Cockspur Island lighthouse is just a short paddle away

January 4, 2011 

At 46 feet, the Cockspur Island Lighthouse might not be the tallest lighthouse on the East Coast, but if you are sitting in a kayak, bobbing in the swell of an outgoing tide at the mouth of the Savannah River, it appears to reach to the sky.

If you have ever visited Tybee Island in Georgia, you have seen this small nautical beacon from yesteryear. The whitewashed brick tower stands on an oyster shell and mud islet between the two main channels at the mouth of the Savannah River, where for generations it guided mariners from around the world into the state's largest port city.

Now part of Fort Pulaski National Monument, the lighthouse was built in 1848 and stood as a mute witness to the horrendous battle that took place at the fort during the Civil War. The light was miraculously unharmed and continued to serve until 1909. It was relit in 2007 as part of a historic preservation effort. Cockspur Island Light is now maintained by the park service, and it is open to the public.

Well, open to any of the public who can actually get to the light.

Cockspur Island Lighthouse is about an hour's drive south of Bluffton and it is visible for miles around, including from U.S. 80 and Fort Pulaski. A short hiking trail brings foot travelers to within 200 yards of the light, but a tide-swollen channel and acres of sharp, muddy oyster shells bars the way.

On a recent crisp fall Saturday several friends and I made a kayak journey to Cockspur Island Lighthouse and ended up having an incredible adventure. We met in early morning and put our kayaks in at the public landing on Lazaretto Creek. We were in for a day of fun.

The Trip: Taking kayaks or a small boat from the landing on Lazaretto Creek a little over a mile of water separates you from your destination. In the morning hours of fall marsh hens cackle and terns screech as you paddle into the foggy morning light. As you pass under the U.S. 80 bridge, you will be presented with an incredible panorama. From the cannon-battered structure of Fort Pulaski on your left to the tall, stately Tybee Island lighthouse to seaward the beauty of our coast is revealed. Cockspur Island light is open to the public and, depending on the tide, the landing can be tricky. At mid- to high-tide the paddler emerges from his kayak onto slippery steps, but the climb to the top of the light is easy and you will be rewarded by the view.

A log book for guests is at the top and down below a large pod of dolphins often play in the waters surrounding the light. After a short crossing to Cockspur Island proper you can enjoy a fun tour of Fort Pulaski that can include cannon and musket demonstrations and more history on the lighthouse.

Getting There: For an enjoyable, moderately easy trip, a kayaking expedition to Cockspur Island Lighthouse is a must. There are several local outfitters who will be happy to arrange a trip for you, but the light can be reached by kayak or boat from the public landing on Lazaretto Creek on U.S. 80 at Tybee Island. The light is visible from shore, though not accessible from the fort. There is no entry fee and the lighthouse is open year-round.

Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to www.Flickr.com and search on the username "greenkayak73." He can be reached at greenkayak73@yahoo.com.

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