Southern Scribe
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Porch Tales     

 

Amelia Island from the Water

by Dickie Anderson

 
  I had an unexpected surprise, which resulted in a delightful morning on the Amelia River with an expert guide.  It may not be surprising that his last name is McCarthy.  Kevin McCarthy, the oldest of four brothers in the McCarthy family that owns the Down Under Restaurant, the Golden Grouper, Down Under Guide Service and other enterprises, invited me on a morning cruise on his tour boat the Ryan K.  As luck would have it, my river trip occurred on a perfect Indian Summer day.

I met Kevin at the dock at the Down Under Restaurant, which is truly down under the Shave Bridge on Florida A1A.  We set off moving south on the Amelia River along the west side of Amelia Island.  Kevin has lived on Amelia Island since he was 17 years old and has seen lots of changes.  Feeling like Cleopatra, the only passenger on a 49 passenger touring boat, I sat in the back as Captain McCarthy navigated the river.  As we motored south down the river it widens dramatically and seems more like a lake.  It was quiet the morning we went out.  We passed large bulky cabin cruisers reminding me of waterway Winnebagos.  One left such a large wake that it looked like the result of a wave machine at a water park.  I became instantly alert as the wave approached and the Ryan K rocked in the rolling waves.  I think Kevin, watching my temporary discomfort, smiled a bit, but I'm not sure.  In sharp contrast to the mammoth cruisers, we saw sailboats, sunlight illuminating their sails, moving silently and elegantly across the water.

Always attracted to those who follow their dreams, I listened as Kevin told me about how Amelia Island River Cruises came to be.  After many successful years as a contractor, McCarthy was ready for a change and began to research starting a river cruise business on the Amelia River.  He visited with a successful tour boat company in Ft. Lauderdale and ended up buying the familiar yellow, blue and red touring boat that is docked at the Fernandina Beach Marina.  He is genuinely pleased with the success of the cruises and is currently planning to add other tours, which may include Cumberland Island, St. Mary's and the south end of the island.

Kevin has a sincere love of the history of the island and never tires of sharing it.  The popular cruise that leaves from the Marina three times a day Tuesday through Saturday showcases much of the island's history, but with a new twist - it's from the water.  Seeing Ft. Clinch and Old Town from the water offers an entirely different perspective to familiar historic sites.

My private tour included many of the houses along the shore, and as we approached Amelia City, Kevin shared some of the history he knows so well.  Kevin talked of Old Gus Gerbing, the man who developed an incredible garden attraction on the island and developed unique Camellia varieties.  He pointed out where a favorite hang out on the island used to be - the Sand Dollar - said it was a great place, now torn down.  It was a popular place to be at the end of the day  with it's beautiful sunsets.

I heard about the architectural digs on Plantation property in the early days of the development of the south end of the Island.  Kevin and his brother Brian worked for $1.70 an hour with archeologists from the University of Florida.  He described the thrill of unearthing the ancient bones of Indians.

As we headed back to the dock, we passed Crane Island, and I heard about Sara Alice Broadbent, who lived for many years as a recluse on the island, wore sack cloth clothing, no shoes and usually had a shot gun handy.  Seems she chased off the poachers who came to hunt the deer, wild turkeys and hogs living on the island.  The ramshackle cabin she lived in burned down, and no sign of Sara Alice was ever found.  Another island character lost in history.

Kevin suddenly pointed about the trees covering the island indicating two American Bald Eagles gliding in gentle circles in the sky.  One landed on the tree limb and posed for my closer inspection through binoculars.  This huge noble bird truly took my breath away, as I thought of our current patriotism and the power of this traditional symbol.

We moved toward the bridge, which seemed to almost vibrate with constant traffic.  As I looked around at the sparkling water, feeling the fresh morning breeze and my unique look at Amelia Island, I hated to have it end.

But it did end.  Kevin, fighting a stubborn tide tied up at the dock, and we parted company.  My magical morning ended.  Kevin and I said our good byes and I, indeed, entered the real world as I realized I had locked my keys in my car.


Dickie Anderson is a free-lance writer living on Amelia Island, Florida. Born in Seattle, Washington raised in Chicago and schooled in New York, Dickie ended up in Iowa City, Iowa where she was responsible for the marketing of the men's and women's athletic programs at the University of Iowa. She started her own marketing and consulting business and moved to Amelia Island. Following her dream to write she has finished her first book and is working on her second. Her quirky look at mid-life and living on a barrier island off Northern Florida resulted in her weekly column, From the Porch, for the Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville Florida's daily newspaper.  Learn more about Dickie and her upcoming book at http://www.dickieanderson.com . 

2002, Dickie Anderson, All Rights Reserved