From their dock on Amelia Island, Windward Sailing's US Coast Guard captains float out into the Cumberland Sound, where dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles swim alongside the boat's speeding hull. As these tours progress, the captain turns passengers' attention to the wild horses that gallop across the banks of Cumberland Island.
Though these tours introduce customers to the thrill of sailing, it's Windward Sailing's school that transforms the sport into a lifelong passion. In classrooms and on boats, instructors teach students to cruise local waters and prepare them for American Sailing Association exams. Depending on the course, instructors might teach fledgling captains to sail in light to moderate winds or navigate using nothing but constellations and the giant map NASA inscribed on the moon.
Captain Kevin and Cecilia McCarthy have always been fond of the sea. Born and raised in the port town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, Kevin sojourned south in 1968 before meeting his wife Cecilia, whose family had arrived on the marshy shores of Fernandina nine generations ago. After Kevin worked as a building contractor for nearly 30 years, he and Cecilia opted to embrace their shared love for being on the water, and founded Amelia River Cruises in the summer of 2000. Twelve years later, their fleet is three U.S. Coast Guard–inspected boats strong, and each cruises steadily along myriad tours of Cumberland Island, Beach Creek, and the shores of Amelia Island. History buffs rejoice in narrated jaunts down the Intracoastal Waterway that lead to the Kingsley Plantation—whose 1797 establishment makes it the oldest surviving plantation house in Florida—before traveling to the historic Fort Caroline National Memorial, one of the first permanent settlements in North America. Two-hour eco tours journey through state parks and aquatic preserves, where hands-on shrimping experiences let guests identify their captured creatures before asking them the current exchange rate of a sand dollar and releasing them back into the wild. The local and surrounding ecosystem, with diverse wildlife that appears most prominently during the summer months, boasts playful pods of dolphins, an abundance of shore birds, and sea turtles who visit to nest on nearby island shores.
With help from a staff of paddleboarders, surfers, environmental scientists, and a dog named Dillon, Kayak Amelia founders Jody and Ray Hetchka combine their love for outdoor sports with environmental conservation. Ray, a certified naturalist and self-described tree hugger, peppers guided kayak, bicycle, and paddleboard eco tours with facts on flora, fauna, and all the best smells circulating throughout the island's delicate ecosystem. In addition to guided tours, Kayak Amelia teaches paddleboard and kayak lessons, and leads fishing trips and overnight kayak excursions. Guests can sign up for tours, or rent equipment for the day, at Kayak Amelia's storefront, Y.B. Green's General Store, which carries eco-friendly gifts such as beeswax candles, carved bone necklaces, and clay-dyed clothing.
The wind picks up over the St. Johns River, catching the sails of Cap'n Don Stokes's fleet of boats and propelling the vessels along the coastline, where sailing instructors point out ospreys perched in the trees as the sea stretches into the distance.
This natural revelry is thanks to The Sailboat Club, whose crew frees members from the responsibilities of boat ownership—such as maintenance, insurance, and renting slips—and grants unlimited sailing on a fleet of sailboats. Additionally, as an accredited training facility of the American Sailing Association, the club encompasses a team of instructors who teach lessons for all levels of sailors, ranging from those who just noticed wind to experienced sailors seeking a captain's license.
Carved from 1,000 acres of native forests and surrounding wetlands, the spectacular par 72 course at Queen’s Harbour enchants sportsmen and nature lovers alike with fairways flanked by intercoastal waterways. Pairs of golfers putt, chip, and drive their way through 7,017 yards of scenic playing grounds designed by pro-player, acclaimed architect, and stunning polo-shirt model Mark McCumber, as Southern breezes sweep through Spanish moss on century-old oak trees. Masterfully avoid stepping on cracks that break mothers' backs by rolling over them (mothers, that is) in the included golf cart before stepping into the clubhouse postgame to relax amid airy verandas overlooking the picturesque freshwater marina. Designed to provide a challenge to players of varying skill levels, Queen’s Harbour welcomes guests to spoil their walk on a course that has hosted such prestigious tournaments as the PGA Tour Qualifier and the Mercedes Collegiate Championships. Grab today’s Groupon to spend a leisurely day with a like-minded link lover, or share it with a stranger with a remarkably similar appreciation for fresh air.
Set sail on the St. John’s River for a night of fine food and scenic sunset river views. You’ll board in downtown Jacksonville at 6:30 p.m. on your chosen evening, and settle into the luxury liner’s digs before the ship departs around 7 p.m. Amuse your bouche with butler-passed appetizers before conquering the full prime-rib dinner buffet, complete with decadent dessert offerings. The friendly and courteous on-ship staff will be on hand throughout the evening to refill your wine glass and ensure your cruise is the picture of river-boating elegance.