A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Tybee Island History and Roll and Surf Session

November 3, 2016
Emilie Phillips

Tybee Island has several museums and cultural attractions. After our long day Wednesday, we decided to kayak half the day and tourist the other half.

Line of crushed shells in the sand
Line of crushed shells in the sand

At the south end of the island is the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. At the north end is the Tybee Lighthouse and fort turned museum. I wanted to climb the lighthouse and it was within walking distance of our condo, so we headed there first. Isaac and I were so excited to see the lighthouse that we left the condo 45 minutes early. Since the lighthouse wasn’t open yet, we walked past it out to the beach. The town was filling the main beach parking lot with two story tall mounds of tree debris from hurricane Mathew. A crew with an enormous chipper shredder had already started work for the morning. Out on the beach, Isaac drew more smiley faces in the sand. My dad found a swing to nap on. And my mother and I watched the dolphins frolicking in the waves. The beach had few shells compared to Little Tybee Island the day before. After a while, we all strolled north along the beach, watching the dolphins as they swam south. We passed many closed public access boardwalks before we found an open one.

First lighthouse keeper's house.
First lighthouse keeper’s house.

By the time we returned to the lighthouse, there were two bus loads of middle school students touring the grounds. We visited the first light keeper’s house while the students climbed the tower. The preservationists used old photos to restore the house to its 1920’s state. My dad was struck by how much it looked like his aunt’s attic.

Tybee light
Tybee light

The original tower, built in 1736, was an unlit day mark. That washed out. Several more iterations were built and fell apart over the years. Initially, the day mark was the only structure on the island. When Georgia rebuilt it in 1773 with a light, they also built keepers quarters. At it’s highest fuel consumption, it required three keepers to lug all the fuel up the tower. Each lighthouse keeper had their own house and family. In 1887 the Central of Georgia Railroad built a line out to Tybee and ushered in an era of tourism. The light was a marker for the entrance to the Savanah river. Ships would line up a smaller day marker off shore with the lighthouse. The smaller structure survived until the 1980s or 1990s when a freighter crashed into it. I assume they didn’t replace it because all large boats had Loran navigation. It appears the Savanah river approach procedure remained the same. From the top, we saw cargo ships lining up straight for the lighthouse.

Chipper-shredder didn't make much progress.
Chipper-shredder didn’t make much progress.

Back on the ground, we walked over to the Fort Screven museum. I’m not much for military history, so Isaac and I jaunted through it relatively quickly. There was one room with all the ridiculous swimming dresses women used to wear. And, I guess at one point there was an amusement park on the island. They had bits of rides on display. From the top of the fort, we looked down onto the parking lot filled with tree debris. The chipper shredder had stopped, and people were poking at it with wrenches and flashlights. All of us were hungry, so we sat down at the restaurant next to the fort which should have had an ocean view. Instead we watched trucks full of tree rubbish arriving and departing and inspectors on a scissor lift going up and down.

After lunch, we walked back to the condo and everyone took a nap.

We didn’t get out kayaking until late afternoon. This time I had done some research and found a boat ramp with no sand! The internet suggests the parking runs out early on summer weekends. However, this first week of November there was plenty of parking. Also, the town hastily patched the ramp up after hurricane Mathew and it is not currently suitable for motor boats. We paddled down Tybee Creek to near the end of the sand bars for roll practice. Dad learned the butterfly roll. I discovered I haven’t practiced my reverse sweeps enough and I’m dreadful at them. Isaac paddled Grandma’s boat some more. Then we went out around the corner of the sand bar to play in waves. The waves were mild, but Tyson, Isaac, and I still surfed some nice long rides. The sunlight was turning orange as we paddled back up the creek. I let Isaac ride on the back of my boat for some last giggles.


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