The Secret South
In 1718, the pirate ship on which Blackbeard started his pillaging career, Queen Anne’s Revenge, ran aground in six feet of water just outside of Beaufort, North Carolina. Blackbeard, on the run after his storied blockade of Charleston, South Carolina, was traveling with three other ships, and legend has it that he ran his own vessel into the shallows to thin out his crew and keep more booty for himself. In 1996, divers discovered Queen Anne’s Revenge, and now, thanks to an exclusive program called QAR Dive Down, you, too, can explore the ship. The two-day program, intended for small groups of advanced open-water divers only, begins with lectures on the history, conservation, and archaeology of the wreck site and ends with the coveted dive. Word to the wise: There’s room for only fifteen for each session, so make a reservation for 2010 before all the air tanks are spoken for. (qaronline.org; 252-528-0126)
Smallmouth Honey Hole
Stretching across south-central Kentucky and northeast Tennessee, the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River transects some of the American Southeast’s most rugged territory. Which means that, as it courses through sandstone canyons and gorges sometimes six hundred feet deep, the Big South Fork and its tributaries host some of the most remote and isolated smallmouth bass fishing in the region.
Bring a fly rod, popping bugs, and streamers, and hit the river in spring and fall, when the water is cooler and the fish are active. The best stretches for fishing, whether on foot or by canoe, are probably the middle sections through the Recreation Area. Go slow; get out and explore the tributaries, where the quarters are usually closer but the fish rarely see sportsmen. (nps.gov/biso; 423-286-7275)
It is a little-known fact that one of America’s great sporting artists, Eldridge Hardie, still accepts private commissions. Hardie, whose stunning paintings of hunting and fishing scenes have won high praise even outside the sporting genre, takes on a limited number of new commissions every year, a process that takes about eighteen months. Got a stretch of river you can’t get out of your head or a bird dog that can do no wrong? Hardie will paint it for you.
It isn’t cheap, of course (a commission can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000), but it will last a lot longer and have more meaning than just about anything else you can buy. As the writer Nick Lyons says of Hardie, “It is the great pleasure an Eldridge Hardie painting offers to the serious sportsman, its embodiment of the inner life of sport, that makes his work so memorable.” Especially when it’s your memory he’s painting. (sportsmansgallery.com; 404-841-0133)
Not even Shawn Thackeray knows for sure exactly when a small cadre of men began gathering every Wednesday evening for dinner along the banks of Wadmalaw Sound in South Carolina, but he reckons that he’s been making this weekly ritual a part of his life for at least the last twenty years. Thackeray is a Wadmalaw Island farmer, famous among Charleston locals and chefs for his stellar South Carolina heirloom tomatoes, but to a motley assortment of fellow farmers, fishermen, ex-cons, and businessmen, he’s the chairman of the Wadmalaw Island Supper Club.
The “suppah club” is not exactly a secret society, but to join the boys for dinner, you’ll have to stumble upon a member willing to invite you to sample local oysters, wild turkey, steak, shrimp, or produce fresh off Thackeray’s farm. Several months ago, renowned Charleston chef Sean Brock prepared barbecue and Italian pork jowl on his night off as executive chef at McCrady’s. “I think it’s the coolest thing in the whole damn universe,” Brock says. “But the problem is that Wednesday is my day off and no women are allowed. If I went every Wednesday, my wife would leave my ass in a heartbeat.”
Okay, for this one, you’ll need a friend in Texas…who happens to be good with black powder. Oh, and you’ll need a fair amount of open space and an anvil. While other Southern states also lay claim to this tradition, the most pervasive legend holds that, to celebrate their secession from the Union on February 23, 1861, the good residents of Austin, Texas, marked the occasion as only Texans would. They packed a big charge of black powder beneath an anvil they’d humped out into a field. Then they stepped back quite a ways and detonated the charge. Provided the powder is packed uniformly beneath the anvil, there’s a deafening explosion, and the anvil launches four hundred to five hundred feet straight into the air. This practice, called an anvil shoot, is still carried on today, though given security concerns (and the danger associated with falling or shattering anvils), you’ll probably need to know someone fluent in anvil shooting to get invited.
Nashville is perhaps an unlikely place to find a supermodel, but Karen Elson is doing her part to bring high style to Tennessee. With partner Amy Patterson—a former celebrity stylist—she’s opened one of Nashville’s hidden retail gems, Venus and Mars. Housed in a 1906 stone-and-clapboard cottage adjacent to Belmont University, the store specializes in vintage clothing. And we’re not talking used ratty T-shirts and jeans—rather, a meticulously curated collection of men’s and women’s fashion from the late 1800s to the early 1980s, much of which Elson finds while on shoots around the world. The men’s room contains affordable silk shirts from the seventies, while the women’s areas show Elson’s penchant for the flapper era with feather headpieces and slinky slip dresses. “We’re trying to do this in a way that works well for Nashville,” Elson says. “There’s high style here, but also a bit of spunk and punk. That, to me, is what fashion is all about.” (venusandmarsvintage.com; 615-915-4846)