By Pat Foster-Turley
June 13, 2022
It’s good to be back again writing my columns for the Fernandina Observer, during this transition between editors. I’ve got lots of stories bottled up, so stay tuned!
This past week Bucko and I had houseguests visiting from Hawaii, and we could think of no better way to introduce them to our area, than by boat. And Amelia River Cruises (https://ameliarivercruises.com/), was just the ticket. I hate to admit that it’s been years since I’ve boarded one of their boats for a cruise around our waters but 17 or so years ago this was a regular part of my Amelia Island life. My column Wild Ways was running weekly in the News Leader and Kevin McCarthy, the owner of Amelia River Cruises, and I came up with the concept of Wild Ways tours. He and I explored the waters around us, looking for different places to take groups every three months or so and eventually led combined boat and land tours to various islands in the Intracoastal Waterway. It was fun while it lasted, but when my international work picked up I could no longer schedule these trips. Occasionally I’ve been back on board as a tourist, but not for years.
Since those days Amelia River Cruises has retired their original boat, the Ryan K, and now has three other vessels, the Bald Eagle, the Miss Kaylynn, and the Miss Kieren Marie and a variety of different trip offerings. This time we chose the 10AM tour to Cumberland Island, a tour that showcases the natural and human history of Amelia and Cumberland Islands and it couldn’t have been better. Bucko and I have lived here for more than two decades and know quite a bit about our area, but the two captains took turns piloting the boat and telling stories about our area that we had never heard before.
Viewing Amelia Island from the water reveals a different aspect for sure. As we cruised by the port, we saw a cargo ship the Polesteam Sopot that was here from Scandinavia, where it will return again after stops around the East Coast of the United States. Passing by Old Town we had great views of the “Pipi Longstocking House” and watched a group of ambitious kayakers heading out from the Dee Dee Bartels boat ramp. Passing Fort Clinch State Park we watched a number of people around the rock jetties in front of the fort walking with their heads down, or digging in the sand all in search of fossilized shark teeth that are often found here, especially after the recent dredging.
Once across the channel we were in Georgia, learning about its history beginning with Native Americans through the Colonial Period, then the Carnegies and up to the present. And of course, we saw horses, lots of them–descendants of various horses that were imported to the island over the years. These horses fed for themselves, and eat a diet heavily laden with salt leading to shortened lives but still produce countless new generations of mixed breed horses. On the opposite side of the Intracoastal Waterway we viewed the Kings Bay Submarine Base and learned about the various specialized buildings on the site. Submarines leave this base unpredictably, and occasional Amelia River Cruises are required to stop while a heavily guarded submarine passes by.
And yes, there were dolphins! Off and on during the cruise we spotted dolphins swimming nearby. Once we watched as a group of dolphins circled a school of fish to make them easier to catch. On some tours, especially the ones up Beach Creek, it is sometimes possible to watch another even more dramatic dolphin fishing strategy, strand-feeding, where dolphins herd fish into shallow water, and strand themselves momentarily in the process.
On our return from this two and a half hour tour we again passed the Dee Dee Bartels boat ramp and sure enough, the kayakers were just returning too. In our younger days we would have loved doing this tour by kayak, but crossing a deep-water channel with large and small boats, and sometimes even a submarine, is well beyond our abilities now. We oldsters were happily content with viewing things from the comfort of the Bald Eagle, its restroom, and our backpacks full of water and snacks.
Now that I’ve been back on Amelia River Cruises, I know I will get onboard again much more often than I have in the past few years. There is always something new to see, and always new stories to hear from the boat captains. It never gets old, even if we do.
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D. is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]