Home>Rebecca Ann cruises the Georgia Goast Passage 2004
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Day 2 - Georgia Coast Passage 2004 - by Dale Davenport

Monday, March 29, 2004

Toward: Around Sea Camp Dock

From: Same

Winds: 15 kts. diminishing

Distance: Weren't measuring

Notes: Jay Eberly helmed Rebecca Ann with me as crew and then I sailed Sara, with Jay crewing, tweaking the rigging in both boats. Earlier in the day by great fortune we were given a tour of the island by a very gracious man - one of the few private residents.

Rebecca Ann captain's comments:This was a sightseeing morning followed by technical day-sailing in the afternoon. The sightseeing opportunity was quite special; here is how it came about. One year earlier, Cal, Jay and I had sailed to Cumberland for a week of camping and day sailing, as mentioned in the last installment. That first evening we were busily engaged in anchoring our boats. The goal was to secure them so thatwe could pull them ashore at all tides, to avoid having to swim, and to leave enough play in the rodes to rise to the seven or eight foot tidal range, while setting them so that the strong tidal currentswould not carry them out to sea. We were observed from his spot on the shore by an older gentleman, who for sake of his privacy I will call the Guide. (Yes, I admit that using that name pretentiously imitates the late-19 century genre of amateur sailing travelogues, reminiscent of stories written by Humber Yawl Club members.) He is a member of one of the families that still have private outholdings on Cumberland, properties passed down from the days when the Captains of Industry built their private winter playgrounds on the Georgia sea islands.

Some families with great fortunes summered at the Jekyll Island Club on the next island north, built grand "cottages" nearby and steamed and sailed fabulous yachts. Thomas and Lucy Carnegie bought umberland virtually en masse and built mansions there, tended by hundreds of employees living in dormitories The descendants of those aristocrats still vacation in homes on the island.

The ferry that bringsmost visitors, who are mainly hikers and campers, does not transport motor vehicles or bicycles. The only ones allowed belong to the old families that still have their ancestral outholdings, or to the Park Service. So, having a friend with a vehicle means the visitor can see the entire island in a few hours, as opposed to hiking for several days. And, hiking to see it all means carrying a pack and getting a backcountry site permit for camping, since walking all the way to the north end from Sea Camp campground, which is near the south end, and returning in a single day is beyond the ability of most people.

The Guide is an inveterate boatman. His experience began on the Connecticut coast, sailing a refitted wooden lifeboat that his father set up for the children on Fishers Island in Long Island Sound. It continued with a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II and, after varied sailing experiences thereafter, including a lot of Caribbean chartering, continues in a catboat he keeps at a family home on the Maine coast.

So, our small boats drew him to us and his discerning eye approved of the boats at least. He provided vital local knowledge and assistance that increased the security of our mooring tenfold and thus our peace of mind. Also, the Guide is good company.

He was expecting us on this second visit to his island and took care of us and our boats in the same manner as before. He also gave us the full, inimitable Cumberland Island tour. (Part of my rendition of the tour highlights probably is from the 2003 trip, when we took an abbreviated tour, but it's interesting and they blend in my memory.)

All aboard his well-worn Isuzu Trooper, with the Guide at the wheel as driver and narrator, we saw the site of the old Dungeness mansion. It was built originally by the widow of General Nathanael Greene. He ran the successful (from the US perspective) southern theatre operations in the US Revolutionary War. Greene had owned the island prior to his death but never lived there. That mansion burned in 1866, but was rebuilt in 1884 by Thomas Carnegie. That one burned in 1959, but the ruins are there. We saw the nearby former grave of Light Horse Harry Lee, a hero of the Revolution, and father of Robert E. Lee, who died on Cumberland. Harry had served under Greene. He was a better fighter than businessman and lost his fortune after the war. He was almost killed in an anti-war riot in Baltimore (War of 1812) and, leaving family behind, he fled to the Caribbean to regain his wealth and health. He succeeded with neither. Attempting to return from those islands in 1818, he was set ashore on Cumberland by the captain of the vessel on which he was traveling, sick and near death. He was interred in the graveyard for years until the Lee family moved the remains to Virginia. Another one of Harry's relatives.

We crossed the barrier dunes, our Guide expertly gunning the engine to cross the sand, fast for momentum but not too fast to spin. North along the Atlantic, on the hard sand with the tide out, he took us at thirty or so miles an hour. The wind was strong that morning. Midway along the coast, an area of shallow water about a mile in length that extends out about three miles from the beach, produced an endless sea of white horses. The sun was as bright as could be. I could see from Jay's face that he was thinking the same thing I was - could we be sailing in that sea in those conditions? Later, we agreed we could, but I think he meant it more than me. Deep down I think Jay wouldn't mind too much if his boat was broken in the surf so he can get a Caledonia Yawl, but I may be too suspicious.

At the north end of Cumberland a tidal sound of as much as a mile in width separatesthe island at all but the lowest low tide from a smaller island called Little Cumberland. -82-Our Guide took us to the western shore near this sound, which is the northwest corner of big Cumberland. Here there is a cobble and gravel beach that overlooks both the sound and the channel along the marshes to the west of the barrier islands. The next day we would see where we stood from our boats sailing in that channel.

Near the north end of the island is an area that was settled by free African Americans after the Civil War. A one-room, tiny chapel remains, built of simple siding. It was in this place that young John Kennedy was wed, on Cumberland, because of its privacy, with outholders accommodating guests.

Next was a mansion called Plum Orchard, built for a son of Thomas and Lucy Carnegie. -88-The great house is closed to the public and is scheduled for renovation or preservation. -111-Our Guide knows the caretakers, and since they were not around to show us the place, our Guide was kind enough to usher us through. To me, nothing is better than a restored architectural treasure except one that is not restored, and that is what we got to see.

On the grounds our Guide also showed us a very large alligator that lives in and near a pond at the edge of the grass lawn. He was as big as any we saw on our trip, except for one on the fourth day, and our perception as to that one may have been impacted by proximity. More on that later.

Moving south we passed a grass airfield, still used, but before a plane lands or takes off somebody first has to shoo away the horses that graze there.

Nearly back to our beginning, we saw the grounds of Greyfield Inn, the only lodgings under roof available for remuneration on Cumberland. Greyfield is another mansion built for a Carnegie child, still in the original family, but the current generation offers rooms and meals for paying guests who are interested in the quiet and nature-oriented activities Cumberland affords. Guests travel there on a private boat from Fernandina. We hitched a ride to Fernandina and back for a day trip the year before, and I think the vessel that makes the run is a custom Maine-built Ellis, a beautiful boat. From all reports, staying at Greyfield is at the other end of the economic spectrum than camping, although there is plenty of beauty for all, whether rich or upper middle class.

In between the sites mentioned, we were treated to the stock in trade of nature on the island - the mysterious twisted live oaks covered with Spanish moss, palmettos, sand, dunes and grasses, wild turkeys, a few straight, flat sandy lanes to travel and an occasional hiker. At night the armadillos run around the forest in the moonlight. We saw quite a few. The Guide said sometimes nude women lie around on the beach in the daylight. We failed to sight a single one, despite close watch.

When we returned to our base the wind was still blowing strongly and there was a similarly strong sentiment among the crew to stay on the island another night. While they wandered off and did something to amuse themselves, probably involving rum, Jay and I went down to the boats to play around. We sailed our own and we sailed each other's separately. We sailed each other's together. We changed a few fittings and rigging items. Generally, we just went back and forth in the vicinity of the dock and had a good time.

Lying two miles northwest of the Park Service dock, on the mainland across Cumberland Sound, is the Kings Bay Naval Base. 57- It offers a protected artificial harbor with open ocean less than eight miles away. It serves a fleet of "Boomers", Trident ballistic missile submarines, named for the noise each of the 24 warheads would make if fired. We had seen a number of Navy fellows with smaller, but nevertheless impressive weapons at the ready on the 2003 trip. They flew over our boats in helicopters, looking down on us as we sailed. They also came out in semi-rigid vessels mounted with machine guns, moving very quickly to take a position between our boats and government real estate, when we delayed tacking a little long and got fairly close to a degaussing range, which takes static charges off the subs as they come back to base. The hometown for the base is St. Marys, a small town in which we stayed the night after we finished the 2003 trip. The Iraq war had started just that week and there was a local rally on the riverfront in the evening. Witnessing that close military community, we appreciated and admired the solidarity but it was not open to strangers. By 2004 things in the security department seemed to have backed off a bit, but still we assumed that we were sailing before an audience across the water. The choppers were still there occasionally, with gunners peering down on us from open side doors, a few hundred feet overhead. I always tried to execute crisp tacks when they were watching.

Despite the fact that the boats spent the night exactly where they slept the night before, it had been a full, interesting day. If it had been only my choice, we would have taken advantage of the lessening afternoon wind to sail northward on our course.

But, we all agreed to head out fairly early the next morning, with the goal of reaching a marina on Jekyll Island. That would require over thirteen miles of travel northward on the Cumberland Sound, along the west side of Cumberland as well as Little Cumberland. Somewhere near the middle of that distance is The Dividings, where the incoming tide meets from both ends, or when outgoing, commences in both directions. Beyond, we knew we must cross the two mile width of St. Andrews Sound, between the north side of Little Cumberland and the south end of Jekyll Island. St. Andrews is very shoal in many areas and is wholly exposed to the swells of the Atlantic from the east. It has a reputation for chop or confused waves, depending on the coincidence of wind and tide. We expected a long day in the protected waters up the side of the islands, culminating with careful sailing across St. Andrews'. Meanwhile, we spent a second night under the huge, twisted branches of the live oak trees of Cumberland, with the constant roar of the surf not very far away.












Now go to Part 3


Rebecca Ann's hull was built by Geoff Kerr. Dale Davenport fitted her out and did all the finishing work. You can learn all about it here.
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