Monday, March 30, 2009

Cumberland Island and St. Simons

We left Palm Coast Monday morning, March 23rd with “C-Life”. We were bound for an anchorage about 30 miles up the coast of Florida just north of St. Augustine called Pine Island. Traveling through marsh lands most of the day, we were almost at our turn-off for the anchorage when we saw a big, mature eagle sitting on the shore eating a freshly caught fish—we haven’t seen any eagles since leaving Marathon—so this one was very special for us all. As we turned into Pine Island, we found several other boats already anchored there—not to worry though, it was a big space surrounded by beautiful, brown marsh—another good pick from our Captains.

After a beautiful sun rising over the marsh, we left our quiet spot Tuesday morning and got back out on the ICW—going through the busy entrance of the St. John’s River with its huge container ships moving in and out of the port of Jacksonville. We decided this trip to forgo going up that river—maybe next time! We were headed for another anchorage behind Cumberland Island—a 17 mile long treasure of an island and a designated National Seashore Park. Just at the tip of Cumberland, we saw five “marsh tackie” ponies grazing on the green salt marsh of the island. These small, wild horses are believed to be descended from the Spanish ones left there over 200 years ago—back then, they were easily transportable in small ships and yet they were strong enough to do heavy work in the fields once they got to land. They reminded me so much of our native Shackelford ponies—I’m excited about seeing them again this summer!

Around 3pm that afternoon, we entered Georgia—only two more states to wind our way through before we reach North Carolina! We found a nice anchorage behind Cumberland Island, rafted again with Kay and Robert, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon—especially when we saw a nuclear Trident submarine coming into the King’s Bay Submarine Base facility with some of its crew standing outside on the hull! After the sun set, we enjoyed a pretty star-filled dark sky.

Wednesday morning, Robert and Louis put our dinghies in the water and we went over to the Island to explore. There is not a bridge to Cumberland Island, so everyone visiting must come by boat. We wound up walking a long, lush, quiet, green nature trail through the woods filled with saw palmettos, palms, live oaks and pine trees, grape vines, and lots of moss up in the trees all leading to Dungeness—a massive four-story brick and tabby estate home (think castle!) built by the Carnegies at the turn of the century during the golden era. The Carnegies at one time had over 300 workers on this island, making it a fully self sufficient paradise for their family and friends to enjoy. Ice was even cut from the Hudson River in the winter and shipped by barge here and stored in an ice house on the island! Reportedly, it burned from arson in 1958 as a result of the shooting death of a poacher and the poacher’s family seeking retribution for the fatal shooting—never proven though. The four-floor ruins still stand today as a testament to the period in American history where the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, and the Carnegies (among others) were all conspicuously enjoying their amazing wealth—the period before income taxes were levied. With a dozen or so of the wild horses grazing along both sides of the estate in the open fields, and an unobstructed view of acres upon acres of marshland, and even in a state of ruin, we got a quick glimpse into the lives of the fabulously mega rich of yore. Also, there was a very nice display in the visitor’s center showing pictures of what the home once looked like, plus other historical facts about the island and its many nationed inhabitants. Of recent, this is the secluded island which hosted, in the ever-so-tiny First Black American Baptist Church, the wedding and honeymoon of Carolyn Bessette to John F. Kennedy, Jr. I remember quite well the photograph of them leaving the small church—it’s hard to believe, even now, that they were actually able to pull it all off so secretly and away from the harassing press. We tried to get reservations for dinner at Greyfield Inn either night, but they were already full. While we were walking on the trail though, we played with two armadillos—they were not afraid of us at all—how fun!

We pulled up our anchors Thursday morning shortly after seeing another submarine coming out of King’s Bay which was headed out to sea. Surrounded by Coast Guard boats carrying machine guns on their bows and sterns, we stood in awe as having seen yet another sub—all the times Kay and Robert have been through this area, they haven’t ever seen a single one! It took a while to get the anchors up—they were covered in black mud—but we were underway earlier than we had planned. Good call, guys! There’s a bad cold front moving across the country and we want to be in a marina before the high winds get to us. Plus, we have to cross St. Andrew’s Sound—very tricky and sometimes treacherous. But just as we were approaching King’s Bay, a third submarine was quickly making its way through the waterway behind us. A heavily armored Coast Guard boat came up behind us with its blue lights flashing and told us to “move along quickly” past the King’s Bay facility—the submarine was traveling much faster than we were and the Coast Guard didn’t want us anywhere near that sub! In fact, if one of those subs is coming upon you and you can’t get away from it quickly enough, you are required to point the bow of your boat towards shore and maintain that position until the “coast is clear”! That’s three nuclear submarines we’ve seen in two days—a real record for most Loopers, for sure!!

Well, we did get through St. Andrew’s Sound even with me at the wheel! Louis was trying to secure us reservations on his cell phone, so I was driving—the boat bouncing up and down through the white-capped and “squirrely” chop. I can now see why boaters hesitate to cross this body of water—and thankfully we got through it just as the winds really picked up—if we had left an hour later this morning as planned, we would have had an uncomfortable ride. Glad that’s behind us.

We pulled into Golden Isles Marina at St. Simons Island mid-afternoon, and with the storm approaching, I quickly jumped off the boat to do laundry in the nice facility there. Gold Loopers, Lola and Larry from “Lola Marie”, were alongside us on the floating dock and asked if we four would like to join them in going to dinner at “Gnat’s Landing”—we immediately said, “YES”! So off we went in their car over the bridge later that afternoon to that great little restaurant—enjoying fresh seafood and Caesar salads—the place was very popular with the locals.

Friday, we borrowed the courtesy car at the marina and did errands—Louis and Robert trying to chase down a fuse we needed for our boat and Kay and I checking out and enjoying so much the historic Christ Church there on St. Simons. Surrounded by blooming dogwoods, azaleas, camellias and wisteria, this precious white-wood church was truly beautiful and serene—we could have spent hours just wandering through all the history in the adjacent gravesites, but time didn’t allow us that. We could have the car for only 2 hours, but we did manage to get in a fix at Burger King—yum! Later on that afternoon, Mary and Robert Drake, whom we met in Tarpon Springs, came to our boat for another interview. With Mary being the writer and Robert being the photographer, they both contribute articles for “Soundings” magazine and they wanted to do a feature article on us, the Loop, and “Bella Luna”—imagine that (!) and how exciting for Louis and me! With both of them being such experienced boaters (and sailors), we spent several hours chatting about our mutual experiences in and on the water—ours, however, can’t even hold a candle to going around the world like they did! Thanks go out to both of them for taking even more time with us—and in our excitement and by me not thinking, I can’t believe I didn’t take a single picture of them taking our pictures! Sorry, Mary & Robert—can you send us one?! Later on that evening, eight of us wound up eating at the marina’s restaurant (Coastal Kitchen) and sadly, most of us were disappointed—expensive for what we were served.

We’ve had terrible wind now for three days. Saturday, the slow-moving cold front with predicted heavy rain, possible tornados, and winds of 60 mph still hadn’t come through our area but it was forecasted for late in the afternoon—so we decided to stay put another night safely tied to the marina. We borrowed the courtesy car again and went to the grocery and Chick-Filet. It’s a real treat for us all to be able to have lunch away from our boats—so any chance for us, we gladly take it and won’t feel guilty at all! We met another couple (new Loopers) on our dock yesterday from Ohio on an Endeavor, Gail and Gene Knight on “Nightingale”, and asked them to join us for dinner on our boat Saturday night. Kay and Robert came over too and all six of us had a great time—it was one of our latest evenings going to bed to date! The storm with 5 inches of rain finally barreled through all night long—thankfully, we had taken all our flags down and no one encountered any problems on their boats, except that we lost power on the dock early Saturday night and it still wasn’t on when we left Sunday morning. We loved having Melissa as our dock-mistress—she’s definitely one of the best ones we’ve had on our entire strip and she really knows the business. We left on a beautiful (but damp) Sunday morning with “C-Life” and “Nightingale” and were all headed about 50 miles further up Georgia’s coast and up a creek to Kilkenny Marina—in the middle of nowhere too!

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