Weathering the weather and other tribulations – Fernandina Beach to St Mary’s, Cumberland Island and Jekyll Island

Fernandina to Jekyll Island

Fernandina to Jekyll Island

On Monday we walked 4 miles in hot sunshine, through maritime forest, along the Atlantic coast and salt marshes of Cumberland Island, suitably protected from the elements with sunscreen, insect repellant, sunhats, and collared shirts, and with plenty of water to drink.
On Tuesday I woke to the sound of rain on Carina’s roof, and she was pitching so much that I decided it was time to open the Stugeron as a precautionary measure. We were encountering what popular meteorologists now seem to refer to as ‘weather’.

But the journey from Fernandina Beach to St Mary’s on Sunday had been perfect.

Near Fernandina

Near Fernandina

Crossing the State Line into Georgia

Crossing the State Line into Georgia

We crossed the state line into Georgia and a few miles further on, arrived at the marina at St Mary’s, a modest establishment with not many boats or facilities, and seemingly run singlehandedly by an old man called Nat.

Arriving at St Mary's

Arriving at St Mary’s

Although there had been industries in St Mary’s in the past, there’s now little evidence of them, but the old houses and tree-lined streets are very elegant.

Orange Hall, St Mary's

Orange Hall, St Mary’s

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Evening sunshine on the Waterfront, St Mary's

Evening sunshine on the Waterfront, St Mary’s

 

Sunset at St Mary's

Sunset at St Mary’s

We could have spent another day in St Mary’s, but wanted to see Cumberland Island while the weather was still good. It was only a short journey and we were anchored in Cumberland Sound by 11.30. Cumberland Island is the southernmost of Georgia’s barrier islands and its history dates back 4000 years. Before the Civil War, there were several plantations which were abandoned in the aftermath, and then much of the land was purchased in the 1880s by Thomas Carnegie. He and his wife Lucy built an estate on the southern part of the island known as Dungeness, comprising a grand hall and several other houses for their adult children and staff. They left it at the time of the Great Depression and in 1959 the great house burned down.
Attempts were made to develop the island, but eventually the Carnegie family sold it to the Federal Government and it is now preserved in its natural state, of maritime forest, salt marshes and sea shore.
The only access is by boat, usually a ferry from St Mary’s, but there is a dock where small private boats can tie up.
So after a quick lunch we took the dinghy and did a circular walk along the river shore, across to the Atlantic shore and back past Dungeness and the marshes to the dock.

Carina in Cumberland Sound, from Cumberland Island

Carina in Cumberland Sound, from Cumberland Island

The river shore, Cumberland Island

The river shore, Cumberland Island

There was a little museum by the dock, relating the island’s history.
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The maritime forest

The maritime forest

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One of the stipulations of Lucy Carnegie’s will had been that after her death, her horses should be allowed to roam free on the island. We had hoped to see some of the feral horses in the distance, and were rather surprised when we rounded a bend in the trail and came face to face with this pair.

Feral horses

Feral horses

The dunes and the Atlantic

The dunes and the Atlantic

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Reflections on the seashore

Reflections on the seashore

Young tern being fed on the beach

Young tern being fed on the beach

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More feral horses, at a safe distance this time

More feral horses, at a safe distance this time

The ruins of Dungeness

The ruins of Dungeness

Wild turkeys

Wild turkeys

We decided to move on the next day, because although the weather forecast was bad (wind, heavy rain showers, moderate chop) the day after was even worse, so it seemed sensible to be sheltered in a marina. As promised, belt after belt of rain passed over, but in a way the scenery was even more beautiful.

A storm threatens

A storm threatens

Another one on the way

Another one on the way

The most direct way to Jekyll Island was by crossing St Andrew’s Sound. But in the prevailing north-easterly winds, this was hazardous for small craft. So we took the safer route via Umbrella Creek and the Satilla River, but these were not without hazards of their own. There were a couple of anxious moments when the depth sounder beeped and we almost ground to a halt. Ian had to carefully reverse at low speed to prevent us being stranded in a marshland wilderness at low tide.

Because of the weather, we decided to have two nights at Jekyll Harbour, which was just as well, as I woke at midnight to the sound of clatterings and bangings from below deck. Ian’s head was just visible above the opening to the engine room.
We had a serious problem.
The bilge pump had made a horrible noise, and then packed up completely. Ian had fitted the spare one, thoughtfully left by the previous owner, but that didn’t work either. For the non-boaters, the bilge pump removes excess water which has made its way by various means into the bilges, compartments along the bottom of the boat. If they can’t be emptied, that’s trouble.
Breakfast wasn’t a happy meal. He tried to phone Seatow, the boating equivalent of the AA, for advice, but reception was so bad that neither Ian, nor the Seatow woman, could hear what the other was saying.
As a last resort, he decided to read the intructions which came with the new pump. ‘Long storage may cause the impeller to become jammed.’
Aha! A quick fiddle with a screwdriver, and lo! the impeller was unjammed, and the bilge pump worked.
The day improved. In the afternoon we borrowed bikes from the marina and went for a ride round the island,
The evening was better still. Scott, the young man at the marina, had advised us that we probably wouldn’t have suitable apparel to go to the Jekyll Island Club Hotel’s main restaurant, (‘I assume you don’t have your dinner jacket on board’) but we would be presentable enough for the Crane Cottage Restaurant, within the Club complex. Not only that, someone would come and pick us up and bring us back to the marina afterwards.
So we decided we would have a treat, and the food, service and ambience were all very good indeed.

Enjoying dinner at the Crane Cottage, Jekyll Island

Enjoying dinner at the Crane Cottage, Jekyll Island

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Ortega Landing to Fernandina Beach

We left Ortega Landing at the appointed hour on Friday morning, despite the weather forecast, thinking that if it proved correct, we could cut the journey short, but although we could see the thunderstorms in the distance, they kept away and we managed 40 miles to Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island.

Ortega Landing to Fernandina Beach

Ortega Landing to Fernandina Beach

We’d actually enjoyed the stay at Ortega Landing, and were rather sorry to go, after all.

Leaving Ortega Landing

Leaving Ortega Landing

We were relieved to see that the FEC Railroad Bridge was indeed lifted, as promised.

The  FEC Railroad Bridge finally open

The FEC Railroad Bridge finally open

Another one for the Bridge Engineers

Another one for the Bridge Engineers

The Captain

The Captain

We had to cross Nassau Sound before heading up the Amelia River. We saw lots of wild life – several pods of dolphins, a flock of ibis, and best of all, a beautiful roseate spoonbill in flight, but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera.

Nassau Sound

Nassau Sound

Amelia Island has a long history and the old streets of Fernandina Beach are interesting and pleasant. We had time for a short stroll and indulged ourselves with cocktails.

Centre St, Fernandina Beach

Centre St, Fernandina Beach


Lesesne House, thought to be the oldest in Fernandina Beach

Lesesne House, thought to be the oldest in Fernandina Beach

Ian enjoying a Jefe ('a margarita for the big boss') at Pepper's Cantina

Ian enjoying a Jefe (‘a margarita for the big boss’) at Pepper’s Cantina

Ian is feeling rather pleased with himself today. When we arrived at the dock yesterday, he was congratulated enthusiastically on his deft handling of the boat in fairly windy conditions, by the two marina staff who were waiting to help us tie up. Thank you Melvyn, if you’re reading this!
Then this morning, as I was peering into a shop window, I heard a woman of a certain age exclaiming about the cuteness of his socks (subtle, grey and beige striped Marks & Spencer jobs), and had to adopt a proprietary air before moving the conversation to safer topics.
The real purpose of this morning’s trip to the shops was for Ian to visit the Amelia Island Paint and Hardware, Inc., such places having a magnetic pull as well as that smell, common to hardware shops everywhere.

Man shopping heaven, the Amelia Island and Hardware Inc

Man shopping heaven, the Amelia Island and Hardware Inc

I fancied a trip to the Pecan Roll Bakery too, just a couple of blocks away, and managed to spend $16 on a multi-grained loaf, a pecan roll (a bit like a danish pastry rolled up, but nicer), an oatmeal and date slice, and two corn-bread type cakes with cheese and egg and bacon inside them, to have for lunch with salad.

Old houses opposite the Pecan Roll Bakery, Fernandina Beach

Old houses opposite the Pecan Roll Bakery, Fernandina Beach


Ash St, Fernandina Beach

Ash St, Fernandina Beach


Carousel horses on a verandah

Carousel horses on a verandah

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It started to rain while we were in the town, and we decided change our plan, which had been to leave this afternoon for St Mary’s, Georgia. Although there have been spells of semi-brightness when it felt as though we might have been wimping out, the wind became quite strong and the rain is now very heavy, so it was the right call.

And Ian has put the ice-making machine on, so tonight it will be cocktails on Carina.

Going Nowhere Fast – Green Cove Springs to Ortega Landing

Green Cove Springs to Ortega Landing

Our journey back down the St John River, north towards Jacksonville, couldn’t have been more different from the journey we’d done in the opposite direction last March. Then, Carina had tossed frighteningly in the waves and driving rain, and we had been unable to see the river banks in the thick mist.
On Sunday, the sun shone, the water was calm, and Carina made a smooth exit from the dock.

Leaving Green Cove Springs

Leaving Green Cove Springs

Ian had decided that after a few days hard work in the heat and humidity getting the boat sorted out, we deserved a night in a good marina, and the upscale Marina at Ortega Landing would be just the thing, ‘upscale’ being the American word for posh, but without the divisive class connotations of the English word. Shaun, the dockhand who welcomed us, said that when the marina had opened 3 years ago, they had wanted to make it feel more like a resort than a marina, and in this they’ve succeeded. The marina fee included all electricity, water, wifi, use of laundry(free), use of rest-rooms that wouldn’t be out of place in a 5-star hotel(free), use of bicycles(free), use of swimming pool(free), and use of a beautifully furnished and decorated air-conditioned lounge, with a verandah overlooking the Ortega River (free).

 Clubhouse Lounge, Marina at Ortega Landing

Clubhouse Lounge, Marina at Ortega Landing


And of course, friendly and helpful staff around, to sort out any problems and answer such questions as ‘What does that notice mean, exactly, the one dated 9th September saying that the FEC (Florida East Coast) railway bridge lifting mechanism is broken and might not be fixed for 2 weeks?’
It turned out that the notice meant exactly what it said – that the FEC railroad bridge, which we would need to be lifted for us to pass through on our way through Jacksonville, was probably going to be closed for another ten days. There were several other boats also stranded.

Hell really hath no fury like that of a Bridge Engineer whose plans are thwarted by the apparent incompetence of other Bridge Engineers, and it was hard to imagine that had it been the trains which were inconvenienced, rather than a few boaters, the repairs would have taken so long. The prospect of kicking our heels in Jacksonville for 10 days wasn’t an inviting one.
Ian adopted a two-pronged attack. He posted on FEC’s Facebook page, and got an email from the Communications and Marketing Director. He sent an email to the Senior Vice-President, Engineering and Mechanical, and got an email from him, too. The essence was the same. They were sorry for any inconvenience, and the bridge would be open (probably) at close of business, Friday. Result!

It could have been worse. The Marina is really a very pleasant place to be holed up, and they gave us a generous discount on the daily rate when it turned out we would have to stay for 6 nights instead of one.

I’d like to say we made good use of our time in Jacksonville, but we didn’t, really. The weather was oppressively hot and humid, and that, combined with the disappointment of not being able to get on with the journey, induced a certain lethargy and led to lazing about inside the air-conditioned boat, reading books and looking at social media websites, instead of going out and making the most of things.
Ian has done some maintenance work and we did manage (of course) a trip to the local branch of West Marine, where we bought two new chairs for the bridge, and we also commissioned some mattresses for the aft cabin, so we are now officially able to receive visitors!

Yesterday we stirred ourselves and took a taxi through the historic Avondale district to the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens , which has grown from a bequest in 1958 into an impressive gallery and beautiful gardens on the banks of the St John River.

The English Garden, Cummer Art Museum, Jacksonville

The English Garden, Cummer Art Museum, Jacksonville


The Italian Garden, Cummer Art Museum, Jacksonville

The Italian Garden, Cummer Art Museum, Jacksonville


The Italian Garden, Cummer Art Museum

The Italian Garden, Cummer Art Museum


Lower Olmsted Garden contrasts with the urban landscape

Lower Olmsted Garden contrasts with the urban landscape


Upper Olmsted Garden

Upper Olmsted Garden

Today we managed a bike ride over the bridge to Ortega Island.

Crossing the Ortega Bridge

Crossing the Ortega Bridge


Elegant houses sit surrounded by shady trees and lawns, and we found a small restaurant called Simply Sara’s, and went in for coffee, and were so impressed we went back (again by bike) for dinner – Southern home cooking, smothered steak with rice and vegetables, followed by peach cobbler.
Mission Statement from Simply Sara's

Mission Statement from Simply Sara’s

It was almost dark by the time we got back to the boat. The hot days are a trial, but the warm evenings are magical.

The good news is that the bridge is going to be open sooner than expected, between 9 and 10 am tomorrow, so we have to be up early to get through. The bad news is that it’s probably going to be raining.

Midnight Train to Jacksonville

After a few days with the family in Centreville, we headed to Jacksonville to pick up the boat.

One of my favourite books as a child was ‘What Katy Did at School’ by Susan Coolidge, in which the eponymous heroine and her sister Clover undertake a 3-day journey from their home in the American Midwest to boarding school in Connecticut. The account of this journey had made a vivid impression, so I felt quite excited 55 years later, when Ian announced that rather than flying from DC to Jacksonville, we would take the overnight train.

Union Station in Washington DC is a monument to the Beaux Arts architecture of the late 19th century, and was opened in 1907. After falling into disrepair, it was beautifully restored in the 1980s.

Union Station, Washington DC

Union Station, Washington DC


Our pleasure in our surroundings was tempered by an announcement that our train was delayed (length of time unspecified), and a series of graphic public information videos on the themes of What to Do in the Event of a Terrorist Attack and What to Do if You are Confronted by a Lone Gunman (try to send a text to the given number, without the gunman noticing you are using your cell-phone). Maybe there is evidence that in some way these videos help to prevent such atrocities, and help the public to deal with them, but personally I think they serve only to heighten anxiety, out of proportion to the actual risk involved. Or one hopes so, anyway.
The Silver Meteor to Miami is delayed

The Silver Meteor to Miami is delayed


Eventually we were called to board. Like most American trains, the Silver Meteor was very long indeed and we walked at least a quarter of a mile along the platform before finding our coach. Unlike most British stations, there were numerous people to help us, and we were introduced to James, our attendant, who would look after us throughout the journey.
Getting on the train required the ascent of at least five steep steps, quite a challenge with 23 kilos of luggage in your hand.
‘Don’t worry Ma’am, I’ll throw it up to you,’ James assured me, and he did.

Financial prudence had apparently dictated that a room on the train would be an extravagance too far at this stage of the trip, and a ‘roomette’ would suffice, though we did have some misgivings about how we, and all our baggage, could fit into such a small space. The roomette seemed to consist of two seats facing each other, and not much else.
All was soon revealed, when James came along to show us where the light switches were and how the air-conditioning worked. While we were at dinner, he would magically convert the seats into bunks, and make them up for us. Eventually we were enlightened on the burning question of toilet facilities. The little shelf next to my seat, on which I had carelessly dumped my bag, was actually the lid of the toilet seat. Above it was an ingenious fold-down sink. The nearest toilet offering any seclusion was several carriages further down the train.
It soon became obvious that the roomette would not accommodate us and our 46 kg of luggage, but James had the answer to this too, and checked them into the guard’s van for us. We would see them next on the platform of Jacksonville Station.

Ian trying to turn round in the roomette.

Ian trying to turn round in the roomette.


Another of my pre-departure worries had concerned the quantity and quality of dinner, but this proved an unnecessary concern. The dining car had a pleasant ambience, dinner was ample and satisfying,the service very good, and conversation was enlivened by the presence on our table of two young sisters from New Zealand who were travelling round the US. Discussion ranged from places of mutual interest that we had all either visited, or intended to visit (New Orleans, Charleston, New York, Boston), to the problems facing small independent countries, like New Zealand and possibly Scotland.
Sleeping in the roomette was quite challenging, but once I had remembered how to turn off the fierce air-conditioning, and managed to ignore the diverse rattlings and rumblings of the train, I must have dropped off, as suddenly Ian was telling me that it was 7.30 and we had already left Savannah. I looked out of the window at the flat marshland and tall trees of Georgia that in a few weeks’ time we would be travelling through on the boat.

Soon the wild scenery changed to the more cultured and semi-tropical Florida landscape. In contrast to the grandeur of Union Station, the Amtrak Station at Jacksonville was more like a country halt, just two platforms and a waiting room, but like most places here, well-kept, and the palm trees and sudden humid warmth gave a slightly exotic feel.

The Silver Meteor at Jacksonville Amtrak Station

The Silver Meteor at Jacksonville Amtrak Station

Carina had been having her bottom re-surfaced while we were at home, so as soon as we had checked into the hotel we were off to see her. I had been worried that in the heat and humidity of the Florida summer, large quantities of mould might have accumulated, not to mention a possible proliferation of insect life.
But Ian was pleased with the work that had been done, and apart from a few dead ants, the inside of the boat was more or less as we’d left it. After a couple of days’cleaning, re-stocking and doing various mechanical jobs, we were ready to roll.

Ian inspecting the work on Carina's bottom

Ian inspecting the work on Carina’s bottom