From Oyster Bay Marina to Cumberland Island in One Hour
On the eve of another invitation to visit Cumberland Island, I realized that I haven’t even told the story of the first trip over there which we undertook last month. Shaun H. invited my wife and myself to accompany him and a friend on an overnighter on Cat Inn Around,… his 48 foot South African build Power Cat. Even though I am a full blooded wind sailor, for some reason I haven’t had too much time in recent years to explore the wild blue yonder, so when Shaun launched the idea, my docksiders started to itch as if a midlife crisis is a God given right.
Our weekend’s destination was Cumberland Island and after living here on Amelia Island for 4-1/2 years, setting foot on Cumberland had not happened yet. Of course I heard the stories, mostly from Ferry Boat owner/captain Kevin McCarthy during a sunset cruise with the European American Business Club back in May, and ever since I had wanted to go and visit this historic playground of the Captains of Industry.
So at 10 am sharp we were pulling the courtesy trolly of the Oyster Bay Yacht Club Marina loaded with “goodies” across the floating docks alongside ‘Cat Inn Around’. The yacht is kept in tip top shape by a very meticulous owner (Shaun) who is so organized that everyone coming aboard his vessel will receive an email days prior to the trip, explaining what chores are expected of him or her while being on the vessel. I am used to sailing 40 to 55 footers, sloop or ketch, by myself, but after a couple of minutes looking around this magnificent 48 ft power cat, which has to be operated from the flight deck, it became rapidly clear that this beauty required more than one person to operate, unless a number of operational risks would be cast to the wind, so to speak.
Sitting high in the water, the ease of leaving and docking is heavily depending on wind and currents cooperating with each other for a smooth handling. On the way out, no problem whatsoever. We were off the dock in a whiff and on a straight shot towards downtown historic Fernandina in less than 5 minutes. Actually it surprised me how quickly the twin outboards took us from Oyster Bay Marina to the Amelia River. Couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes.
It was a glorious morning, still summer hot with hardly a breeze to speak of. Nevertheless we quickly caught up in the tail end of what was supposed to be a small sailing regatta on its way to St.Marys around the bend in Georgia. Windless sailing always reminds me of being caught in the Doldrums off West Africa where in May of 1980 we narrowly lost our attempt to break the Clippership Records from the 18th and 19th Century. Everyone is bored and hot and slumbering on deck, until the watchman yells “ripple” and everyone jumps to set the sails for maximum wind exposure, even if it’s only for a couple of seconds of movement.
The moment we left Amelia Island to the southeast, we started looking for Cumberland’s famed wild horses and this day was great. We actually saw dozens of these animals and their foals and after we went ashore we walked at touching space passed them, clearly remembering the warnings not to touch them. After all they’re “wild”. My next surprise was that it took us not even an hour from leaving the dock at Oyster Bay Marina to get to Cumberland’s landing dock at the Museum and the Dungeness Ruins.
Anchored with our backs to the huge Sub Base silos at King’s Bay, we swam, had lunch, watched some manatees and dolphins frolicking and swam some more. I already explained that Shaun is meticulous and very aware of the many dangers people can expose themselves to on the water. The current at our anchoring spot was impressive. I guessed it at about 5 knots when the tide started moving in. Swimming can be an exhausting pastime that way and in order to avoid having to launch the dinghy to catch some of us downstream, he threw a 100 foot line out for us to catch as the current tried its tricks on us. Of course at our age we are not that reckless anymore to go too far from the rope, but it was still exciting.
Going ashore on Cumberland Island
As soon as the last ferry for the day had left the dock, I think it was right around 3pm, we launched the dinghy out of the davits and went ashore for a afternoon expedition through the wonders of what once was a true plantation retreat for the rich and famous. The marine forest gives way to magnificent ruins and signs of luxury for the Era. I was surprised to see a good number of cars (forest rangers and caretakers who live on island) and even more surprised to see a fabulous array of rusty wrecks of what used to be a good cross representation of the American auto industry in the early parts of the 20th century. Also you have not seen majestic Live Oaks until you’ve seen the ones on Cumberland Island. As we crossed the island from west to east, we all at once stepped into a dunes landscape that could have been placed on the moon, were it not for some of the strangest deformed vegetation you can only find in places where ocean wind defines the landscape……
And then you step on a dirty sand beach that is at least a quarter mile to the water and nothing left and right for as far as the eyes can see (which is where the island’s shoreline turns inward. The almost 3 hour walk whetted our appetite for a gourmet dinner on the grill, but first there was a Sunset Celebration with some of the finest Mojitos this side of Havana.
At this time of dusk several small powerboats come out in the sound and you can see whole families aboard fishing or shrimping for the dinner table. I must say we felt a little snobbish on our yacht, surrounded by real life.
We had left Oyster Bay Yacht Club at around 11 am and by 7 pm we both had the feeling we were on a yachting vacation, thousands of miles away from home. The water, the clean air, the different sounds of the night, the smell of barbecue mixed with salt water and the coziness that comes from the sun divorcing the day in a beautiful array of colors and shades. Out there on the water it almost feels as if the movie set builders are moving nature’s walls in bit by bit, to end up with the coziness of a room on the water where more human interaction increasingly dominates the atmosphere of the night.
We had a marvelous night on Cat Inn Around, followed by a splendid sunrise and breakfast of indulgence and laziness. Around noon the captain decided to start heading home as the weather forecast predicted thunderstorms for the afternoon. Sprawled across the forward deck we caught some more rays before the outline of Oyster Bay Harbour sharpened in the distance.
Without noticeably slowing down on the return leg Captain Shaun got is to the marina entrance in less than 45 minutes and I clearly remember thinking; “45 minutes to step back a hundred years in time”.