The quote “…life is about memories, not things…” has always resonated with me for some reason. I am not even sure where I heard it or who said it. For those looking for something a little more adventurous the paddle from Amelia Island up Beach Creek on Cumberland Island is for you. The challenge of paddle boarding up Beach Creek combined with the history, natural beauty, and wild horses you are sure to make memories on this paddle boarding tour.
The starting point for this paddle boarding tour is DeeDee Bartels boat ramp. The best place to launch is from the beach on the north side of the boat ramp. Begin by heading north along the shoreline of Fort Clinch State Park. Looking north into the distance, you will see Cumberland Island.
As you paddle along the shore take notice of the small rock piles dispersed along the waterline of the beach. These rocks 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. From a geological standpoint these stones are not native to Florida. The likely origin of these stones is probably England, Spain and the northern U.S.
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. Ballast stones can range in size from a softball to as big as a bowling ball. As you paddle past them, think about the stories these 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.
As you continue north look to your east and you will see Ft. Clinch on the northern tip of Amelia Island. The fort was built back in 1847 to protect the entrance to the Cumberland Sound. Seeing it from the deck of a stand-up paddle board provides for an interesting perspective as you are well within cannon ball range of the fort.
Head north across the inlet towards Cumberland Island. We recommend you stay in a group while making the nearly mile long crossing. As you paddle board across the inlet you will have to navigate cross swell, current, and boat traffic. About halfway across the inlet you will notice a large light tower to your 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 across the inlet stay towards the west side of Cumberland Island. Follow the coast line up to Beach Creek. Hugging the shoreline, you may have to duck under a few oak trees laden with Spanish moss. Beach Creek meanders its way through a pristine salt marsh all the way to Dungeness. As you paddle deeper into the marsh you may be joined by dolphin and manatee.
The paddle up Beach Creek is about 2.5 miles. Paddling through the marsh is like going back in time. Be sure to pause for a moment and take in the natural beauty and serenity along the way.
Keep an eye out for wild horses along the shoreline. Wild horses have roamed Cumberland Island for centuries. 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.
Dungeness is the turnaround point for this paddle boarding tour. Here you will find the ruins of a mansion built by the Carnegie family back in 1884. Before it was destroyed the mansion had grown in size to approximately 35,000 plus square feet. The mansion burned in a fire in 1959. The fire burned for 3 days and could be seen from across the St. Mary’s River. It is believed the fire was an act of arson. As of yet, no arrests have been made for the crime. Rumors of who did it abound.
To head back home follow Beach Creek south and then cross the inlet again. Playing the current on the return is important on this paddle board tour. As you approach the shoreline of Amelia Island you may be lucky and see a dolphin or two.
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. Being able to handle current and cross swell is critical. 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!