Ballast Stones around the Beaches of Amelia Island are Well-Traveled Rocks!
Written by: Kacie Couch
Greetings from the coast of New England, readers! This week is the annual Couch family vacation week and we have traveled back to our homeland of New Hampshire (or as the locals say, “New HAMPsha”) where I have been revisiting my roots (and my old New England dialect). Everything is so different here; the trees, the grass, the animals, the sky, even the humans. But there is one familiar thing that keeps popping up everywhere I look: Rocks. Now I’m sure you’re thinking, “Rocks? What could be so familiar about rocks? There are no rocks in Florida!” And besides the occasional inland outcrop or clump of hard sand on the beach, that is extremely accurate. There aren’t many native rocks in Florida. However, there are many non-native rocks; especially on Amelia Island. And why is that? Well, they certainly didn’t wash up on shore. Almost every rock that you will find on our little island has traveled hundreds of miles by boat and was placed in the exact position they remain today. These rocks are some of the most historically fascinating and well-traveled objects in the entire world and they have found their home on Amelia Island for a reason.
As many of you know, Fernandina gained its fame as a port city. Before the time of motorized boats, sails dominated the sea and Fernandina was a premier spot to stop and do business due to the highly navigable inlet and easy access to the St. Mary’s river. Transactions between ships and merchants were made daily in 1800’s Amelia Island and transferring cargo was not so simple a process as it may seem. Boats were not nearly as technical as they are today; there was no radar, no electronic navigation system, no engine, and no ballast. What is ballast, you ask? Great question! Ballast is a sort of weight used to steady the hull of a boat and prevent tipping and capsizing in high seas. Today most boats use water ballast which allows water to be pumped into and out of the hull to create a density which allows maximum stability and buoyancy on the water with minimum speed penalty. Like I said before, things weren’t as scientific back in the day and therefore this wasn’t possible. Instead, they used ballast stones.
Ballast stones were rocks just large enough to make a difference and just small enough to be carried by a sailor and thrown overboard. Hundreds of these stones would be placed in the hull of the boat and voila! Sailors could safely navigate the seas without fear of capsizing due to an unsteady ship. When the boat would pull into port to obtain their cargo, these stones would be emptied from the hull and cast over the side of the ship to be left on shore before loading up with whatever shipment they were picking up. The next boat that came by to drop off their cargo would then fill their hull with the leftover stones from the ship before them and off they would sail.
Today, hundreds of old ballast stones litter the river side beaches of Amelia Island. These stones could be from anywhere; Virginia, New York, England, Spain, and some are most certainly from where I am today: New England. And so I have come full circle! I may not be as well traveled as some of these stones on our beaches but I’m certainly enjoying myself here among the mountains where some of them came from. Ballast stones are and can be seen on the waterfront during any of our tours so be sure to check out some of the most well-traveled rocks in the world on Amelia Island!
See you on the boat when I get back to paradise, everyone!