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Golden Isle retreat full of fun, surprises
Shirley says
Joe and Clay Davis frollick in the tide. - photo by Photo provided.

If there’s a place where "keep this a secret" comes to mind, it’s St. Catherines Island.

The undeveloped island, one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, is 50 miles south of Savannah. It is 10 miles long and between 1 to 3 miles wide. The island is owned and managed by the Georgia-based nonprofit organization, St. Catherines Island Foundation.

It’s been said Spanish explorers who came to Georgia’s coastal islands nearly 500 years ago searching for gold, labeled them "Golden." Although no gold was found there, more intrinsic treasures were – natural beauty, mild weather, lush forests and a serene ambiance.

More than half of St. Catherines 14,000 acres are tidal marsh and wetlands. It is also one of the most significant archaeological sites along North America’s Atlantic Coast. St. Catherines is one of the few coastal islands untouched by "progress."

It’s easy to see why this barrier island was a perfect place for pirates. St. Catherines has white sandy beaches lined with driftwood and filled with dense forest. It can be reached only by boat.

No single thing can be identified as the highlight of a St. Catherines venture. From the moment you leave the mainland until you return with a golden sunset kissing your face, every moment is exhilarating.

The short boat ride across glassy waters from the Kilkenny Fishing Camp to St. Catherines connects one’s spirit and soul with beautiful waters and blue sky. Once the boat reaches shore, one simply steps off into knee-deep salt water.

JayJay Hendrix has been going to St. Catherines for more than 20 years. It’s important for her to share the island experience with her children, as her dad, former Richmond Hill Judge Jerry Hendrix did with her.

JayJay and her husband Gabe pass on the legacy taught by Judge Hendrix to their children. "This Island is our little piece of paradise," she said.

Children love St. Catherines and will always carry special memories of the island. Instinctively, they "feel the love" of the island. Richmond Hill native Kevin Davis has been taking his three sons Josh, Joe and Clay to Ossabaw and St. Catherines islands since they were toddlers.

The Davis brothers literally grew up frolicking in the ocean with bottlenose dolphins. It’s almost as if the fun-loving dolphins are attracted to the children that come there. What causes children and dolphins to become playmates? Perhaps dolphin intelligence is really on par with a child’s…or maybe it’s that cute dolphin smile? Whatever the reason, the children and dolphins bond at St. Catherines.

Bobby and Laura Rahn often walk the beaches of St. Catherine’s. Last week they celebrated their wedding anniversary with a trip to the island, which has held them spellbound for decades. Reveling in the salt water and refreshing ocean breeze, Laura says, "People pay big bucks to come to a place like St. Catherines. Where else can you swim near a dozen beautiful dolphins?"

Mark Harrison, owner of Harrison’s Tire and Service Center in Richmond Hill, has been a regular at St. Catherines for years. He revealed, "I started going to the islands around 1980. First, it was Ossabaw, and then we started going to St. Catherines. What I love about that island is the friendly laid back attitude of everyone."

When Mark anchors his boat "Hawgamungus" on the island, he is easily spotted. The first thing he and his wife

Barbara do after setting up their beach canopy is unfurl and raise the U.S. flag. Fort Stewart soldier David Turner gave them the flag flown in combat missions in Iraq.

JayJay shared a poignant story about St. Catherines. One summer afternoon two large thunderstorms collided over the island unleashing incredible fury, with flashes of lightening everywhere. Along the beach, frightened people hunkered down under breaking umbrellas, beach towels and lowered shade tents.

As the storm raged, waves washed over the boats. Mark Harrison’s boat was taking a severe hammering. Water came over the stern and it began to sink. As soon as Mark realized what was happening, he ran into the storm to save the Hawgamungus.

As JayJay looked up and down the beach, it was like a scene from a horror movie. Friends and strangers left the safety of their makeshift shelters running through the ferocious storm to help their "neighbor" save his vessel. After she was sure her children were safe, JayJay grabbed a pail and began bailing water from the Hawgamungus.

Dozens of men tugged on the bowline and pushed on the stern. The Hawgamungus was saved! Victory over Mother Nature was especially sweet because they had all worked together.

The storm continued to rage…lasting nearly two hours. When the storm subsided, they were changed…in their hearts they knew they were better people. The invisible walls sometimes built by thinking "That’s none of my business" or "That’s not my problem" were shattered by the willingness to help others in need.

Mark Harrison, speaking as succinctly as his mother Elinor Harrison, summed it up: "Some people travel half-way around the world to have as much fun as we have right here. When you get to St. Catherines, you forget all the nonsense you put up with all week."

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