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Amazing Paddles on Amelia Island – No. 12 Clapboard Creek

Yorktown, Gettysburg…. today these towns can be described as peaceful, quaint and picturesque. While it may be hard to imagine, these towns were both the sites of some of the bloodiest battles in American history! So, what does this have to do with Clapboard Creek? Let's dive in…

The calm waters and abundant natural beauty of Clapboard Creek and the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) are in stark contrast to some of its history. After some quick research I was shocked to learn about the violent history of Clapboard Creek and the surrounding area. Knowing the history as you paddle through these backwaters truly adds to the experience.

The launch spot for this paddle board tour is the Sawpit Boat Ramp. The current can be swift and tricky here so be careful especially at the boat ramp. Once launched, head almost due west from the boat ramp towards the Intracoastal Waterway.

The ICW is an inland waterway that runs 3000 miles from Florida to Massachusetts. It provides a navigable route without the hazards of travel on the open ocean. Originally, the route was used during World War II to avoid submarines at the coast. Today it is mostly used by recreational boaters and lucky paddle boarders like us! You may see a mega yacht cruising through from Boston or a local zipping around on a jet ski or fishing boat.

As you near the ICW look to the north. You will see a land mass that was once called Sawpit Bluff. It is now named Black Hammond Island. It is here where the history is shocking to read. The battles in this area included Indians, British soldiers and the patriot militia. The violent skirmishes are described with words like revenge, prisoners, mutilation and scalping. In some cases, wounded soldiers are reported to have escaped and later died in the very marsh we are paddling.

Looking around the marsh today you will see many small, uninhabited islands which are only accessible by shallow-draft watercraft, like paddleboards. Curiosity abounds as you wonder if these were the hiding places fleeing and injured soldiers used as refuge. What might you find on these islands today with a shovel and metal detector?

About halfway to the ICW there is a small tributary on the left. It meanders into the marsh a good ways and is worth checking out if you have the time. When you get to the ICW head south. As you make your way into Clapboard Creek you will have Big Talbot State Park to the east.

As you paddle further south look to the west. You will see the tall, pole-like trunks of a pine forest just beyond the banks of the ICW. This is the Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve. Keep your eyes out for cat-faces hiding in the forest.

Cat-faces are incisions that were cut into the pine trees to extract sap, which was processed into turpentine. If you look closely, the “cat-face” is made up from a series of deep V-shaped slashes in the trunk of the tree that resemble the face of a cat. Believe it or not, turpentine was once north Florida’s largest industry, and one of the oldest industries in the United States. It was used in the ship building process for water proofing the wooden ships of the time. The British Royal Navy relied on the American colonies for turpentine to build their warships.

Along the way there are many smaller tributaries and creeks perfect for exploring on a paddle board. It really comes down to your fitness level and how much time you want to spend on the water. You may also enjoy a short break at one of the several secluded beaches… a great way to soak in the natural beauty and history of the area before heading back to the boat ramp.

This paddle board tour starts and ends at the Sawpit Boat Ramp. Take AIA and head south from Amelia Island. Just as you cross the bridge at the southern end of Amelia Island start looking on your right for the entrance to the boat ramp. There is plenty of parking and well-maintained bathroom facilities. Timing this paddle board tour with the tide is essential. Check the weather and especially the wind forecast just prior to the tour. The duration of the paddle is about 2 hours, round trip.

Keep an eye out for oyster beds along the banks. It is also important to know that this area is popular with boaters and personal watercraft. To maximize your time on the water I would recommend a paddleboard lesson to learn the basics before doing this trip. A guided tour would be even better!

Be sure to bring your PFD (inflatable belt PFD are what we recommended) and marine whistle. With the potential for submerged hazards be sure your paddle board is equipped with a coiled SUP leash. Avoid straight SUP leashes in these areas as they can get hung up on things in the water.

Be safe!


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