I have found in life that things are always a little better when you have to earn them. Being that Cumberland Island is only accessible by boat or paddle, you have a decision to make. If you want to go sight-seeing take the boat. If you are looking for an adventure the paddle board is the clear choice. The added challenge of paddle boarding across the inlet from Amelia Island (and then back) combined with the history, natural beauty, and wild horses make this tour a once in a lifetime experience.
The launch point for this paddle boarding tour is the beach at DeeDee Bartels boat ramp. Begin by heading north along the shoreline of Fort Clinch State Park. Looking north into the distance, you will see Cumberland Island - our ultimate destination.
As you paddle along the shore you may notice several piles of rocks dispersed across the beach. These are actually ballast stones (not to be confused with the rock jetties) used in wooden ships that sailed up and down the east coast and across the Atlantic centuries ago.
Geologically these stones are not native to Florida. England, Spain and the northern U.S. are their likely origin. These stones were used to stabilize the ships in rough seas.
When a ship would pull into port sailors would toss these stones from the hull of the ship into piles to make room for cargo. Later an empty ship would use that same pile of stones to fill its hull before heading back out to sea. These stones (example pictured left) can range in size from about the size of a softball to as big as a bowling ball.
Every time I paddle by these piles I wonder what stories the stones could tell knowing they came from thousands of miles away and were tossed here by the bare hands of a sailor hundreds of years ago.
Continue to follow the shoreline around to the north end of Amelia Island. Once around the tip of the island you will be in cannon ball range of Ft. Clinch. Now a state park, the fort was built back in 1847 to protect the entrance to the Cumberland Sound. It was constructed using more than 5 million bricks. Seeing it from the deck of a stand-up paddle board provides for an interesting perspective.
From here we head north across the inlet towards Cumberland Island. It is best to stay in a group while making the nearly mile long crossing. During this part of the paddle boarding tour you will have to navigate cross swell, current, and boat traffic.
On rare occasions you may see a nuclear submarine being escorted thru the inlet and out to sea. The Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base is located just up the St. Mary’s River in Georgia. Just sit back and relax as this is quite the spectacle.
About halfway across the inlet you will notice a large light tower to the west. This marks the center of the channel and the Georgia-Florida border. Just prior to 1821 it marked the border between colonial Spain and the U.S.
Once safely across the inlet feel free to take a break on the beach. You are now officially on the Cumberland Island National Seashore. From here paddle west and into the dune lake on the south end of Cumberland Island.
This is where the wild horses roam. These feral horses are believed to have been brought over initially by the Spanish in the 1500s. The Carnegie family also brought over horses in the 1800s when they built their mansion at Dungeness. Today the herd ranges in size from about 150 to 200. Based on a University of Georgia study, the horses genetically resemble those of the Carnegie era.
There is really no better way to see wild horses than from the deck of a stand-up paddle board (SUP). Be sure to relish this experience.
Cumberland Island is associated with many prominent names in American history such as Oglethorpe, Carnegie, and Kennedy. One lesser known name is Greene. Yes, this is my last name as well. Nathanael Greene, the revolutionary war general and close friend of President George Washington, owned land on Cumberland Island and built a tabby house at Dungeness. I am told Nathanael Greene is a great grandfather in our family tree. Knowing this makes Cumberland Island that much more special of a place for me.
To head back home you will have to cross the inlet again. Playing the current on the return will make it a bit easier. As you approach the shoreline of Amelia Island you may be lucky and see a dolphin or two.
This paddle board tour begins and ends at the DeeDee Bartels Boat Ramp. It is located on the northern most end of Amelia Island off of 14th Street. Be sure to time this paddle board tour with the tide and sun. Check the wind forecast and direction just prior to departing. The length of the paddle is about 2.5 hours, round trip.
Be mindful that there can be both commercial and recreational boat traffic as you cross the inlet. Remember, unless you are in distress the big boats have the right-of-way. Be aware the current can vary in strength as you cross the inlet and can be quite strong in some areas.
Watch out for oyster beds as well. As such, this paddle board tour is better suited for an intermediate paddler. We suggest a paddle board lesson to learn the basics before doing this trip. Being able to handle current and cross swell is critical. A guided paddle board tour will help ensure you get the most out of your time on the water.
We recommend you wear a PFD (preferably an inflatable belt PFD) on this tour along with a marine whistle. Be sure your paddle board is equipped with a coiled SUP leash as well. Be Safe!