October 16, 2015

My Old Friend, Cumberland Island

"Believe.  No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted island, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit."
                                                                    - Helen Keller

Sept. 2015

Sailing back to Cumberland Island was like returning to see a old friend.

Was it the smell of the marsh grass or the feeding Roseate Spoonbills that seemed like returning to this old friend?

Or was it the old familiar smell of diesel fuel?  It must be that oily scent that reminds me .... cruising is on the brink again.  

I returned to the boat this week in late September.   When I opened the hatches on Glory Days, that old familiar odor greeted me. It reminded me that it was time.  Time to get this boat back on the water again. The worst thing you can do to a boat is confine her to the dock.    

She'd spent the past 10 weeks in a boat slip at St. Simon's Island while I tended to responsibilities and musical things back in my home just outside of Atlanta.

The  long trip back from the Florida Keys seems like a distant memory now, although it was only three months ago.

The plan for this week was to depart and cruise 200 miles north to Charleston for a couple weeks.  But heavy flooding in that area changed those plans.  The bottom line for this week is to get this baby moving again and to fill her sails with wind.   

So north or south matters not as long as salty water is slapping the hull again and there is a wild wind is in my hair.  Weather is always the governing factor if, when, where, and for how long your vessel may take you.

You can click this link to view a 3 minute video of highlights from this Cumberland trip:

After spending a few rainy days here in St. Simons, a great weather window finally presented itself and I seized the opportunity.  The following day she was back at sea pounding her way on a lovely broad reach toward one of my favorite anchorages just 40 miles south of here... ah yes, the magic of Cumberland Island. Here is how it all went down.

Driving south from Atlanta, I always get the jitters and goose bumps once I get near Darien, Ga. because its the first place I can smell the salt air and realize that I am near.  I stopped at this bridge over the Altamaha river and watched this little alligator do some fishing. (he's that little spot on the lower left of the photo above in case you missed it.)

My old time buddy, Dixon, (pictured above) drove down the following day to meet me and carouse with me on the island for a couple nights.  We always have a good time cracking jokes, being silly, playing guitars, and tackling various boat projects together. On Sunday afternoon, we let Glory Days out of her stall for a brief sail in the waters near my marina here.  There wasn't much wind, but we didn't care. We were just out for the heck of it and to shake the cobwebs from the sails on this Sunday afternoon.

We encountered this big cargo ship while out sailing that afternoon. He got a little too close in my opinion, but we dealt with it. We giggled at our propensity for getting into situations we have no business being in sometimes.
Returning with Dixon after our Sunday day sail.
Then there's the ever present lighthouse on the island which we sailed by for kicks.

Evidently the St. Simons lighthouse has been a beacon of hope and direction for seamen since its construction in the year 1810.  Appointed in May 1810 by President Madison as the first lighthouse keeper, James Gould held this position at an annual salary of $400 until his 1837 retirement.  Nearby Gould's inlet is named for him.  For more about the history of this 105 old landmark, click here:
Barnacles never take a break.  Scrape, scrape, scrape says this local guy working in the marina this afternoon.

Back in the boat slip we admired yet another great sunset from our vantage point.
I love the marshes.  This whole area is composed of green grassy tidal marshes which host a huge ecosystem of marine life. There's always a mystic quality about them, for me at least. 
The Sidney Lanier Bridge in Brunswick looms in the backdrop often making for a great sunset photo. It is the longest spanning bridge in GA and is 480' tall.  It's the only change in elevation for walkers and runners who cross it daily.

By now, my thoughts were on getting out of the marina confines and to start some cruising.  So I made plans for a 4 day outing that would take me back to Cumberland Island for a few nights, and then back up the coast to St. Simons. All in all it would about an 80 mile round trip.  I would sail south in the Atlantic and enter St. Mary's river inlet at the Georgia/Florida border.  Then I would return "on the inside" via the ICW for a change in scenery.

This is my buddy Chip.  He lives in the marina and dropped by in his dinghy to send me off for my little expedition the following morn.  He took the sunset photo at the very top of this blog post.
It's always great to watch the shrimpers coming in as I am heading out. They say if ever in doubt of how to navigate a particular channel or inlet, just follow a shrimper if one is in the area. This guy was being followed by a swarm of sea gulls pilfering whatever scraps the crew discards.
 This little bird (finch?) paid me a visit on board as he was chasing a moth while about 5 miles off shore...

My 40 mile dash in the Atlantic to Cumberland Island was near perfect. Northeast winds of 10-15 knots on my stern allowed me to make a most pleasant broad reach run down the coast. "Easy cruising" is what I call this angle on the wind because the boat is fairly level and your speed is quite good.

Luckily, I was able to ride the outgoing tide from St. Simons and also utilize the incoming tide as I entered Cumberland Sound.... perfect timing if I may say so myself... Due to the tidal current, I hit tops speeds of 8 knots as I entered the inlet of St. Mary's river at Cumberland Sound... smoking!!

After an 8 hour day at sea, I dropped the anchor at my beloved Cumberland Island on the south end of the island near the old Dungeness Ruins... Magical place.

This anchorage is what I call my sweet spot… ah.

Currents are strong here, very strong my friend. As I anchored, my boat swung with the current and before I knew it my anchor line (anchor rode) had become wrapped around my boat's keel. grrrrrr.... it happens.  Thankfully, after waiting 3 hours for the tides to shift, I was able to free her from entanglement during the period of slack tide where the current pressure is minimal.
Ah, the magic of the wonder and the wonder of the magic stirs my soul. 

Endless rows of palmettos lined by towering live oaks perfectly divided by man's walking trails... birds singing, armadillos scouring, and mosquitoes swarming all in perfect harmony. 
Waves raging over the dunes and a full moon on the rise makes for some mighty mojo.

Thousands of horseshoe crabs will meet their end on the beaches of Cumberland. It seems they are everywhere. I wonder what that's all about?

I don't really care how many fish I catch or don't catch. It's all good. Actually, I must confess, my fishing statistics are pretty poor overall.  I don't even care how small they are sometimes.  My big boy is out there and will come to papa in due time; patience, grasshopper. 

Anyway, fishing is just a wonderful excuse for standing waist deep looking out at the surf, waiting for a miracle and  getting a miracle no matter how it all turns out.

You don't have to share the beach with anyone here.
It's all yours.

totally yours.
Shrimpers, they be looming in the distance.
Surf that never ends. At low tide, this beach is wide... wide ... so wide, maybe a quarter mile wide.

The following morning I heard some official  Coast Guard traffic on the VHF radio about an escort convoy ordering small boats out of the way because the "asset" was passing though.   Evidently, what they call the asset, is a nuclear submarine returning from training exercises at sea and making her way back to the U.S. Naval station at King's Bay.

I'm sure if I had been submerged at sea for the past 3 months one of the first orders of business would be to get outdoors like these young Navy sailors. What a rush that must've been to see the sun after so many weeks submerged.
The size of a sub like this is frankly overwhelming. Seriously, it is HUGE. It seemed longer than a football field, 366' to be exact.   And to imagine the destruction it can reign befuddles me and also saddens me, tho I do see the rationale for being the best when it comes to winning a war... did I really say that?  No one wins at war.

As for my little chunk of fiberglass sailboat, I just follow orders and wait for them to pass.

These big boats here provide an armed escort for the subs as they re-enter the bay. I've had the pleasure to view these subs on three occasions now since cruising these waters for the past three years. Each time is still a jaw dropper.
After the warships passed I packed up my little shiplet and began my journey north.  After two nights at the South Cumberland anchorage, I opted to make the return trip "on the inside" along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) for a change in scenery.

Suddenly wide, open expanses of marshland were prevalent and quite rewarding to view. Mesmerizing.
Miles and miles and acre after acre of wild wet marshland supports a ginormous
community of life,  so unique.

After making my way past the King's Bay naval station, I was home free for the next 22 miles.  Before long I found myself in another magical remote anchorage at the north end of Cumberland Island at Plum Orchard.

Its just gorgeous here and the quiet pervades.  Just sit and enjoy it. Catch a bird's flight in your camera lens if you're lucky.  A sunset dinghy ride up Hawk's creek was a nice way to wind down a remarkable, most delicious day on the water. 

Glory Days has a very nice ass if you ask me.

The following morning I dinked over to the fading old dock at Plum Orchard and got a taste of some island history.  The island has a unique history of aristocracy supported by a long era of servants.  Imagine the interactions that occurred back then.  Click this link for an interesting history about Plum Orchard on Cumberland Island:
Plum Orchard interesting facts.

The Plum Orchard mansion was built in the 1890's and still struts her beauty today for visitors to tour.

I won't go into all the history details of Plum Orchard, but suffice it say it was a period in history where aristocratic blue bloods savored a heyday on the island even if for a few months each year. They had more money than they knew what to do with. This was one of many homes owned by the Carnegie family.
Lavish meals and entertaining were served up by the likes of servants and butlers for the guests who came from the north.

Even back then, they had an indoor pool.  There were no chlorine or shock treatments to the water back in those days. If it starts to turn green in the water, just drain it out and fill it with a fresh batch of new water. or have a servant do it for you. 

A nature walk on the Duck Pond trail yielded some nice views of mother nature in her quite atmosphere.  Ferns communicate silently above, just one of natures elegant and delicate organisms.

Sun rays peek through the palmettos. Mosquitoes too.

I walk beneath this Osprey as she grooves in the love of it all.

And the ever present marsh just takes it all in. It breathes. It moves.  Its embraces each tidal ebb and flood twice a day.
On my departure the following day, I passed this sweet looking power cruiser soaking it all up.  A classic older cruiser.
After crossing Cumberland Sound, I sailed my way back to the marina at St. Simons Island, GA.  Entering Jekyll Creek was a challenge. Against the outgoing tide I could barely make 2 knots of speed. Once in the creek, I was glued to the depth finder gauge so not to run aground during the low tidal period of this most shallow portion of the ICW.
Here's my buddy Malcolm who lives in the marina at St. Simons Island aboard Niahm.   Malcolm left later this week as he took his first crewing position on a 50' catamaran in South Africa.  They depart next week for a 4 month voyage that will include Brazil, Tobago, The Carribbean, Bahamas, and land in Miami in early 2016. Safe sailing to you!

Back home safely to my home port at St. Simons Island.

A sunset from the interstate while driving home reminds me that all is well.