Several cruising friends had told us that we just had to stop at Cumberland Island, Georgia’s largest and southern-most barrier island, during our sailbatical. This natural habitat and National Seashore is said to be a spiritual place, with 17 miles of undeveloped beaches, wild horses, salt marshes, and historic ruins. And yes, you may remember that John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married here in 1996, surprisingly avoiding the media coverage. Most of the island is managed by the National Park Service, though a few private homes still remain, and one inn for limited lodging and dining. No bridge connects this island to the mainland, so most visitors arrive by ferry. But cruisers have the advantage of arriving by our own boats, and anchoring near the Sea Camp Dock.
But we had one more reason to want to visit Cumberland Island after leaving Fernandina Beach. We knew that Michele and Al on Kindred Spirit had anchored near the Sea Camp Dock the night before, and had also planned to explore the island as soon as the winds calmed down. We barely “knew” Michele and Al, having only met briefly once before, when we all attended our first Seven Seas Cruising Association GAM in Annapolis several years ago. Since then, mutual friends have kept us acquainted, via blogs, Facebook messages, and shared stories. We’ve seen countless photos of Michele and Al sitting in the cockpits of other friends’ boats, e.g. Magnolia and Eleanor Q. Plus I’ve been following Michele’s blog (http://blog.kindred-spirit.net) and feel as though I already know this couple from many stories and photos shared there. Our good buddies Anthony and Annette on Magnolia alerted us via Facebook that Belle Bateau and Kindred Spirit were on similar spring schedules, so Michele and I began texting and emailing our sail plans. So with the help of friends and technology, the long awaited rendezvous occurred on Belle Bateau’s Day 168.
That morning, Dudley and I arrived the Sea Camp anchorage after only five nautical miles from Fernandina, which took longer than expected due to opposing current and sporty winds. After we set the anchor, Michele and Al dinghied (is that a verb?) over for a quick hello and tour of Belle Bateau, which has a slightly different layout than our mutual friends’ Gozzard, the Eleanor Q.
We made plans for an afternoon walking tour of the southern tip of the island, once the winds settled, to be followed by an early dinner aboard Kindred Spirit.
As forecasted, the winds calmed to a gentle breeze just after noon as our two dinghies tied up at Sea Camp. The sun was delightfully warm, but not too hot. Michele and Al had visited the island in 2013 so they led the way. One of our first stops was this beautiful tree with gnarly branches where Michele and Al had posed for photos previously. So of course, we just had to climb up and have our photo added to the collection!
Shortly thereafter, we were walking on the beach. The beaches were long and peppered with with sea shells, horseshoe prints, and yes, horse droppings.
Which meant that horses must be nearby. And they were! I learned later that it was quite special that we saw the feral horses immediately. Apparently, other cruising friends have come to Cumberland to search for horses, only to find manure piles to taunt them without an actual horse sighting.
The first group of feral horses we saw included a mare with her foal. We hoped the foal was not ill, for the young pony was laying on the sand, with mom guarding her offspring quite closely. Other people were walking on the beach near the horses, but all of us kept a respectful distance.
We walked for quite awhile on the beach, and I asked Michele to educate me some more about her collection of sea beans, and whether we could find any on this beach. See Michele’s blog: http://blog.kindred-spirit.net/2016/03/15/drifting-along-drift-seeds-and-sea-beans/. Funny thing though. Where sea beans typically collect on beaches—at the upper edges of the tidal range, referred to as the wrack line — can look a whole lot like dried horse manure and other beach debris. So we decided to forego the sea bean lesson this time. Good idea.
We turned northward and walked toward the ruins of the Dungeness mansion, on property formerly owned by several families significant in American history, dating from the early 18th century. Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew, purchased the property in 1880 and a 59-room mansion was completed after his death in 1886. His wife Lucy continued to live there, and built other estates for their children on the island, until they relocated in the mid 1920s. The Dungeness mansion was destroyed by suspected arson in 1959, and the Park Service acquired the ruins in 1972.
Over 11,000 steps later, according to my FitBit, we boarded our dinghies and returned to our respective boats to rest and make dinner preparations. This time, it was our turn to dinghy to their boat, with burgers and red potatoes in a “foil pack” to add to their steaks on their grill. We continued to chat and share experiences, as cruisers do, and of course, had to get the requisite photo in Kindred Spirit’s salon. At long last!
We were careful not to overstay our welcome. Both our boats were intending to head offshore the following morning, through St. Mary’s Inlet. Kindred Spirit had planned a very long day with a departure time of 5 am, to make miles to Savannah. We were planning to leave just prior to sunrise, at 7 am, and would rejoin the ICW via the Sapelo Sound (north of St. Simon’s GA). It would be our first offshore venture, and we needed to complete our preparations.
Once back on Belle Bateau, we hoisted the outboard engine from the dinghy onto the stern rail mount. That electric winch came in handy! Earlier that afternoon, Dudley had removed other items from the deck and cockpit, such as fenders, lines, and cockpit pillows. He had also secured jacklines on both the starboard and port decks, so that we could tether ourselves to the boat if we needed to venture forward of the protection of the cockpit while in ocean waters. Below decks, we made sure that all items were secure, ports were tightly closed, hatches were battened, and all cabinets were latched. Soon, it was time to get some rest. Tomorrow would be a long day. No horsing around!