Note: the saga of Sea Kayak Stonington continues... now in Saint Marys, Georgia - see previous post for details.
It was quiet at Knuckleheads, and by the looks of town, it would remain that way for awhile. I wanted to get out for a paddle, so I erased the day’s trips from the white board and penned-in some for the following day, updating the weather while I was at it. It looked like it would get windy for the rest of the week; we’d be lucky to get out paddling, let alone get any customers- all the more reason to get out for a paddle before the thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon arrived.
I was almost out the door, but got pulled into business conversations: the upcoming fishing tournament, and even sooner- the Mardi Gras celebration, which would channel hundreds of people toward Knuckleheads and our trailer of kayaks beside the boat ramp. Finally I pulled away. I needed to go paddling, not only for my own pleasure and peace of mind, but because I would soon be guiding people on this route, and needed to understand it better. Rationalization? Maybe a little, but true.
An hour later, at the boat ramp in Fernandina Beach, the morning had turned to afternoon, and those scattered thunderstorms looked like they might be scattered on top of us. It began to rain as we prepared our kayaks on the beach, and we sat in the car, checking our iPhones to gauge the threat, wondering if the brighter patches on the radar might be heavy rain or thunderheads. We decided to get on the water and take it from there.
A couple of tugboats juggled some barges with a crane and other machinery around the mouth of the Amelia River, and behind us, back in Fernandina Beach, the paper mill let-off a blast of steam, and we paused to make sure it wasn’t thunder. You have to give the town credit for turning itself into an upscale tourist destination when these massive paper mills line a long stretch of the river. Maybe some industry around is just part of the charm, even when you’re downwind. Stonington has the stink of bait, and some claim to like it.
We let the current help us out of the Amelia and into Cumberland Island Sound, where the Saint Marys River joins the others and they all meet the ocean. The ebbing current was increasing, so we lined-up some markers and followed a range across, increasing our ferry angle toward the middle, finally letting the current take us a bit as we pointed into a sandy, muddy cove on Cumberland Island and found our way into a small creek. A couple hours after high tide, the creek was quickly draining, with sharp oyster beds blocking part of the entrance, but we wound our way through it, against the current until we paused in the shallow water in a vast, muddy flat.
Ahead, horses grazed in the grassy mudflats where the creek tapered. We approached cautiously- the horses are wild, but we weren’t sure how they might tolerate our presence. One looked up, gazed at us for a long moment, its wet flanks glistening in the rain, and returned to grazing. The spartina- grasses that grow in these tidal flats- was mostly munched-down to mud level, but the horses kept their noses down, constantly munching. We moved a little closer and the creek turned increasingly shallow. The horses tracked our movement, but didn’t seem too concerned.
You hear varying theories on the origins of the horses, but some are probably descended from the herd belonging to British who occupied the island in the early 1700s. When the Spanish attacked Fort Andrews in 1742, they found a corral of horses and reported to have shot them all, but it is surmised that some escaped. Island inhabitants have since released other horses on the island, to improve the breeding stock.
We watched a group of eight horses for awhile as the water beneath us ebbed away. The white one came the closest, but also seemed the most leery of our actions, looking up each time we raised a paddle to push ourselves off the mud. Surprisingly, they were not so graceful in the mud, sinking deeply, but not seeming to mind if it brought them closer to the chomped-down grasses. Finally, we turned and floated out of the creek.
We went a little further up the shore, pausing at a beach for a break, and on up to the entrance of Beach Creek, where we turned around and caught a strong current back across the sound.