We treated ourselves to a quick trip through the southern Georgia ICW, but impatience — and a favorable weather window — lured us on an outside run from St.Simons to Hilton Head.
Days 161 – 163, March 23-25, 2019
Amelia Island to St. Simons Island
We started the day at the Amelia Island Marina, which is not an ideal stop but the Fernandina Harbor Marina right in town, which is where we wanted to stay, was closed for reconstruction so we had no real choice.
The morning was absolutely lovely. Flat calm, refreshingly cool, and a beautiful amber-pastel-y light that gave the marshes and river a soft glow. It felt a bit like fall, which was wonderful even though it was actually spring. This business of the temperatures cooling even though spring is approaching has my senses confused. I keep forgetting if winter is coming or going.
On the trip southbound we missed the entire Georgia ICW because we had a good weather forecast for hopping outside. We were at that time thoroughly done with winter weather, anxious to press south and not entirely excited by the winding, shallow and perhaps tedious Georgia lowlands.
As we retraced our steps northbound we were again eyeing strategy for Georgia. We were half tempted to give the waterway a go, and half tempted to be lazy about it and go outside. We decided to let the weather forecast play a role in our decision. It soon conspired to take us outside once again, but only after we did a short stretch inside.
The forecast as we left Amelia Island was a moderate northerly, but the subsequent two days looked to be light and easterly then southerly. Our plans took shape. We would run inside the 40 miles from Amelia to St. Simons Island while the wind held out of the north, but pop outside from St. Simons to Hilton Head if the light easterly stayed in the forecast.
We thoroughly enjoyed the trip from Amelia into the southern Georgia ICW. After passing Fernandina, which we sincerely hope we will be able to visit next year, we crossed the St. Mary’s Inlet where we had entered the ICW from the Atlantic on our southbound trip. This took us up the Cumberland River, which was absolutely beautiful.
It was a bit disappointing to pass Cumberland Island National Seashore without stopping. Known to be a favorite stop for many cruisers, Cumberland Island is only reachable by boat. Georgia’s largest barrier island, Cumberland Island is a diverse environmental resource with a broad variety of ecosystems, including dunes, marshes, beaches and lakes. It is also rich in history, including the ruins of the Carnegie Dungeness Mansion, the intact Plum Orchard mansion dating to the 1890s, and a Shell midden that goes back 4000 years. As if that were not enough, it has wild, or feral ponies also. We will keep this stop on next years “must-do” list.
We got over the disappointment of missing a stop at Cumberland Island pretty quickly, as the ride up the Cumberland River was simply beautiful. The entry is punctuated by the Navy Submarine Base at Kings Bay, a site full of history as well as an impressive submarine degaussing facility that sits prominently in the middle of the river.
Continuing north, the Cumberland River winds and twists in a mesmerizing pattern of creeks and marshes full of wildlife. It is relatively wide and deep so navigating was easy and relaxing. We saw the occasional small fishing boat, and just one motor yacht that gave us a shout-out on the VHF as they recognized us from our posts on the Trawler Life Facebook group. Such fun!
Leaving the Cumberland River, we crossed the wide open St. Andrews Sound, picking our way through the shifting shallow sandbars, then entered Jekyll Creek, which runs along the western shore of Jekyll Island. Unlike the Cumberland River, Jekyll Creek is narrow and very shallow. It would have been a challenging passage but we arrived near high tide and made it through without difficulty. It was a lovely sunny spring afternoon, and the shoreside was busy with beach goers, boaters and fisherman.
From Jekyll Creek we hopped across the wide and busy Brunswick River, where we caught a fast ebb current that shoved us along at more than two and a half knots, before cutting into the Frederica River at St. Simons Island where we stopped at the Morningstar Golden Isles Marina for the night. In the hard ebb current, we slipped alongside, took on fuel and secured for the night.
This was a convenience stop before hopping offshore; we had no plans to be tourists, although St. Simons has plenty of tourism, recreation, culture and history to offer. Instead, we enjoyed a surprisingly good dinner at Coastal Kitchen right on the marina property. We turned in early, anticipating an early start the next day for our run outside up to Hilton Head.
St. Simons Island to Hilton Head, Outside
Our forecast for a calm trip outside held up. We walked the dogs in the pre-dawn darkness, and as we returned to the boat to cast off we were greeted in the dark by an early-arriving dock hand who handed us a bag with the local newspaper and fresh baked muffins! Southern hospitality is alive and well in Georgia! The day was off to an excellent start.
Back on board we started some coffee and fired up the Cummins just as the sun began to break through over St. Simons Island. The flood tide was beginning to run against us, but the sunrise was so beautiful and the sea so glassy calm that it didn’t matter. We pushed our way out the inlet against three knots of current, doing 15 knots through the water. The scenery was spectacular.
It turned out to be a fast and easy run. Although it became mildly lumpy for about an hour when the weak easterly breeze found a bit of energy and edged up to ten to twelve knots, that was short-lived and most of the 80-milt trip as calm and smooth.
About half-way up the coast we got a hail on the VHF from folks we had met the night before at Morningstar Marina. Karl and Mackie aboard Endorphin Voyager, who were doing The Great Loop, were coming up behind us. It is always fun to chat with fellow travelers while under way. We looked forward to seeing them that evening, as we shared the same destination.
We snaked our way between container ships as we crossed Tybee Roads, the main waterway up towards Savannah, and picked our way to Calibogue Sound. Like many of the Atlantic ICW inlets this features some tricky shoals, but we had no trouble. Calm conditions make complicated approaches much easier to negotiate.
Our destination was Harbour Town Yacht Basin at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head. We didn’t know ahead of time, but a party was waiting for us when we arrived. We could hear the band playing from a mile out. As we negotiated our way into our slip, the music was loud and distracting. We were mildly stressed by the whole thing, but after the dock hand took our lines he handed us a bottle of Pinot Grigio to say Welcome! and the visit improved from there. It’s that southern hospitality shining through again.
All the excitement ashore turned out to be Spring Fest 2019. The weather had cooperated with the planners. It was sunny and 70 degrees and pretty much everyone on Hilton Head Island appeared to be at Harbour Town. The band, Deaz Guyz, was obviously a regional favorite with standing room only as the crowd congregated under the live oaks on the waterfront. Aboard Esmeralde we had a front row seat. It turned out to be festive and fun. The band capped it off with a soulful rendition of ‘America, The Beautiful’. The crowd was standing for this finale, hands on their hearts. It was a surprise powerful moment.
We capped the afternoon off with a lovely bottle of Russian River Pinot Noir aboard Endorphin Adventures. New friends to carry forward. Karl is a runner, and he and I agreed to meet in the morning for a run. That meant an early evening for us after a simple supper on board.
…and… We got lost!
Ok, so I agreed to go for a run with Karl. I need to explain this. Other than in organized races, or training runs in college for lacrosse, I have never run with another person. Never. I was nervous and anxious, and felt like I had the pre-race jitters.
I needn’t have worried. Although I was out of my comfort zone much of the run, had good fun. I learned a few things. First, I learned that when you are out of your comfort zone you can’t navigate. I got us lost, and magically turned our planned five miles into almost nine miles. Second, I learned that running buddies make the miles go much faster. And third, I learned that Hilton Head is a wonderful place to run. Or walk. Or ride bikes. Miles and miles of recreational paths, tall trees for shade, and blissfully flat terrain.
After the run, our visit to Hilton Head drew to a close. It was time to move on. We said goodbye to Karl and Mackie, who we hope to meet again down the road, and took advantage of the gorgeous weather to head for Beaufort, SC.