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

Moving North

The thing about anchoring out, apart from the solitude and of course the avoidance of the tricky business of negotiating one’s way around other boats in the marina, is that it is free of charge. This is a considerable advantage after a few nights at an expensive marina, eating out, going shopping and catching up with the laundry.
There’s always a price though, and in this case it is the anxiety that the anchor might work loose, and the boat drift away in the middle of the night, taking the sleeping occupants with it.

On Friday night when we were anchored at Hookers Cove, Wind Guru, the weather forecasting app, had not been entirely truthful with us. The winds that were supposed to moderate during the afternoon actually increased in strength, reaching a level that could almost be described as ‘blowing a hooley’. Ian dropped the second anchor, for reassurance. Tom and Tracy, Carina’s previous owners, had apparently not bothered with such minutiae as an anchor alarm, Tom preferring instead to rely on cries of ‘Holy shit, Tom!’ to alert him to imminent disaster.
But Ian prefers science, and we had not one anchor alarm, but two, one on the laptop and the other on my phone. They use the GPS signal, and sound off if the boat has moved more than a pre-set distance from the anchor.
We’re on a learning curve. The alarm went off, loudly and disconcertingly, twice in the middle of the night. The tolerance had been set too narrowly, and the boat had swung round out of the GPS range.
But the anchors held fast.

The next day we had our first glimpse of the Atlantic. We left the St Lucie River, and took a sharp left turn to head north up Indian River and begin the journey up the Atlantic Intra-coastal Waterway.

The start of the Atlantic ICW, looking north up Indian River

The start of the Atlantic ICW, looking north up Indian River

A little later, we passed a large fleet of 420 dinghies racing in the sound. The conditions were perfect, and Ian not a little envious, I think.

420s racing in Indian River

420s racing in Indian River


Indian River is a broad sound between the mainland and a string of long islands a few miles to the east, with a wider, more open feel than the Gulf Coast. We moored at Fort Pierce, FL in the city marina, and enjoyed the live music and good food at Cobbs Landing, next to the marina.
Downtown Ft Pierce,FL

Downtown Ft Pierce,FL

One of the reasons for stopping at a marina is to replenish the food stocks, but this is sometimes more easily said than done. Ian can sometimes be reluctant to recognise the correlation between going to the supermarket and having anything to eat, regarding all forms of shopping, with the exception of buying bits for cars and boats, as a female indulgence that at best has to be tolerated, and at worst borne with a grudging ill-humour.
So Sunday morning didn’t go well. The nearest Publix was 3 miles away, and taxis are tricky in the US. Everyone has a car, so demand for taxis is limited. It follows that supply is also limited, and although we got a taxi to take us to the supermarket, we had to wait over an hour for it to take us back to the marina.

But undaunted, in the afternoon we visited Heathcote Botanical Gardens, this time using the other Fort Pierce taxi firm, a one-man band who was apologetic about our morning experience, and who explained the economics of running a taxi business to us.
The garden was a delight, and so was the volunteer staff member who enthusiastically welcomed us, and explained the garden’s history and layout. It had originally been a nursery, and in 1985 the City of Ft Pierce had bought the house and land, to be developed and maintained by volunteers as a community resource. It has a large bonsai collection and there is a series of garden ‘rooms’, and a children’s garden and community vegetable garden.

The main lawn

The main lawn


Bonsai Ficus, 25 years old

Bonsai Ficus, 25 years old


The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden


The Palm and Cycad walk

The Palm and Cycad walk


Heathcote House

Heathcote House


Tree Philodendron

Tree Philodendron


Triple-crowned sable palm

Triple-crowned sable palm

As we left Fort Pierce this morning, a manatee surfaced about two feet from the boat and popped his head out and looked round, but I didn’t have the camera with me, and perhaps it would have spoiled the moment anyway.

Leaving Fort Pierce City Marina

Leaving Fort Pierce City Marina


We travelled 25 miles north, passing lots of lovely small islands, and we’re now peacefully anchored off Wabasso.
Sparkling water and opalescent skies near Vero Beach,FL

Sparkling water and opalescent skies near Vero Beach,FL


Carina anchored at Wabasso

Carina anchored at Wabasso