Our choices may surprise you. This past cruising season was a wildly different one for Phillip and me—beginning where we purchased our Outbound 46 in Annapolis, MD and taking us down the Chesapeake, around Cape Hatteras, and down U.S. east coast for the first time. Every anchorage was new; every inlet was novel. There was a lot of learning involved and local intel required. Phillip and I made many new cruising friends, several of whom gave us the critical scoop that allowed us to get in/out of these places safely. Some were quiet and isolated. Some were wild, whooped-up parties. But, of the dozens of stops we made along our way down the coast October, 2021 through March, 2022, Phillip and I definitely discovered a few spots that stood out. For those planning to cruise the east coast, we wanted to share our top three, show where we anchored, how we got to shore (and what we found there!), and the reasons these three anchorages were our favorite while cruising down the east coast:
- Cumberland Island, GA and Lady Carnegie’s Impressive Dungeness Estate
- Flagler Island, South Beach and the 25th Street Cleat
- Lake Sylvia, Ft. Lauderdale and the Clothing Police
ANCHORAGE #1: Cumberland Island, GA and Lucy Carnegie’s Impressive Dungeness Estate
We should have spent a week there. Next time we will. After a glorious overnight passage from Charleston, SC (roughly 200 miles north) down to Cumberland Island, GA, Phillip and I navigated Ubiquitous into the St. Mary’s River to anchor near, and explore, Cumberland Island. Phillip chose this magnificent place for a reason, of which I was unaware. I had no idea what awaited me ashore. The might and gumption of the woman who assembled this kingdom. The sprawling breadth of the estate she built. The crumbling structures laying testament to the elegance that once was. The wild, tangled beauty she spent a lifetime preserving. Simply put, the Dungeness remains are stirring and breathtaking. I have a distinct memory of one of the wild horses who roam the Island, standing in what was once a tiled, heated pool in the Recreation Hall of Dungeness, munching grass and blinking at me while he chewed—completely unaware of the grandeur that once stood there.
Everything around me was in decay. But I felt like I could close my eyes and see the magnificence of the past mapped into the present.
Lucy Coleman Carnegie and Thomas Carnegie (brother to the Pittsburgh steel tycoon, Andrew Carnegie) purchased the Dungeness property (1,891 acres) in 1881. They moved to the Island in 1884 and built a modest home on the site that was completed in 1885.
The following year two pivotal things happened: 1) Thomas and his business partner purchased a whopping 8,240 acres of Cumberland Island; and 2) Thomas Carnegie died. At that time, Lucy had only been living on the Island for two years, yet she—a recent widow—decided to stay and raise her nine children on the Island.
Lucy bought out Thomas’s business partner and continued to amass her estate, eventually acquiring roughly 90% of Cumberland Island. From 1890 to 1905, Lucy spearheaded a massive construction project to expand her and Thomas’s original modest home to a 37,000 square foot Queen Anne gothic mansion with over 50 rooms that required more than 150 full-time staff members to maintain.
Lucy also had a massive Recreation Hall and other, smaller mansions and estates built for her own children all over the Island over the years.
Walking the remains of Lucy’s legacy, the stunning Dungeness estate, it is almost as if you can feel her there. Savvy business woman. Entrepreneur. Worker of the land. Single mother of nine who devoted much of her life to preserving Cumberland Island, the largest part of which was declared a national seashore in 1972, a posthumous, but still shining, jewel in her conservationist crown. Lucy was described in her obituary as a “keen hunter.” She was also a boat captain. A racer, hosting dozens aboard her steam yacht, Dungeness.
Lucy ruffled feathers. Stirred fires to become the first woman permitted to join the New York Yacht Club in 1894. Lucy mystified and intrigued me. The beautiful tangle of trees that cloak the Island I imagine are an accurate reflection of her complex mind.
I had no idea this sense of inspiration and awe awaited me as we glided into the St. Mary’s River but I can still close my eyes and see sights from Cumberland Island. Wild horses whispering behind the bushes. A tapestry of 19th century brick and tile, woven with young grass. Spanish moss fluttering. Sticky mud smacking under the sun. Phillip and I spent one memorable day exploring the Island and Dungeness estate. A promising weather window that would allow us to comfortably and quickly sail the next leg of our journey south to St. Augustine, FL encouraged us to leave the next day, but the next time we come to Cumberland Island, Phillip and I will stay longer and explore further.
We anchored here in the East River, a short dinghy ride across the River from the public dock (near the Ice House Museum) that allows access to the Island.
Cumberland Island does not have a bridge to the mainland. To preserve its historic seashore beaching of boats is not permitted. Private vessels can tie up to the Sea Camp Dock and then pay the park entrance fee to visit the island. Phillip and I anchored in the morning and spent the afternoon perusing the park, walking along the Atlantic shore, and exploring the decaying Dungeness estate. I wish we could have spent more time exploring the other structures on the island, the cottages and other “mansions” Lucy had built for several of her children (Plum Orchard, The Cottage, Greyfield Inn). I found a great blog post here from a Blue Ridge Mountain blogger that really showcases the other estates on the Island. But, honestly, I could spend a full day simply walking all of the shade-chilled, tree-roofed paths, listening to the horses. If you are traveling down the east coast, put this magic Island in your path. Come humbly, with open eyes, and I think you will find this Island, and Lucy’s legacy, will touch you as well.