After spending almost ten months in Jacksonville, we finally cast off from Ortega River Boatyard in early April 2004. As always, we felt a tad sad leaving our friends and the close-knit boater community behind. At the same time, we were thrilled to be cruising again, as we eagerly anticipate the adventures ahead. We took it easy the first day, traveling only 25 miles to our favorite anchorage at Fort George River, where we spent a couple of days adjusting to the rhythm of life on the hook again. Our next stop was Fernandina Beach, a charming town with quaint shops and fabulous restaurants. Many boats were anchored here, and we would run into some of them at the usual stops along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). The ICW is the 1,095-mile long waterway that stretches from Norfolk, Virginia to Miami, Florida.
After we crossed the state line to Georgia, we anchored at Cumberland Island and dinghied ashore. The beautiful April days, with temperatures in the 80s, were perfect for exploring the secluded island. The canopy of the trees provided shade as we walked from Dungeness (ruins of the Carnegies’ mansion) to the beach. Cumberland Island is accessible only by boat (and ferries from St Mary’s and Fernandina Beach). It has a campground, lots of history including the First African Baptist Church and the Carnegies’ mansions, miles of hiking trails, and 17 miles of hard-packed sand beach. We were awed by the giant oaks, beautiful dunes, and all the wildlife on the island. We spotted wild horses, many species of birds, and had our first encounter with the ancient-looking armadillos.
Two days later, we moved a little further north on the ICW and discovered another entrance to Cumberland Island. We saw the ferry from St Mary’s docking here so we followed suit, and drop our anchor in the narrow Brickhill River. Here, we spent four blissful days drinking in our million-dollar view, which overlooks Plum Orchard, the house built by Lucy Carnegie for her son. Everyday, we were mesmerized with the birds and wild horses as they wandered along the river banks foraging for food at low tide.
After four days of solitude, we decided to move up the river for a change of scenery. It was a little windy, about 15-20 knots, but how bad could it be on this tiny river? Little did we know. No sooner had we left our anchorage than we hit a mud bank and ran aground on an outgoing tide. The relentless wind, gusting to 25 knots, kept pushing us further into the mud bank. We finally gave up and called TowBoat US (the boater’s equivalent of AAA) for help. When they arrived, they couldn’t pull us out until the tide rises back up. So while waiting, the Captain went out to take some pictures. The mud was so soft he sank into it knee deep. He almost couldn’t get his sneakers out of the mud! A dolphin swam by, poking its head out of the water, as if to ridicule us. Tow Boat US towed us back to our previous anchor spot. The boat ran fine, much to our relief. We stayed put for a couple of days to recoup our energy and confidence before moving to Jekyll Island Harbor Marina to fuel and provision.
Cumberland Island remains at the top of our list of favorite cruising destinations. If we had to do it over again, we would still choose to explore uncharted territory. Our lesson learned is to pay more attention to the wind and tide, and never fight with Mother Nature.