CUMBERLAND ISLAND: Creek Crawling on the Florida/Georgia Border


Feb. 9/2022:  You’ll recall we left the good ship Lunacy at Beach Marine in Jacksonville Beach. I returned there middle of last month with no clear idea of what I would do with the boat, beyond that my old Portsmouth sailing buddies, Jeff and Molly Bolster and Phil Cavanaugh, would join me, and we would do… something. The Bolsters came first, and Jeff, who besides being a fine history professor and old-time schooner jockey is also an avid birder, immediately proved useful.

For example, before the Bolsters appeared, I’d been marveling over these bizarre birds living on the edge of the marsh just north of the marina. One group had formed a street gang and spent a lot of time hanging out on a corner just across from a bait shop. Others liked to loiter around the trailer-ramp parking lot just across from where Lunacy was docked. I called them vulture-headed wading birds, as that is exactly what they look like. Within moments of arriving with Molly, however, Jeff however authoritatively identified them as wood storks.

They are quite “vulture-headed,” aren’t they?


Feeding the wood storks. They will consume canned sardines, but are not good at it


We sallied over from the marina to the beach itself, where Jeff was also able to identify these birds as black skimmers. Thank goodness!


Prior to the Bolsters’ arrival, when not studying the storks, I saw to some boat chores.

I finally figured out why the fresh-water galley foot pump was working so poorly. The culprit was yet another dead check valve (left), which I replaced with this interesting Whale in-line valve (right) I found at a nearby West Marine


I’ve decided to start grinding off the patches of bubbling paint that are springing up on deck. This is always an issue on aluminum boats. The worst spots are the stanchion bases, which really never should have been painted in the first place


The last chore was diving on the prop to change out the hub zinc. But I waited for the Bolsters to show up before doing this, just in case. The water was not very warm, and I am getting old. Afterwards I rewarded myself with a cookie (left). That’s the old spent zinc (not a cookie) on the right


It’s a bit counterintuitive, heading north instead of south this time of year, but we all agreed that Cumberland Island, just over the border in Georgia, was the most attractive and interesting destination within easy striking distance. In the end we spent the best part of two weeks motoring through the creeks and rivers along the ICW, going as far north as Jekyll Island, and returning to Beach Marine, while stopping twice at Cumberland. We never once raised or unrolled a sail, as the wind was incessantly against us, both going up and coming back. Temps varied from fairly chilly to downright warm… and a good time was had by all.

Our first stop was at Fernandina Beach, about 25 miles north of Jax Beach. We stayed on a mooring here during our first pass through


One of a couple of wrecked abandoned boats we saw there. An old Morgan Out Island 28, I reckon. It’s easy to understand why local governments in these parts are so militant about derelict boats. You see them everywhere


Jeff studies the situation as we depart. There were two ships landing at the little container port just north of the town as we passed through


This is the chart he was studying. It’s only about 5 miles from Fernandina to the south end of Cumberland


Jeff and I had both been to Cumberland before, but this was Molly’s first time. She was properly impressed


Dungeness, the old ruined Carnegie mansion at the south end of the island, with Jeff in red, and a feral horse–they are called marsh tackies–in white


Random statuary announces our arrival on the scene


An aged live oak. These are very horizontal trees! We wonder whether the branches that droop down to the ground grow roots of their own


We spent parts of two days at Cumberland before moving on to Jekyll Island, which none of us had ever visited before. We pulled into Jekyll Harbor Marina, just south of that bridge you see there


A very nice spot! The marina has a pool, a hot tub, plus courtesy bikes and golf carts


Sunset on the marina dock. That’s a Chris White Atlantic catamaran right behind us, with a unique MastFoil rig


The day after we arrived at Jekyll we hopped an Uber over to nearby Brunswick to visit the schooner Harvey Gamage. There was a whole lot of synchronicity going on here. Jeff, in the middle there, many moons ago was skipper of the Gamage, hence knows her intimately. Her current skipper for this winter season, to the left, is Matt Glenn. During most of the year he skippers Piscataqua, a gundalow run by the Gundalow Company in Portsmouth, which Molly, to the right, used to lead as executive director. WaveTrain riders with perfect memories will also recall that Matt and I crewed for Jeff some years ago on a fall delivery aboard Jeff and Molly’s Valiant 40 Chanticleer. Since then Jeff and Molly have sailed Chanticleer halfway around the world to New Zealand, where they’ve left her for the time being due to all the Covid lockdowns. And, of course, the reason everyone is wearing masks in this photo is that poor Matt had just suffered a huge Covid outbreak aboard the Gamage. Finally, I must also note that my previous Lunacy was once run down by the Gamage (neither Jeff nor Matt was skipper at the time) in Portland Harbor in Maine. See this previous post here for all the synchronicity that went on during that encounter


Twice burnt pizza, served up Gamage style


Jekyll Island, like Cumberland, is a very unique place, but in a different sort of way. Back in the once-upon-a-time, round the turn of the last century, a bunch of super-wealthy folk formed an exclusive club and built a village of winter mansions here. These have all been carefully preserved. This was the main clubhouse. Our Uber driver Stephanie informed us that this was also where the Federal Reserve was born, way back when. We were skeptical, but it turns out she was absolutely right about that!


One of the lesser cottages in the village


The village wharf, from which the rich and famous would come and go. They abandoned the joint after WWII, and the island now belongs to the state of Georgia. We had great fun touring around on the bikes we found at the marina


We spent a full day pinned to the dock at Jekyll Harbor by a strong northwesterly. After which Phil deigned to join us, and we puttered back south to Cumberland Island. This time we decided to check out the north end of the island, which we accessed via the Brickhill River. We anchored twice here. First in the north end, opposite Hawkins Creek, where we found an old private dock, where we went ashore only briefly. Studying the Navionics charts on my iPad I was surprised to find there was also a public dock, at the south end of the river, east of Mumford Creek, where the river cuts back through the marsh to touch dry land. We anchored nearby and launched a major expedition


The public dock on the Brickhill, with Lunacy in the background


Marching inland from the dock the very first thing we encountered was yet another Carnegie mansion! I had no idea this was here


It’s in much better shape than the one on the south end of the island. One thing I’m wondering now is why did the Carnegies seclude themselves on Cumberland while the rest of the Gilded Age robber barons were partying hearty on Jekyll, just one island north???


From the mansion we hiked clear across the island at its widest point, about three miles, on a narrow trail upon which we inevitably met… a marsh tacky. Going in the opposite direction, of course. It was an interesting encounter. We first stepped well off the trail, and invited the beast to pass through. It almost worked the nerve to do this, but then stepped off the trail so we could pass through instead


We also met many armadillos. As far as I can see, they are the dominant species on the island. We also saw some deer. During my previous visit I met some wild pigs. And turkeys are not hard to find


We arrived eventually at the ocean-side beach… where, alas, we found no shark’s teeth, the most coveted beach detritus in these parts


Later that same day we exited the Brickhill River, after briefly running aground, and moved the boat back down to the southern anchorage in Cumberland Sound. Here we re-encountered the schooner Harvey Gamage, just released from its Covid lockdown. Next morning Jeff put on his professor hat, went ashore, and pontificated on African-American seafaring to its load of students. Afterwards the four us hiked around the south end of the island some more


Dungeness, another view


More ponies, of course


And more live oaks


Plus a nicely swept-back tree, courtesy of the prevailing wind


Plus more beach time! Replete with a stranded nav buoy. In all Jeff, Molly, and I hiked nearly 20 miles around the island


From Cumberland we trickled on south, stopping again for a night at Fernandina Beach, where we pulled into the marina and went ashore for a very fine meal at España, a restaurant specializing in Spanish and Portuguese cuisine.

Soon after departing Fernandina we fell into an interesting predicament. We needed to pass under the Route 200 bridge, which connects Amelia Island to the rest of the world, but the tide was still quite high, and there was no height board on our side to tell us what the actual clearance was. I’d already noticed that at peak flood water many bridges on the ICW in northern Florida now have only 64 instead of 65 feet of clearance beneath them. I know for a fact Lunacy and her mast can make it under 65 feet, but I’m not too sure about 64.

So we loitered about nervously for half an hour, while I chewed on my fingernails waiting for the tide to ebb away a bit. Finally another sailboat appeared, heading south like us, but with a much a shorter rig. We radioed them and asked them to report back what it said on the height board on the other side of the bridge after they passed under it.

“65 feet!” they announced.

This was probably a smart move on our part. And I will note: it would be very nice if there were height boards on both sides of these bridges!

That’s Sojourner up ahead, the boat that led us through the bridge. Thanks guys!


At Fernandina unfortunately the toilet in my head broke down, so job one after we returned to Jax Beach was fixing it. Once again, as I suspected, the top valve gasket had failed and needed replacing


I also spent a fair amount of time chasing these damn birds out of the rig


Jeff tells me these are boat-tailed grackles. Which seems appropriate. I just wish they would stop making gwackles all over my deck!



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3 Responses
  1. rand

    Three times in the last month I have sought obscure information on boat design and three times i’ve been lead to your site. Also 2 videos you published have figured in my boat buying in the last 15 years or so. Thanks then!
    (one boat was a water-ballasted ketch you were a little smitten with) – i’d already bought one and was pleased to see the smile.

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