Last week I had the opportunity to paddle around Cumberland Island off Georgia’s Southernmost coast. Cumberland is an Island with lots of history and a pretty diverse set of scenery to accompany it including salt marshes, giant sand dunes, wild horses, old mansion ruins and beautiful Live Oak and Saw Palmetto Maritime forests. I checked with a few Guided trips in the week long range and altered those to make for a 3 night trip. I decided to leave from Crooked River State Park. The planned day of departure there were Tornado Warnings and 12-14′ surf so I spent an extra day getting acquainted with St. Mary’s and took a trip over to the neighboring Jacksonville to grab some last minute items from REI and Black Creek Outfitters. The next morning I took off with the tide from the Crooked River launch site. First night was the Brickhill Bluff campsite on the Northwest side of the Island. Following sand bars and salt marshes the whole way out in protected waters I was able to see numerous small sharks along the shoals and a dolphin or two.
The campsite at Brickhill Bluff offered multiple spots with great views under huge Live Oak trees with plenty of flat ground to set up your campsite at all spots. There were obvious signs of horses being in this area so I didn’t want to set up in a possible horse path. I’m glad since I was awoken in the night to three horses casually eating the grass behind my tent. I was able to hike around some of the trails in that area before cooking dinner and heading in for the night. I was anxious to see what the North side of the Island would look like the next day as that would be the beginning of the harder part of the day. The plan was to ride out the tide and that I did doing 7 miles in a hour before hitting the Pelican Banks round the Northernmost side of the Island. The tide was low enough that I had to go about 3/4 of a mile off shore and the Southwest wind was really starting to pick up and I felt it quite a bit out there.
Around the shoals I could see ominous skies matching the brutal wind kicked up in my face. This went on for another 15 miles building from 15-20 knts head on with little to no let up whatsoever. I made 2 stops to check my National Park Map to my chart to try and figure best where my campsite actually was. Huge dunes lined the Northern tip and stretched the entire 17.5 mile Atlantic coast aside from the inlet at Christmas Creek which was another haul way out off shore to get around the ever present shoals. Most of the Atlantic was smaller 2-3′ foot swell due to the offshore wind but Stafford Shoals was kicked up a bit, at least I knew the Stafford campsite could not be more than a mile away. When I finally reached the Stafford pull out, poorly marked with only a 6 foot black and white post) I walked up to the Dunes to find the inside flooded from all the previous days storms. I decided, even though not technically legal, considering I had not seen more than 1 other person the whole day to just set up camp on the beach. The site turned out to be spectacular and I had no visitors aside form one interesting hiker that gave my only conversation for the day.
The next morning I awoke to a beautiful sunrise and no wind! I made some coffee and hit the water leisurely with Sea Camp set as my destination, around the South side of the Island and in a bit. I reached the North Jetty of the entrance to Cumberland Sound which sticks out 2.5 miles into the ocean and decided to surf in to the beach to consult the chart. The tide was rushing out for another 4 hours and submarines are found to produce crazy wakes near the mouth of the Pass so I decided to portage the boat around the jetty. Adding 5 miles of questionable paddling did not seem like the best option. I pulled around to a nice sandy beach with a shady spot under some trees to relax after and easy morning but hard day the previous day. I was in no rush and was also waiting for the tide to turn around. 6 wild horses stepped out from the woods and trotted casually down the beach next to me as I watched the coast guard running drills in front of Fort Clinch in their Defenders and MLB’s. Around slack tide I took off again towards Sea Camp and had a low key paddle in to the dock. Again I had a long portage to get the boat over to the bluff where there was a path up and then about a 10′ hike up the berm. I unloaded into the carts they have there and hiked the almost mile into camp.
The next morning I spent hiking to see the Dungeness Mansion Ruins site which has Thomas Carnegie’s old estate among many other ruins and buildings from 100 years back. Horses roamed the grass fields here as wild turkey grazed as well. I was again in no hurry as I was waiting for the tide to turn again. After noon I hiked back to camp and got ready for departure around slack again. Reversed the portage of the day before and then headed off with the tide back to Crooked River for what turned out to be one of my favorite trips so far!