Getting here is half the fun.' They sail to Florida or other southern warm spots such as Bermuda, the Bahamas and central America. On the way they'll stop a few nights here and there, places like Georgetown, Charleston and Savannah.

It’s a nice slice of business for area marinas in these towns, so the Snowbirders are welcome wherever they go. The dockmasters say they see some of the same faces every fall and then again in the spring on the return trip.

Many are in just for the night, stopping in time for dinner at a restaurant -- within walking distance, for these car-less travelers -- and maybe some fuel before getting some sleep and pulling out as the sun comes up the next day.

It’s a trip dictated only by how easy or rough the waters were that day. The boaters know they’ll stop at certain docks and see family and friends spread along the coast, but they’ll get there when they get there.

Dockmasters know and understand that lifestyle. They expect at least a couple of snowbird boaters to float in every evening, but don’t know for sure how many until they get the call a few hours in advance saying, 'We’re coming.'

'Anybody who calls you two or three days ahead really doesn’t have much experience,' said George Russ, owner and general manager of Hague Marina in the Socastee area. Socastee doesn’t get as many overnight stopovers as he’d like but stays busy servicing some of the snowbirds’ boats.

Art Wissing, a dockmaster at Barefoot Landing Marina, just sits on his boat and waits for their call, jumping to the dock ready to wave them in and help pull the boat in.

'They just call as they go along,' he said. 'Boating is not a science. It’s an adventure. That’s why they do it....
'They stop here for a day or two or three,' Wissing said Thursday evening. 'Last night we were booked end to end.'

Snowbirds Bob and Ann Shere on their 42ft Beneteau, photo by cslate
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Bob and Ann Sherer, travelling on their Beneteau 42 called Fleetwing, are one of the couples making their way south. They stopped at the Grand Strand last week, taking in a show at the local Alabama Theatre, relaxing on the boat with a happy hour glass of wine and shopping at the whimsically named Barefoot Landing.

They even celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary with a steak dinner at Greg Norman’s Australian Grille on Thursday night; the anniversary was in August but the pair said they wanted to wait for this more relaxed time to celebrate. And don’t think that these guys are roughing it. The Sherers’ boat has a 32-inch TV, air conditioning and heat, a freezer and other staples of a stick-built house.

'This is like a floating condominium,' Bob Sherer said.

Others take it more seriously. For John and Darleen Hochradel of Michigan, their boat isn’t just their home away from home -- it is their home. The pair rents their house to family and has created a cozy abode in their three-bedroom, 37-foot boat named 'Island Rhumb.'

'We’ve always had a boat,' Darleen Hochradel said. They have made more than a dozen trips on the Intracoastal Waterway. 'It just seemed like an economical way to retire.'

But in addition to the lifestyle and adventure, traveling by boat -- checking in docks for overnight stays at the many stops along the way -- is easier than driving and checking into hotels.

'You don’t have to pack and unpack,' Darleen added.