We are awake at dawn after a much appreciated quiet night at anchor. The sun is just rising over Cumberland Island. We take in the view from the cockpit (aka sunroom) of Cutter Loose, warmed by the comfort of a mug of hot tea. Soon we are in the dinghy, headed ashore to explore the Island.
We follow a trail south through a maritime forest, densely populated by live oak trees strewn with spanish moss. Cabbage palm and saw palmetto are equal co-inhabitants of the forest. Several feral horses pass by on the trail, neither seeking or giving attention to passers-by.
At the southern end of the Island lies the mysterious Dungeness ruins. There is a long history of homes on this site. James Oglethorpe built a hunting lodge here in 1736 which he named Dungeness. Revolutionary War hero General Nathaniel Greene acquired the property in exchange for a bad debt and his widow built a mansion and outbuildings here in 1803. During the war of 1812, British troops occupied the mansion as headquarters. Then, Henry Lee III (the father of Robert E. Lee) occupied the home beginning in 1818 until his death. During the Civil War, the house was abandoned and burned. Enter native Pittsburgher Thomas Carnegie (brother of Andrew) who built a 59 room mansion on the site in 1884. In 1959, the mansion was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt. The property is now part of a National Historic District preserved by the National Park Service. The current residents of the ruins are diamondback rattlesnakes. Visitors are advised to keep their distance.
The Dungeness ruins include a collection of automobiles, curiously abandoned by the Carnegies. The rusted remains of these vehicles are situated side-by-side, as if they were parked in a garage. The tires and steering wheels are still intact.
We return to the dinghy dock via the beach where we encounter flocks of sandpipers hopping along the edge of the water on one foot. All manner of shells, flotsam and jetsom have accumulated here. The dunes are enormous and covered with vegetation, demonstrating the inherent protective capability of barrier islands if left undisturbed. Cumberland Island has been a most interesting and attractive destination and well worth a visit.
At noon, the anchor is up and we are underway in Cumberland Sound. Traveling south, the ICW passes by the inland side of Fernandina Inlet, a deep water and well-marked entrance to the Atlantic Ocean. Once through this passage, we bid farewell to Georgia and enter Florida, having accumulated 884 miles under the keel of Cutter Loose since we departed Rock Hall 36 days ago.
The initial visual impression of Florida is not particularly inviting. Heavy industry on the Amelia River can be seen as far as 5 miles away, with smoke spewing from the top of tall chimneys. Once downwind of the smokestacks, we are treated to the odorous byproduct of a pulp mill. Ramshackle industrial buildings and sunken barges line the Fernandina riverbank. Between industrial bookends, the City of Fernandina Beach has developed a new marina and waterfront complex which is home port to many boaters living in the Jacksonville area.
Cutter Loose is tied to a Fernandina Marina mooring ball in the middle of the Amelia River. Because we are moored in proximity to the Fernandina Inlet, the tidal currents in the River are significant. A mooring is advantageous in that it eliminates the need to deploy hundreds of feet of anchor chain and worrry about whether the anchor will hold during the 180 degree tidal shifts. Renting a mooring also provides priveleges at the marina, including convenient laundry facilities and a dinghy dock that provides immediate access to the downtown.
The sound of Christmas carols wafts across the River to the mooring field. Today is Fernandina’s Christmas on the River celebration. The town is packed with people. Music and dance ensembles perform on the main stage. The official lighting of the Christmas tree takes place at 6 PM, followed by more carols. There is something incongruous about being outdoors, dressed in shorts and a short sleeved shirt, listening to Christmas music and participating in a tree lighting ceremony. Just two days ago we celebrated Thanksgiving. To some, today’s celebration evokes the need for a transition period in order to ease into the Christmas season.