Jekyll Island, FL – Saturday, 4/17
Despite the forecast for lots of rain to come in during the night, it continued to be delayed. We did get a few sprinkles here and there, but not the downpour we were expecting. The wind completely died down and when we awoke there was a coolness in the air. With overcast skies and a slight drop in temperature, heat was required. So Denise cranked up the generator, put on the heat and settled in for a nice cup of coffee and some quiet time before Mark woke up.
Sadly, this morning we needed to leave Cumberland Island and make some progress north, although not too much. Our next destination would be Jekyll Island; a fun and familiar place to stop. It was not going to be a far or a difficult cruise with less than 30 miles to cover. Our biggest challenge would be crossing St. Andrews Sound with its constant shoals and wide exposure to the open Atlantic Ocean.
Shortly after 9:00 we pulled up the anchor and headed out so we could spend more time at Jekyll Island. We left a peaceful and calm anchorage and pulled back into the ICW where it too was peaceful and calm. We made our way past the submarine degaussing station and base at St. Mary’s, and cruised through the low-country marshes of Georgia.
Just north of the sub base there is a large patch of land known as Cabin Bluff that is the oldest hunting club in Georgia. The property houses an Orvis®-endorsed fly fishing lodge and Beretta wing shooting lodge. Over the years it has been used as a fishing and hunting club, as well as a location for corporate meetings and retreats. We have always cruised through this area knowing it is in a beautiful but remote spot.
Today we discovered it was sold in 2018 by its owner, Westrock (a paper and packaging company). The land was purchased by the Nature Conservatory to protect the site’s endangered, threatened and rare plants and animals, and to ensure long-term conservation of the property. Of the nearly 11,000 acres, 7,000 of it was deeded to the GA Department of Natural Resources. In addition to preservation of the property, the US military had a vested interest in ensuring the land would not be developed into a resort, as it is a strategic location for protecting the submarine base to its south.
In 2020, the Nature Conservatory sold 3200 acres of the camp to a mega-church in Jacksonville, FL (“Church Eleven22“) where they will use it as a retreat center. It will not be open to the public, and the sale makes the creation of a wildlife management area possible. Potential uses include wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting, kayaking and nature photography. The state of GA, and the US Navy co-hold a conservation and restrictive easement over the now privately owned portion of Cabin Bluff, and the state is expected to take owner of the remaining land in 2021.
We meandered up the ICW through the marshlands and got to see some great birds, including a bald eagle (sorry no picture). There was almost no boat traffic and we did not have to worry about passing any of the slower fishing boats, sail boats or cruisers. Eventually we approached St. Andrews Sound and had to make a decision which route to take. There are two ways to get through the sound: the western route that goes around a series of low barrier islands, or the route directly across the sound. Since there was little wind and an incoming tide, we decided to cross the sound and did so without any issue. In fact it was quite calm and in less than 15 minutes we entered the Jekyll River and approached Jekyll Island.
It does not take long to go from St. Andrews Sound to the Jekyll Island marina and soon we were docking on the very long dock they put all transient boaters. Their very knowledgeable dockmaster Chris, and helper Devon, assisted with our tie-up and had power connected in no time. In the process we learned from these guys that the marina had been sold last fall and that a couple had purchased it from the previous owners; a group of men, one of whom we knew (Dave Blue) from our Jacksonville days. He also owned and still owns the marina where we kept our sailboat.
One of the reasons we made the stop in Jekyll was to be able to go to mass. We knew that the church in Brunswick, GA had a mission on the island with a Saturday evening vigil. However, the information we had regarding whether or not this was still available was conflicting. Due to COVID, it appeared services were no longer offered on the island, but other information indicated there was a 7 pm Sat. evening vigil. Denise decided she would go to the location of the church itself and see if there was any information physically posted. So, she grabbed a loaner bike from the marina, rode the 3 miles to the church and 3 miles back, talking to her sister Claire the entire time on the cell phone. It made for an easy ride and some welcomed exercise. From the posting at the church there was a phone number to call for information and once back at the marina, Denise confirmed that there would in fact be a Catholic mass at 7:00 pm.
Meanwhile, back at the boat, Mark filled the water tanks and washed down the outside that somehow got filthy during our 2 nights at anchor. He met and talked to several people along the docks as this is a very friendly place. We then settled in to eat lunch; all this occurred before noon!
In the afternoon several Looper boats came into the marina and we spoke with them, exchanging boat cards and talking about future destinations. Denise worked on the blog and Mark handled some financial transactions for our business. We wanted to spend more time talking to the other boaters, but the gnats and no-see-ums were so bad we could not stand to be outside the boat. Because of this, and the need to keep the boat sealed up, we ended up putting on the air conditioner despite otherwise a very comfortable temperature. We have encountered the bugs here in the past, but usually only around sunset; it has never been this bad during the day.
Later we went on a short outing into the village as we needed milk for breakfast. We knew we could find it at the Jekyll Market so we used the marina golf cart (available for the guests) and drove towards the village. As we were leaving the marina property we were stunned to see a condominium and townhouse complex being built at the edge of the property. This area is very low-lying and the wetland and marshes run right up to the road, causing flooding in some situations already. It is also why the marina has such an abundance of the aforementioned bugs. We could not believe they would actually build something on this piece of land, but they have.
Apparently building on this parcel had been part of the plans for the marina when it was originally built, but it was never developed. Prior to the recent marina sale, the land was sold for such development, skirting the “no more development on the island” rules because of its previous pre-approval. We learned this from the new owner whom we met on our way to get milk. We knew immediately that he was the new owner as he was getting off of his boat, a large “Ocean Yacht” that now resides in the #1 slip space on the dock.
We took the golf cart into the village and found it difficult to park. The place was swarming with people and they were busier than we have ever seen. We finally secured a parking spot, walked into the market, got our milk and left right away. With all the people all about, and with mask-wearing not required, we did not want hang around very long. We were back at the marina in 15 minutes with the golf cart parked in its shed.
Back at the boat we decided on an early dinner at Zachry’s Riverhouse, the restaurant at the marina. We knew with a 7:00 pm mass we needed to eat early and to allow time to get to church. Mark had arranged for a hired driver as the Uber cars were not available, and it was too far to walk. We could have used the loaner bicycles, but with the coming rain and that it would be dark when we left, we did not think this would be a good idea. So we went to dinner and sat at the bar so we would not have to wait for a table. We had simple salads with tuna (Mark) and grilled shrimp (Denise) and left feeling satisfied with our meal.
Later we met our driver at the marina office and she took us to the church. St. Francis Xavier Catholic church is located in Brunswick; a short 8 miles away. But the parish has services on the island and calls it a mission. Since it does not have its own physical location, it “rents” space at the Methodist church. The Episcopalians do as well. So there are 3 different Christian denominations that hold services in the same building.
It was pouring raining by the time we arrived, and managed to get inside before getting too soaked. We made plans with our driver to pick us up in an hour, figuring the usual mass takes approximately that long. We were greeted by a very nice woman and realized we had forgotten our masks back on the boat. Gratefully, the church had some disposable ones at the entrance and we graciously accepted them. There was a very light crowd in attendance, so social distancing was not an issue. One thing we did not count on was that there was no singing and with a small crowd for communion the mass was only 35 minutes. This meant we would have to wait nearly 25 minutes for our ride to pick us up, and since it was still raining outside we weren’t too thrilled.
While Mark called our driver, Denise spoke with the woman who greeted us when we arrived. She offered to return us to the marina, but we advised that we had someone picking us up. She and her husband were like the “super couple” of the mass: he did the readings and the ushering, she did the greetings, and they both took up the offertory during the mass. They were also responsible for locking everything up and they graciously waited with us until our driver arrived, so as not to put us out in the rain. We asked about the attendance and the shortness of the mass. They advised that they used to have singing, but the women who played the organ and was the cantor was elderly and died of Covid. Many of the usual parishioners have not returned yet, and no one is there to lead them in song. Our driver arrived and we thanked them for their patience and generosity. Truly these were Christians looking to help their neighbor.
When we returned to the marina the rain had stopped for a bit. Walking down the dock to the boat we had a chance to meet another cruisier (non-Looper) on a large Endeavor Cat (catamaran) that were full-time live-boards. They were from Annapolis area and we spoke about their boat and cruising areas in the Chesapeake. We exchanged boat cards and agreed to look them up if time permitted when we are up their way. By this time the bugs were eating us alive so we bolted back to our boat and stayed in for the rest of the night. Denise worked on the blog and Mark read a book until finally around 10 pm we crawled into bed with the once again pitter-pattering of the rain.