Serendipity at Cumberland Island

June 23, 2021

We are back on Red Pearl and cruising again! Those who we saw in Goshen might prefer to skip to the middle of this blog. Those who have no interest in the mechanics may also skip. If you are a boater and enjoy commiserating with other boaters, or if you just enjoy the misery of others, keep reading!

Thankfully, the Jacksonville, FL Ortega River marine community, unlike Palm Coast where marine mechanics were scheduling two months out, was available for repairs! Because Steve had made arrangements, we had not been docked for more than an hour at Lambs Marina before repairmen began showing up. First was the water issue! The leak DID turn out to be a broken fixture at the stern which is used to attach a hose to city water, bypassing the water tanks. The two systems are connected, however, so with the internal hose to the fixture broken, our tanks drained. It was an easy repair and we quickly had water and a dry bilge again.

Next, the service manager came aboard to give all systems a thorough going over, and we created a prioritized “to do” list. At this point, the only thing on my “don’t do” list was stopping for another repair in the next week, so as far as we were concerned, just about anything that Shane suggested was a “do.” Just before her haul out, Red Pearl received her final set of replacement isinglass, so we can put to bed that repetitive bit of bitching and moaning! On the hard, suspected “to dos” were confirmed: replacement of both cutlass bearings, replacement of both through hull seacocks, and the gnarly replacement of an exhaust hose—gnarly because of its inaccessibility, and the costly but necessary maintenance of the bottom paint, called “a bottom job.” Things that did not require out-of-water access included fixing the leak of the flybridge scupper (a problem we inherited with the boat, the generator compartment always damp and cause of the steerage failure that we experienced a couple of weeks prior), replacement of two voltage and temperature gauges on the upper helm (only one having failed, but the corresponding gauge for the other engine needs to match, of course!), and a growly davit motor (the davit being the hydraulic thingy that sets the dinghy in the water and lifts it out). With temperatures forecast in the high 90s and marine AC requiring circulating water for cooling, we decided to go home to Indiana.

Three weeks later with appointments, visits with friends and family, and planned service in our dirt home  complete, we jumped in a rental car and high-tailed it back to Jacksonville. Tropical storm Claudette trailed us by hours, and we were grateful to have everything unloaded and to watch the torrential rains that night from our cockpit in our covered slip. But first things first: a beeping carbon monoxide alarm greeted us upon entering the boat. We aired out the cabin, thinking perhaps exhaust from another boat had settled in while someone was working on her, and the beeping stopped. Until midnight. We fiddled and unscrewed and ran internet searches and vacuumed, and finally the darn thing shut up. Our internet search revealed that carbon monoxide sensors last five to six years, and we’re thinking this is 17yo and wonder why this was not identified in our boat survey when we bought her. We reasoned that there was no source for CO on our boat without the engine or generator running, since everything else that hums is electric. And we read that the burning of diesel fuel is not as prone to causing CO fatalities as is the burning of regular gasoline. Still, as we turned off the lights at 2:00am, I made certain that the first page that would appear on my phone when the authorities found us was regarding carbon monoxide, just so they would know that we had been aware. Another item on the “to do” list.

Boat repairs complete—all but the growly davit motor—we readied to depart during the next couple of days. One final outing before leaving this charming port of call was to our favorite restaurant, Biscottis, in the village of Avondale for any one of several dishes that were deliciously memorable—and a gigantic piece of their to-die-for cake. Nirvana itself. Another night, we had dinner on the fly bridge with Key West friends and Gold Loopers on Salt Aire, sharing laughs and finding solace as they regaled us with their saga of repairs along their trip around.

On Wednesday, June 23, a weather window allowed for passage to our next port, though not without anticipated rain. It being hurricane season, we will have to accept the regularity of afternoon showers. That said, it was a gorgeous, overcast cruise to Cumberland Island. A pod of a couple dozen dolphins greeted us as we re-entered salt water; our delight at the sight never dims. We also felt lucky to observe a pink bird flying overhead and then saw the whole flock of Roseate Spoonbills feeding ashore at low tide. We anchored and lunched in time to take the dinghy over to the island just to get a sense of its stately beauty, its pristine calm, its protected wildness. The live oaks here are stunted by the salt air, growing horizontally in corkscrew patterns; on their labyrinth of branches, vibrant green moss and ferns glow warmly, and gray draping Spanish Moss sparkles like Christmas tinsel in the dappled forest light, all lending textures and depth of field that command reverence. We walked the half-mile across the island, leaving the earthy aroma of the forest for the salt air and subtle scent of sea life amidst pristine sand dunes, rethinking schedule and weather, and the pros and cons of hanging out here for another day, another week, another season…. 

Gorgeous Cumberland Island—the labyrinth of branches and the dunes, all within a half-mile walk.

The tides here are pretty amazing, an 8-foot fluctuation twice a day. As we watch birds “walking on water” and feeding during low tide, it seems like a mighty fine plan to provide regular feeding times for these creatures, and then give the smaller guys a break from their predators during high tide and a chance to live their lives, too. This big fluctuation in water levels also creates some respect-worthy currents, and Steve and I fought like crazy to bring the dinghy parallel to the stern when we returned to the bigger boat from our walk. 

With winds still topping 18 knots and our need to cross the wide open St. Andrews Sound, Skipper Steve opted for staying put another day. The forecast for rain receded, opening up the opportunity for another serendipitous visit to the island Thursday morning. This time we walked south through the wizened moss-draped live oaks to the area where western civilization has left its scar. Similarly to Jekyll Island, Cumberland has a 4000-year history with native Americans. Early French, Spanish, and British settlers left little trace here, but Thomas and Lucy Carnegie (he, the brother and business partner of more famous Andrew Carnegie) built a large estate over the ruins of the original 1803 tabby Dungeness left by the widow of Revolutionary War Hero Nathanael Greene. Thomas died at the age of 43, before completion of Dungeness, but Lucy persisted and raised their nine children on the island, building a home for each of them as they had their own families. It must have been a stunning estate, in which they lived self-sufficiently if having 200-300 staff can in any honest way at all be called “self-sufficient.” After Lucy’s passing, Dungeness served as venue for a daughter’s wedding in 1920 and then was left deserted until its destruction by arson in 1959. The Carnegies have left most of the island to the state of Georgia, now a National Seashore, which protects its wild horses, makes it available for rustic camping and meditative inspiration, and allows this little spot to return to what nature makes of it. 

Thomas and Lacy Carnegie’s Dungeness, now only ruins
Over 100 wild horses call Cumberland Island home. We were able to identify a dominant mare, and watched as she told the others it was time to move on. The first mare compliantly trotted on with her foal; the last one went nose to nose with her and snorted. Eventually the two moved on side by side.

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