The barrier islands of Georgia create a large protected body of water with many anchorages and places to visit for cruising boats. Because of shallow places along the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, some cruisers avoid Georgia - they are missing many interesting and charming places. As an introductory image, the dunes at the northern end of Cumberland Island was selected to illustrate the varied geography of the island. The dunes here are over 30 feet high. The northern end of the island rarely has any people, being a 15 mile walk from where the ferry drops visitors. If examined closely, three of the Cumberland Island horses can be seen in the above image.
Cumberland Island, reachable only by boat - park ferry or private vessel - the largest of Georgia's barrier islands, is 17.5 miles long. It is the southernmost Georgia island, only a few miles north of Fernandina Beach, FL, on Amelia Island. Most of the island and waters are protected as part of the Cumberland Island National Seashore, a National Park. It is such an enchanting place, that even an abbreviated description such as this post deserves a separate story from the rest of the Georgia coast.
Anchorages are scenic and serene, whether the weather gray, or . . .
clear and sunny.
These images are from two different anchorages along the north end of the Brickhill River, which runs through Cumberland Island on the western side from mid-island to the north end. It is a spot to access the north end of the island, providing views of different geography.
The sand dunes on the north end of the island are higher than the live oak trees, and are located a great distance from the shoreline.
Steve and Kim Hakala are both biologists. Kim grew up on Cumberland Island. They spend as much free time as possible on Cumberland at their family home along the north edge of the island. Kim is a professor of biology at St. Johns River State College - the link to the Last Dance crew. Having the Hakalas as tour guides to the island makes the visits most educational and enjoyable.
While there are no improved places, such as docks or landings, to go ashore from the north anchorage, in keeping with the Park Service's philosophy of no man-made structures in wilderness areas, there are a few sandy spots along the shore of the Brickhill River to land a dinghy. Great care must be taken as much of the shoreline is covered with oyster beds, which would result in dire consequences for inflatable dinghies.
One of the cottages Lucy Carnegie built for her daughters is located near the middle of the island, close to the southern end of the Brickhill River. It is owned and maintained by the Park Service. After years of indecision and, finally, some investment, this winter retreat is now open to the public on a consistent basis.
An all-time favorite anchorage lies just east of the house on the Brickhill. The river is a bit narrow to provide swing room at anchor but, fortunately, the river depth carries close to both shores.
The house grounds have some amazing examples of the native live oaks and other plantings from the Carnegie period such as the tall date palm in front of the house and the Italian cypress tree behind this live oak.
The limbs of the old live oaks grow out and down from the trunks to compete for light, often laying along the ground before rising back up into the sunlight. (A close look at the image at left reveals Last Dance at anchor.)
A park volunteer is now housed within Plum Orchard for security and some minor maintenance tasks. The big change in duties is that the volunteer conducts tours of the house 5 days a week. The chap at left spent many years cruising on a sailboat before becoming a park volunteer, so he has a good understanding of the boater arriving by dinghy.
The Park Service conducts a tour once or twice a month, bringing people by ferry to the dock on the Brickhill. At Christmas, a special tour is conducted by the rangers, dressed in period costumes
Entry to the house is through a huge foyer, about the size of a two-car garage, that has a fireplace with seating located under the staircase.
The features of the house and some of the original furniture remain to accurately depict the architecture and styles of the times. The lamp in the gun room/music room is a rare tortoise-shell Tiffany.
At a time when few houses had indoor plumbing, Plum Orchard was built with 11 bathrooms, large and with heated towel racks.
History on display - another reason to visit Cumberland Island.
Seeing the natural environment of a barrier island remains the greatest attraction of Cumberland. Trails and dirt road provide access to many different areas of the island. The live oaks growing on the east side of the island, nearer the beach, become twisted with the constant ocean winds sculpting the branches.
Critters are everywhere. From Ghost Crabs on the beach,
to an alligator in the marsh,
to wild horses,
to traces of Coyotes on the beach, the living, breathing part of nature is all around.
A visit to an area with history is enhanced by an increased knowledge of the historical background before the visit. Cumberland Island: Strong Women, Wild Horses, Charles Seabrook, is recommended to gain an understanding of the human activities on the island.
After visiting a place and developing a vision within your mind, novels with a setting in that location allow one to visit again, through the experience of the mental images created by the authors. Two novels on the reading list, set on Cumberland Island: Palindrome, Stuart Woods; Endangered Species, Nevada Barr.
Georgia Public Television has produced a documentary on the Georgia Barrier Islands that is both interesting and informative: Click here to experience the Secret Seashore
CBS Sunday Morning broadcasted an article on Cumberland Island, featuring one of the residents, a descendant of the Carnigies: Click here to view the CBS Sunday Morning article.