Shortly after leaving Savannah, we passed the entrance to Moon River, not quite that one of “wider than a mile” fame but a distant namesake. Johnny Mercer wrote the words, Henry Mancini composed the music and Andy Williams made it famous. I love the lyrics and think that in a small way, it’s apropos of this year of ours…
“Moon River, wider than a mile,
I’m crossing you in style some day.
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,
wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.
Two drifters, off to see the world.
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end,
waiting ’round the bend,
my huckleberry friend,
Moon River and me”
Schmaltzy yes, but just try to get it out of your mind now. Jeannie of Estelle sang it through the VHF to us and from that point on, we were thinking about it all day and as soon as we got into our anchorage, Blair dug out his guitar and learned the chords.
South of Savannah, no-one leaves dock or their anchorage on a falling tide. We flag all the shallow spots on our route and then calculate our departure so as to arrive at these shoaled areas at either high tide or before. Consequently, boats travel in packs and if there’s a more shallow draft boat willing to take the lead and stick a toe in the water ahead, we’re all quite happy to fall in line behind it. Seabird, drawing less than four feet, was our leader through an ominous sounding cut called Hell Gate and called out the depths as they proceeded. As the tide rises, the faster boats get braver and pass on by to take the lead. Without fail though, if there is a bad spot ahead, the VHF radio hums with comments and advice so all the boats behind get fair warning.
There were six boats traveling together south of Savannah and at the end of the day, we all made an exaggerated swing south, then west, to head up into Wahoo River to anchor for the evening. It was a work of art; each boat was anchored 300 feet apart down the creek, swinging with the current at a graceful angle to the shore which was thick with the tall marshgrass, green and gold in the setting sun. If I’d painted it, no-one would believe it; even the photo above doesn’t do it justice as I only captured the boats behind us.
We took the inside route all the way through Georgia because of persistently light winds this past week. If the winds are light, we’ll motor anyways so we thought it would be far easier to motor on the ICW without the big waves and swells of the open ocean. Beautiful scenery aside, from the Wahoo River down to Jekyll Island, near the bottom of Georgia, the ICW channel is tortuously windy, alternating between wide open sounds and narrow channels 300 feet wide. Looking ahead, the windiness was obvious as we could see the mast tops of a long line of boats, some heading west, some south and some east depending on what section of this maze they were in.
We anchored 10 miles short of Jekyll Island in the Frederica River, a muddy creek that left the ICW to meander through tall marsh grass for five miles only to rejoin the main channel further down. At its edges, the grasses were flattened where the alligators come down to slide into the water. Fortunately, this was the only sign of alligators we’ve seen so far. We dinghied ashore to St Simons Island and explored the remains of Fort Frederica. We really had to use our imagination here as it was one of those historic sites that is mostly grass with a few bare outlines of buildings and walls still standing. These buildings, and many of the older ones in South Carolina and Georgia, were made of tabby, a mixture of lime, oyster shells, sand and water. It’s amazing that some of them are still standing considering these primitive materials. The grounds were full of pecan trees and the occasional orange tree. Ignoring our mothers’ warnings to never eat anything off the ground, we all tried the pecans; they definitely tasted like pecans but not rich like the ones you buy – more chalky tasting and quite a bit smaller. We’d heard earlier that the oranges were terribly sour and not to be eaten so we left that experience to the braver in the group.
In the Frederica River, we didn’t lift our anchor to leave until two hours before high tide after spending most of the morning listening to the myriad of boats reporting their depths via VHF. Channel 16 has a long range so we were hearing boats a good distance away. There was a boat aground near red buoy 208, another boat was reporting 4.5 feet through Jekyll Creek channel and periodically we’d hear a terse comment without any location; ‘six feet over here’. Presumably this was a lead boat in a procession through skinny water.
If you can get past the shoaling waters issue, the Georgia ICW is not to be missed. It’s isolated and winding and you’ll see nothing but autumn gold marshes for miles interspersed by wide open sounds leading out to the ocean. At the bottom of the Georgia ICW is her jewel, Cumberland Island. This is the most remote of the barrier Sea Islands, most of it being owned by the government with no development permitted. We anchored beside the island with a line of sand bars and low islands separating us from the ICW. We spent two nights here to savour the beauty and quiet of this area, knowing that just one hour south we’d be into Florida and the more bustling Fernandina Beach. Cumberland Island is only about a mile wide and it was an easy hike from our dinghy landing area through the dense Live Oak forest and dunes to the Atlantic, to a wide flat beach that ran the entire length of the island (all 17 miles of it). Wild horses wander all over the island, although they didn’t seem very wild to us. In fact most of them were fairly nonchalant as we walked slowly by them, stopping now and then to snap some photos. At one point, one of them followed us for awhile, being careful to stay off to the side under some palm trees and keeping at least 25 feet away.
Cumberland Island, about the size of Manhattan, was owned almost exclusively by the Carnegie family, of steel mill wealth. Thomas Carnegie bought the land for his wife, Lucy, and after he died quite young at the age of 43, she raised their nine children here on this remote island with a staff of 300 who ran her house, raised crops and generally allowed her to be self-sufficient. When the developers of Hilton Head started making noises about developing Cumberland Island, with the first stage being construction of an airstrip, the Carnegie’s donated the land to the National Park Service which has led to this beautiful park open only to those who arrive via private boat or the Cumberland Lady ferry. This is the island where John Kennedy Jr and Caroline Bessette were married – in the First African Baptist Church, a tiny whitewashed church with only a few rustic pews for seating. At one end of the island are the remains of the Carnegie mansions in a plantation-style setting called Dungeness. The Carnegie’s entertained American’s high society here in grand style. Much of the brick understructures remain after a fire in the mid-50′s and standing by the huge front lawn fountain, it was easy to imagine this as the center of all social gatherings before the Depression.
Jeannie and Jim from Estelle, after returning from a bike ride on the beach, insisted that we had to go ourselves and generously loaned us their excellent foldup bikes again. It was a wonderful feeling to bike along the beach, hard-packed at low tide. It was a hot day at 81°F, the sun was shining and we rode far up the beach to check out a huge red buoy that had washed ashore in some fantastic storm we imagined.
Leaving Cumberland Island, we had a short motor down to Fernandina Beach at the top of Amelia Island. Amazing to think we’ve arrived in Florida finally after leaving Trident Yacht Club and Ottawa almost six months ago. It’s also more than a little odd to think that our trip is almost half over and we’re not even to the Bahamas yet.
Here in Fernandina Beach we had an excellent reunion with Steve and Sandi of Hillary which we will have to now refer to as Steve and Sandi of Princess now that we’ve formally met their “southern” boat, a Hinkley Bermuda 40 which they keep on Amelia Island. We met them in Summerside PEI when we docked behind their Oyster 41, Hillary. Steve and Sandi split their sailing time between the Atlantic provinces and the Bahamas and they live in a wonderful area called Amelia Island Plantation.
They opened their doors to us and all our friends these past few days. On Thursday, with Madcap and Estelle, we celebrated American Thanksgiving at Steve and Sandi’s house complete with turkey, sweet potatoes, collard greens and ham hocks as well as a stuffing that rivals that most excellent Buchanan family stuffing. The next morning they helped us infiltrate Fernandina Beach’s secret breakfast spot, T-Ray’s, where we ate some standard southern fare of biscuits and grits (although none of us felt young and healthy enough to have the heart-stopping biscuits and gravy). These two are the epitome of American hospitality and I just want to hug them and then hug them one more time; in spite of being in the middle of house renovations as well as readying their own boat for a gulf stream crossing, these kind and generous people played chauffeur while we provisioned Strathspey for the next four months in the Bahamas. They ferried us back and forth on multiple trips to more than one grocery store as well as the local chandlery. Because we’re crossing over to the Bahamas in the next two weeks or so, we basically did a shop-til-you drop day on what the Americans refer to as Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving). It’s one of the biggest mall shopping days in the US leading up to Christmas but for us, we had our eye on the finer things in life; food and wine.
Now, Sandi has a good philosophy on the whole shopping for a winter in the Bahamas thing, having done this crossing 20 or so times and spent many winters over there. She says they’ve traveled all over the world and they’ve never yet been to a place where people don’t eat – “they will have food there Mary”. Right. So, taking that in stride, I tried to limit my purchases to things we wouldn’t find over there and things that would be prohibitively expensive. Even so, Blair, who did not accompany us on our grocery foraging expedition, said, “okay I can find a place for all this stuff but you better cross your fingers that we don’t have to get at the batteries at all in the next four months”. That comment was mostly because 90% of what I purchased, got stored in the stern berth overtop of our battery bank.
Yesterday was my birthday and I’ve got this great big smile on my face because I love a party and it was a good one. We celebrated with a group of new and old friends, all sailors, and all tops on my list of who to share my birthday table with. We filled a corner of Restaurant 29, a small place in the historic district of Fernandina Beach with nine of us (Jim from Madcap, Jim and Jeanie from Estelle, Bruce and Nancy from Seabird, Steve and Sandi of Princess and Blair and I). The food was excellent, the company even better and best of all, Blair played my Strathspey tune for me. I missed Beth of Madcap here for my celebrations but we are sending many good vibes towards Amherst, Nova Scotia and her mom right now.