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Canoeing & Kayaking

Jekyll Island, near Brunswick Georgia, USA

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Copyright 2001 Alfonso Vazquez-Cuervo - See Terms of Use

Our Route Summary

  • Submitted by: Don Thornhill,
  • Date Submitted: 3/2001
  • Location: Near Brunswick and St. Simons Island, Georgia, USA
  • Class: Ocean and intracoastal paddle subject to winds, waves, and strong tidal currents
  • Distance Paddled: about 16 miles round trip
  • Water Level: tidal
  • Water: salt
  • Wildlife: pelicans, cormorants, dolphins
  • Special Regulations:

Entry and Exit

  • Directions: Exit Interstate 95 onto Route 82 east and continue about 8 miles to Jekyll Island. On Jekyll Island, follow the signs to North Beach.
  • Fee: none
  • Description: beach
  • Facilities:
  • Handicap Access:

What We Saw

Ten a.m. Monday April 10, 2000 on the beach at the north end of Jekyll Island. I prepare my Kayak for launch on the rising tide which is supported by a slight southeast breeze.There’s not a cloud in the sky as my wife, Ann, watches me push my kayak (The Egret ) into the breakers. A split second later I find myself on all fours in two feet of surf and my kayak full of sea water. A small wave has caused The Egret to broach and turn over just as I attempt to launch. After the hilarity of the aborted launch, Ann helps me drain the water from the boat and steady it as I get in and paddle past the incoming waves. At last! I am on my way in my quest to circumnavigate Georgia’s “Smiling Island”.

Jekyll Island is one of only four barrier islands on the Georgia coast that can reached by a causeway. It is owned by the State of Georgia, and is operated as a state park and with limitations on its development ( 28% by law ) the 7 mile long by 1.5 mile wide island preserves its natural qualities while offering a full range of recreational activities. In 1993, after years of vacationing here with our family, Ann and I purchased a retirement home located on property leased from the state of Georgia.

With a couple of years of sea kayaking experience, I have developed enough paddling skill, despite my launch attempt, to feel fairly comfortable with this adventure.

Reaching a point 200 yards off of the beach, I point “The Egret” due South and begin to paddle into the oncoming three foot waves. Doubts of sanity spring into my mind as I pull on the paddle pushing the nose of the kayak through the sea. Why would a fairly educated, retired, 64 year old man want to do this? The reason becomes apparent as I inhale the sea breeze, fell the salt spray and warm sun on my face, and observe the beautiful coastline of my beloved island.

Paddling south along the ocean side, my eyes are filled with a different view of familiar landmarks.The island’s resort hotels, homes, bath houses, teed golf ball water towers, and convention center are half hidden by wind swept live oaks and sand dunes crowned with wild sea oats . The beach is fairly busy with people walking, riding bikes, sun bathing, and a few brave tourist swimming in the cool spring surf.

Approaching the south end of the island near the State 4-H Camp I am joined by a pair of dolphins that accompany me for several minutes. As I round the south end of the island (see photo above), reaching the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and St. Andrew Sound, the waves become short and choppy and the tidal current pulls me north along the St. Andrew beach picnic area. After stopping for a quick stretch on the beach (see photo at right), I continue northward on the in-coming tide through Jekyll Sound and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Passing shrimp boats, sailing vessels of all sizes, and power boats ranging from luxurious yachts to skiffs keep me alert for waves created by their wakes. All kinds of water fowl fly overhead and wade on the shoreline near the marshes while brown pelicans perched elegantly on a channel marker silently watch me glide by. I fell at home, having paddled these waters many times, as I make my way toward the public boat ramp for my planned lunch stop and wait for the turning of the tide.

Time and tide waits for no man and right on cue at 12:42 p.m. the rising tide slacks and starts to ebb. I execute a perfect dry launch and continue to paddle north. Approaching the Jekyll Harbor Marina with the Jekyll bridge towering in the background I am presented with a breath taking view of the marshes on my left and western shoreline of the island on my right. As I pass under the Jekyll causeway bridge, I look to the northwest across the marshes and my eyes pick up the distant sky line of the city of Brunswick highlighted by the new cable-type Sidney Lanier Bridge, which is still under construction, and dwarfs the soon to be replaced old draw bridge.

My mind begins to wander into historic thoughts of Jekyll Island’s past as I paddled past the “Millionaires’ Village” (see photo at top). From the Quale Indians of the pre-Colombian Era to the days that America’s wealthiest tycoons vacationed here, the island has played a vital part in the history of our nation. In the late 1800s, a group of America’s richest families purchased Jekyll Island and established the exclusive Jekyll Club. The club members constructed mansion like “cottages” and an elegant club house on a 200 acre site on the river side of the island and a golf course on the beach side. When the club members gathered on the island they represented one-six of the of the entire U.S. economy. Several historic “secret meetings” effecting the nations economy and history were held here during the millionaires ownership. In 1947, with their interest turning toward the French Riviera, the younger generation of millionaires sold the island to the state of Georgia, lock stock and barrel, for the sum of $ 675,000. Today the “ Millionaires’ Village” is a National Historic District open to the public for tours.The voice of a tour guide amplified over the water through his speaker system returns me to the present and reminds me that the “Smiling Island” of today is for everyone’s enjoyment.

As I slip past the island’s airport ( elevation 12 feet ), the waterway narrows to a couple hundred yards and I am in the middle of the famous Marshes of Glynn. The tidal current picks up speed due to the narrow passage and shortly it squirts The Egret and me into St. Simons Sound. With a hard turn to starboard, I head due east and straight for the pier at the north end of the island.

After taking a short stretch break at the pier, I round the north end of the island with Driftwood Beach on my right and St. Simons Island across the straits on my left. St. Simons Lighthouse (see photo at right) sparkles in the sunlight and the contorted driftwood against a jungle - like background on the beach makes me fantasize that I am about to land on a deserted island in the South Pacific.

The end of my journey is in sight and once again I am paddling south on the Atlantic side of the island. Arriving at the exact spot where I had launched six hours earlier, I catch a wave and ride it until The Egret grounds on the beach. With a feeling of pride , accomplishment, and contentment, I load The Egret on top of the van and head home.

As one goes through life, there are only a few very special days that remains in one’s memory. On April 10, 2000 I had one of those days when I paddled my kayak around Jekyll Island, Georgia.