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Georgia-Florida ferry service refloats
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ST. MARYS — Two neighboring cities on either side of the Georgia-Florida line are looking for a tourism boost now that a ferryboat is shuttling passengers between them for the first time in nearly a century.

The Cumberland Sound Ferry Service opened several weeks ago, offering tourists round trips three days a week between St. Marys in Georgia's southeastern corner and Fernandina Beach, Fla., less than 8 miles away.

Janet Brinko, director of the St. Marys Convention and Visitors Bureau, said both cities already notice a difference.

"We're already seeing more foot traffic in St. Marys and Fernandina Beach," Brinko said. "Business has increased at downtown shops and restaurants."

A passenger steamer called The Hildegarde was the last passenger ferry to travel the Cumberland Sound between the cities. It made its final trip in 1916.

Amelia River Cruises and Charters, which launched the new ferry service in late August, has a family connection of sorts to the passenger cruises of the early 20th century. Co-owner Kevin McCarthy's wife had a great-granduncle, Walton Goodbread, who was captain of The Hildegarde.

"A little less than a hundred years later, we're going back into the family business," McCarthy said.

The ferry runs Thursday through Saturday and can carry 49 passengers. McCarthy said he's seeking permission from the Coast Guard to increase the limit by 50 additional people. Round-trip tickets cost $15.

Chugging along at 11 mph, the ferry makes the trip between the cities in about 45 minutes to an hour — just a little longer than it takes to drive the meandering 29-mile highway route between them.

McCarthy says passengers get a narrated tour during the trip, which passes federally-protected Cumberland Island and dolphins playing in the coastal waters.

"The boat ride is going to be the biggest part of the experience," McCarthy said. "These two little towns are mirror images of each other. There are great shops, great restaurants and great museums. You can do the two towns in one day."

Fernandina Beach resident Jackie Wilking was among the first passengers to take the ferry trip and said she'll likely use it again for quick jaunts to St. Marys rather than go by car.

"It certainly will be more enjoyable," Wilking said, "and less gas."

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