Monday, October 7, 2013

Favorite Cruising Destination: Cumberland Island, Georgia

I was delighted to find the CBS Sunday Morning Show doing a story on Cumberland Island yesterday. We used to cruise up and down the East Coast in the spring and fall, and one of our favorite cruising destinations is Cumberland Island, off the Georgia coast. You can get there via the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), the 1,095-mile long waterway that stretches from Norfolk, Virginia to Miami, Florida.
Live oaks canopy leading to the dock and our anchorage
Accessible only by private boats or ferry from St Marys, Georgia, Cumberland Island is very secluded, and that is probably the reason why the late JFK Jr chose to get married there. The Carnegies used to own 90% of the island; they have donated or sold much of it to the National Park Service. Due to the government shutdown, Cumberland Island is closed to visitors at this time. But is it really necessary to shut down the website too? 
Giant live oak trees gracing Cumberland Island
the remains of Dungeness mansion that burned down in 1959
Boardwalk to beach (aka Cumberland Island National Seashore)
Cumberland Island has a campground, lots of history including the First African Baptist Church and the Carnegies' mansions (Dungeness, Plum Orchard), miles of hiking trails, and 17.5 miles of hard-packed sand beach. We were awed by the giant oaks, beautiful dunes, and all the wildlife on the island. Wild horses roam freely here. We saw many species of birds, and had our first encounter with the ancient-looking armadillos.
Armadillo, oblivious to our presence
After anchoring at Dungeness Greyfield Channel for two days, we moved north on the ICW to discover another entrance to Cumberland Island. We saw the ferry from St Mary's docking there so we followed suit, dropping our anchor in the narrow Brickhill River. Here, we spent four blissful days drinking in our million-dollar view, which overlooks Plum Orchard, the house built by Lucy Carnegie for her son. Everyday at low tide, birds and wild horses would wander to the river banks to forage for food, mesmerizing us for hours. At night, we heard alligators, but shrugged off the thought of them slithering up to our swim platform.
Wild horses foraging close to our boat
After four days of complete solitude, we decided to move up the river for a change of scenery. It was a little windy, about 15-20 knots, but how bad could it be on this tiny river? Little did we know.

No sooner had we left our anchorage than we hit a mud bank and ran aground on a rapidly outgoing tide. The wind was relentless, gusting to 25 knots, kept pushing us further into the mud bank. We finally gave up and called TowBoat US for help.When they arrived, they couldn't pull us out until the tide came back in. So while waiting, the Captain went out to monitor the situation and take some pictures. The mud was so soft he sank into it knee deep. A dolphin swam by, poking its head out of the water, as if to ridicule us.

A few hours later, Tow Boat US returned to tow us back to our previous anchorage. The boat ran fine, much to our relief. We stayed put for a couple of days to rebuild our confidence before moving to Jekyll Island HarborMarina  to fuel and provision.

As most cruisers know or will learn soon enough, this part of the ICW is narrow and shallow. Also, Georgia has some of the greatest tidal range, as much as 8 feet. Since the Army Corp of Engineers maintains the ICW (if at all, depending on funding) at about 10 feet deep, grounding is not uncommon. Much has been written about the idiosyncrasies of  the ICW;  here are some links you might find useful - navigating the ICW, part 1 and a cruiser's trip in Passage Maker magazine. Cruiser's net also has reports of grounding problems near this location, complete with charts.

Cumberland Island remains at the top of our list of favorite cruising destinations. If we had to do it over again, we would still choose to explore uncharted territory. Our lesson learned is to pay more attention to the wind and tide, and never ever fight with Mother Nature.

You might also like:
A walk down memory lane ... in Daytona Beach, Florida Horsing around Assateague Island National Seashore, Berlin, Maryland Cruising the Chesapeake Bay


  1. Oh mu gosh! I didn't know you had ever ran aground! What an exciting life you have lived! The pictures are gorgeous; I would love to take our boat down there...some day. You know what they call Armadillos don't ya? Opossum on the half shell!!! (You know we lived in Texas 10 years). : )

  2. Thank you for reading and commenting, Debbie! The captain took most of the pictures. Came out pretty good considering they were taken almost 10 years ago when 1 megapixel was the highest resolution we could get (at reasonable prices).

  3. What a beautiful place and lovely location to visit. I can't wait to plan my next vacation. ;) Have a wonderful week.