We decided not to continue down to the cruisers’ heaven of Southern Florida as planned. We are a bit worried of what being in Florida might mean: high season prices and overcrowded anchorages/marinas. But the main reason is that we found a cozy place to be in Coastal Georgia that we want to explore deeper, also an ideal and affordable place to give Tranquility the necessary upgrades for extended bluewater cruising.
Georgia has a short but beautiful coastline, with lots of inlets, islands and rivers. The tide here has a big impact, with ranges up to 7 ft. (2,13 m) or more during spring tides, with consequent strong currents. It changes the shape of the coast every six hours. We can only move around at certain times and the tide stream is often stronger than the wind so we have to keep it in mind when anchoring and docking. People here are warm and welcoming and we had the best shrimps so far enjoying what they called “Lowcountry boil” in Jekyll Island. Cumberland Island is what made us come here. Kate wanted to encounter the wild ponies that live free on the island so badly and she made it the liet-motiv of our sail down the East Coast : “I want to see wild ponies! I want to see the wild ponies! When are we stopping to see the wild ponies?“
Departing South Carolina
We had a wonderful beginning of 2014, and thanks to the vicinity of Kate’s family we could explore the surrounding of Beaufort and St.Helena Island, and also enjoy some family time. We left Dataw Island, our previous stop in South Carolina, on 8th January with sustained winds and 6-10 foot waves. Some of them crashed into the cockpit, Kate and I had a couple each during our watches. It was a downwind gybin’ night zigzagging our route past the busy Savannah entrance and the following Sounds. Tranquility surfed downwind the steep waves, but keeping her on course was a hard job with the tiller, even with just the the jib and a deep reefed mainsail.
We approached Doboy Sound with favorable tide and ended up dropping the hook in Duplin River along Sapelo’s Island. It was a relief after the rough surfing and bird and dolphins soon showed up to welcome us in the calm waters. Our idea was to meet friends of ours who were doing some volunteering work on the island but we found out they had just left. After a sound nap we checked the forecast and noticed bad weather approaching from South. Duplin River is exposed to south so we moved the very next day during a thick fog, finding our way into North River, about three miles from Darien, GA.
Bad weather on our way
There we decided it was safe. We kept checking the forecast as something bad was expected for Saturday in the afternoon. We enjoyed being at anchor in the middle of nowhere, with the only company of wildlife, and the sounds of nature with the wind howling and the rain falling. We cooked wonderful meals and collected rainwater for surplus bathing (always a treat), worked on the boat projects. I had wonderful reading sessions. In the meanwhile the thunderstorms alert became a tornado watch. We dressed up in foul weather gear, ready for action.
The blow lasted less than ten minutes, very violent though. Our anchor didn’t drag a single inch but I am glad it was a just very short blast. We had two casualties: one of Kate’s babbucce (italian for slippers) and one of the planks of the companionway door (!!). We are still trying to recover from such losses, especially the beloved babbuccia. In less than 1 hour a double arch rainbow and a breathtaking sunset showed up and everything was calm and cheerful. Later other cruisers in the area told us that their wind instruments went over 60 kts during one of the gusts. It could be the case that sailors are worse liars than fishermen, but even if these top speeds never occurred we had severe winds and we were happy to be in a sheltered anchorage.
There was a break from Southerlies after the thunderstorms so the very next day we had an early start and went back to sea to keep sailing south. Light westerlies were forecasted and we were able to sail as far as St. Simons Sound, that is hands down the busiest inlet we encountered on the East Coast, with cargo ships everywhere. Our destination was Cumberland Island and feral ponies (of course!) but we had to stop in Jekyll Island because the wind dropped and the current was switching direction. After the plantation era Jekyll Island was developed to be the resort island of the very wealthy before yellow fever outbreaks and the Great Depression put the exclusive resort in financial difficulties. It’s also here that in 1910 the Federal Reserve was created, and in 2010 Bernanke stayed on the island to commemorate the 100 years anniversary. Today the island is partly a resort (much less exclusive) but by legislative mandate sixty-five percent of the island is and will remain in a mostly natural state.
Tranquility meets Atom
In Jekyll Island we had a very nice surprise. We received a message from James Baldwin of Atom Voyages who wanted to meet us and show us around Brunswick. I corresponded with him during last summer’s refit asking for information and he started to follow our blog noticing our tracker getting close to the Brunswick area.
After several circumnavigations and ocean passages with Atom (a Pearson Triton) James moved there to dedicate in yacht refits. He showed up with some gifts from his garden (lemons and grapefruits, home made oats biscuits!) and with much curiosity for Tranquility. He was particularly interested in our electric engine set up. I very happily showed him the work we did on Tranquility, and I tried to get any possible advice on all the issues and repairs we still have to do to improve our boat. He very kindly drove us on a tour to the groceries store and to his house where we met his wife Mei and Buddy the dog… and of course Atom, who was resting on boat stands for her third comprehensive refit.
Rested and well stocked we moved forward to visit Cumberland Island. Approaching the island from North was amazing sailing in flat water, we moved fast all the way down to the end of Brickhill River where we anchored close to the dock in Plum’s Orchard.
Cumberland Island is a National Park, Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island. Several trails and service roads depart from Plum Orchard. We chose the path going East, to see the beach side and the Ocean but soon we found ourselves trapped in the wilderness, the trails meandered through sand dunes and swamps making impossible to continue. We started to worry about alligators. We had closed encounters with wild ponies, armadillos, wild pigs and many birds, luckily no alligators.
After visiting the central part of the island from the Plum Orchard’s dock access we moved south, where the Carnegie Mansion of Dungeness lies. This is a more developed part of the island, where the ferries land to take visitors. The sea was a bit rough and we had some thrilling moments trying to dock Tranquility to the visitor’s pontoon. The pontoon is a public free dock but its use is consented only from sunrise to sunset, so we had to depart after the visit.
This time we made it to the Ocean. The beach on Cumberland Island is very beautiful and wide, full of shells and birds and wild ponies. It was lovely to walk around the ruins of Carnegie’s mansion, see swamps, sand dunes, thick forest. I am glad Kate pushed so hard for coming here, I really enjoyed our stay.
St. Mary’s, GA
Before deciding not to continue further South we thought about visiting St.Mary’s, a little river town that has a mysterious attraction over cruisers. The anchorage is excellent and very protected but the facilities in the town are nothing special. The marina is very cheap, but you get what you pay for: very run down and damaged docks, terrible showers, no wi-fi in a close range, groceries and shopping are several miles out of town. Despite this fact a lot of boats come here and stay around for very long time. The city per se is very pretty, and it’s one of the oldest settlements in the country, the waterfront is very scenic. It is also the gateway access to Cumberland Island. Our feelings were mixed at the beginning, and we still don’t understand what is the main attraction of this place. But here we have been now for a whole week, participating in the social life of the town, so it looks like we are falling for this mysterious place nonetheless.
Our Plan is to get back to Brunswick by the beginning of February, and stop there for few months. The third part of our project is about to begin and will concern how to transform Tranquility into an ocean cruiser while we forge relationships in the area. Our trip down the East Coast resulted in an extended shakedown. The boat is in very great conditions but she needs few enhancements before we can project longer ocean cruising. We feel that a quiet place like coastal Georgia would be a safe environment, reasonably warm and it can help us making the good decisions while moving along the project.