Cruising The Georgia And Florida Coasts With The Kids

By Fred Braman

Along the Georgia and Florida coasts, a grandfather precisely plots each day's activities to tire out his pint-sized Kruse-members by nightfall.

Aerial view of the Georgia CoastPhoto: Chapple Studios

I'd been singlehanding Rhombus, our Catalina 30, for a two-week reconnaissance mission before school finished for the summer break. As I visited favorite spots in great weather, the cruising had been pleasant, the sailing exhilarating, the anchorages picturesque, and everything was very peaceful and quiet. The plan was for my wife, Louise, and the grandkids, Grant and Madchen Kruse (ages 14 and 10), to arrive as soon as the last school bell rang, and I hoped that the cruising would still be pleasant, the sailing exhilarating, and the anchorages still picturesque. But one thing I knew for sure — it wouldn't be quiet!

Georgia Forida coastline mapMarcus Floro/BoatUS

When I'd left my Jacksonville, Florida, home on a favorable ebb tide, I'd traveled down the St. Johns River to where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Mayport. On a perfect May day, I passed the north and south entrances to the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, historic Mayport Village, the Mayport Naval Station, and finally the Huguenot Memorial Park, with its broad and inviting river and ocean beaches. I was delighted to find calm seas and a nice breeze as I exited into the ocean, and soon the sails were up; the wonderful four-hour sail was over too soon. I plotted a course for green marker 13 of the St. Marys River entrance channel and headed for an overnight to Fernandina Beach on the northern end of Amelia Island. This active little town would be the final stop for the planned "Kids Kruse." Those just-out-of-school kids would be full of energy, and I needed to figure out activities that would burn some of it off.

By the time I hit Darien, Georgia, I had lots of ideas about where to go and what to do when the children arrived. The plan was to keep them active and happy during the day and tuckered out and sleeping at night. Quiet anchorages and singlehanded sailing would give way to putt-putt golf, bike rides, ocean beaches, shark-teeth hunting, water slides, and chocolate-chip pancakes for breakfast. Perfect!

Jekyll Island HarborAlong the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, Jekyll Harbor Marina is a great place to stop. (Photo: Fred Braman)

Our crew pickup point was at Jekyll Harbor Marina on Jekyll Island in Georgia. I got there a day early to clean the boat and provision. My friend Trevor Rhody had agreed to bring his Hunter 30, Moondara, and his daughter, Paige, age 10, was included in the crew. By midday, everyone had arrived, and both boats were filled with extra sleeping bags, lots of snacks and soda, stuffed animals, games, iPods, and a youthful exuberance that grandparents love in children.

Bikes And Beaches

Jekyll Island is a wonderful place for kids, young and old. We planned three days here, with biking the trails and beaches, tours of the historic area, and a day at the water park all on the schedule. First up was a bike ride. Both Rhombus and Moondara carry foldable boat bikes, and adding the marina's courtesy-bike inventory, there was one for each of us. Our target was a path through the woods that starts near the marina. The kids loved the ride. It's pretty and shaded with a chance to see wildlife along the way. Best of all, it ends up at a Dairy Queen.

Exploring Jekyll Harbor docksThe kids look happy as they head off to the local Dairy Queen for ice cream. (Photo: Fred Braman)

The nearby ocean beach is a world-class bike-riding beach, too. At low tide, it's possible to ride the 10 miles from the island's northwest corner on St. Simons Sound, but by afternoon, the tree-shaded pool at the marina looked really good. The whole crew took a quick dip, and then the older kids retreated to the boats to prepare the evening barbecue. Use of the picnic area and gas grills is free to visitors, and you can still take advantage of happy hour at 685 Seafood restaurant next door. After dinner, the junior crew got real quiet — the wear-them-down strategy was working!

Bike riding on Jekyll IslandFirst bike ride in the Jekyll Island interior. (Photo: Fred Braman)

The next day's agenda was a bike ride to the Jekyll Island National Historic District, via, of course, the Dairy Queen. This barrier island distinguished itself in 1886, when it was sold to the Jekyll Island Club. Members included robber barons and luminaries like J.P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, Vincent Astor, Joseph Pulitzer, and William K. Vanderbilt. The club was active until the Great Depression; it's now the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Also remaining on the grounds are the beautiful "cottages" built by the club. Although the club's purpose was to provide a gentle place for members to relax, hunt, and escape the cold north, with big people, big events were bound to happen. That included the first transcontinental telephone call and the creation of the Federal Reserve System in one of the club's parlors.

Summer Waves ParkSomething for everyone at the Summer Waves Park. (Photo: Fred Braman)

It was a little out of the way, but day three marked a return to the Dairy Queen for breakfast en route to Jekyll's Summer Waves Water Park. Our bikes got us to the park just before opening, and while the kids whooped and hollered, the rest of us found a shaded table as a rendezvous spot. Trevor went to take pictures, while Grandma and Grandpa headed for the lazy river.

The "crew" was tired and waterlogged by 3 p.m., or so we thought. We returned to the marina, where the kids promptly headed for the pool!

Homeward Bound

The next morning, we headed south for Cumberland Island on the tide with a favorable current. The sandbars of St. Andrews Sound require a trek to seaward, before a turn back into protected waters. In a few pleasant hours, we'd set the hook near the Sea Camp Dock at the Cumberland Island National Seashore. Cumberland Island has had something of a convoluted transition from cotton plantation to Carnegie summer home to designated national wilderness area, and in my 35 years of cruising, this is my favorite destination.

Shark tooth huntingShark's tooth hunting takes a little patience. (Photo: Fred Braman)

Our crew was anxious to get to shore and start shark-tooth hunting. Hunting takes a little practice, but once you catch on, the tooth take can be impressive. We hunt on every trip, always hopeful that a megalodon monster will reveal itself. At 50 feet LOA, this Cenozoic Era fellow must have had some pretty big choppers. No 7-inch teeth were found on this particular hunt, but it was still a considerable haul when a couple of hours of work yielded about 30 teeth. On the walk back, we stopped to watch the island's wild horses, but it was a hot day, and the crew was ready for a swim.

Boat swimmingBoat swims are fun, but, there is a current so life jackets and tethers are needed to make sure you get the crew back on board. (Photo: Fred Braman)

The next morning, taking the River Trail south from the Sea Camp Visitor Center while keeping a sharp eye out for horses along the way, we hiked to the beach via the Ice House Museum. The museum focuses on the two mansions at the south end of the island. The first, built around 1800, is the home of Catharine Greene, widow of Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene, and her second husband, Phineas Miller. The four-story building was a coastal landmark for decades for those at sea and in the inland waterway. The second mansion, built in 1885 by steel magnate Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew, and his wife, Lucy, as a summer home for their family of nine children, is now in ruins. The museum itself was once the Carnegie icehouse.

Oak canopyA "canopied" return to Sea Camp Visitor's Center. (Photo: Fred Braman)

A little farther on the trail is the Greene-Miller Cemetery, the gravesite of Catharine. Just after the cemetery is a boardwalk through wetlands that exits at the dunes and the broad, 17-mile-long ocean beach. After enjoying the sand and surf, we took the boardwalk through Cumberland's beautiful maritime forest, with its live-oak canopy, back to Sea Camp Dock. The day's 5-mile trek almost guaranteed a quiet night.

boardwalk through Cumberland's beautiful maritime forestThe boardwalk connects beach to maritime forest. (Photo: Fred Braman)

With the Kids Kruse nearly over, a quiet night was followed by lifting the hooks on Rhombus and Moondara and heading back to Florida waters. Though we were sorry to leave a genuine paradise, an hour's sail would bring us to Fernandina's marina, a nice change for our last night aboard, and its welcome air-conditioning. Under supervision, the kids took most of the helm duties, and soon we were tied up at Fernandina Harbor Municipal Marina. As soon as we docked, the crew was off to tour one of Florida's greatest little towns. But first they made a beeline to the ice-cream store.

The trip was now over, and the young crew departed with dates for guitar lessons, summer art classes, and soccer and swim-team practices crowding their near-term agendas. The old hands on board Rhombus and Moondara quietly set sail to cover the last 35 miles for home, all the while wondering who had turned down the volume. 

Captain Fred Braman is retired from the U.S. Navy. He and his wife, Louise, live in Fleming Island, near Jacksonville, Florida, and sail in Florida, Georgia, and the Bahamas. Trevor Rhody keeps his Hunter 30, Moondara, at Marina at Ortega Landing.

— Published: October/November 2017

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