VOYAGES — Unusual Vessels Navigate To Fernandina Beach

It’s been quite an unusual several months of extraordinary vessels visiting Fernandina since the pandemic emerged.

Rarities On The River At The Florida-Georgia Border

In Florida and around the world, all have been navigating through unprecedented times. It’s been over six months since the coronavirus entered our lives. However, there are some literally navigating in the traditional sense, on the water.

It’s been quite an unusual several months of extraordinary vessels visiting Fernandina Beach. Below are the three that stirred curiosity and drew people to the Fernandina riverfront to take a look.

Biggest Ship Ever Moored At Port Of Fernandina
Seven Seas Explorer Cruise Ship, Port of Fernandina
Seven Seas Explorer at Port of Fernandina

Symbolic of the world’s woes, an international cruise ship showed up at the Port of Fernandina. In this popular tourist town, the Regent Seven Seas Explorer became a sight-seeing attraction itself. Representing an industry completely shut down by the coronavirus, Fernandina’s visitor was one of hundreds of cruise ships around the globe devoid of passengers, waiting out the pandemic.

A cruise ship of such size is far from normal here. But as we all know, these are not normal times. The Seven Seas Explorer was at the Port of Fernandina for nearly three months.

Port of Fernandina, Regent Seven Seas Explorer Cruise Ship, Front Street. Photo by
Regent Seven Seas Explorer (Front Street, Port of Fernandina)

According to the Port of Fernandina, the Seven Seas Explorer was the biggest ship ever to be moored here. At 735 feet long with 10 decks, able to hold 750 passengers and 552 crew, the cruise ship was a remarkable presence downtown (seen above from Fernandina’s Front Street).

It’s one of five ships in the Regent fleet owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings. The Seven Seas Explorer is an all-balcony, all-suite luxury ship. While here in Fernandina, it had a reduced number of crew aboard, restricted from setting foot ashore.

J.H.P. Merrow House At Port of Fernandina. Photo by
J.H.P. Merrow House Circa 1888, Port of Fernandina

A juxtaposition of the past and present, the historic Merrow House, circa 1888, sits at the Port of Fernandina. Imagine the riverfront activity it has seen during the past 132 years (“if these walls could talk”). Standing in front, seeing this Victorian-era home and behind it, the huge, modern Seven Seas Explorer seemed odd. The amenities and technological advances of this cruise ship were unfathomable back in the 1880s — just think of the navigation system alone.

The former home of Josiah Merrow, he had been a Union soldier during the Civil War.  He got into the lumber business and built this house at the Port of Fernandina. This lumberman could watch schooners and barges navigating in and out of the river for a long distance from the home’s third story tower. Imagine what Mr. Merrow would have thought, were he able to gaze into the future from his window in 1888, to see the Seven Seas Explorer out his back door.

Where does the Regent Seven Seas Explorer normally sail? It navigates around various continents like Australia, Asia, and Africa, plus lots of stops while traveling around the Mediterranean. Fernandina was far, far away from this ship’s regular routes.

Bon Voyage!

After nearly three months at the Port of Fernandina, the ship departed on a 10-day voyage, navigating to Gilbralter (near Spain).

While tourism in general has taken a major hit from the pandemic, the Florida cruise industry has been clobbered. According to the Florida Ports Council, the Sunshine State is home to the top three cruise ports in the world — Miami, Port Canaveral, and Port Everglades.

No Sail Order

The CDC just extended its no sail order through October 31st. “This order continues to suspend passenger operations on cruise ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 passengers in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction,” stated a CDC news release (9-30-2020). By October’s end, the cruise industry will have suffered a seven month shut down in the American market.

Consider the scale of economic impact the cruise industry has in the U.S.A., according to the Cruise Lines International Association:

“Cruise activity in the United States supports 421,000 American jobs and generates $53 billion annually in economic activity throughout the country. The impact of the suspension is particularly profound in states that depend heavily on cruise tourism, including Florida.”

SOURCE: Cruise Lines International Association

Biggest Heavy Lift Vessel in U.S.A.

Massive Golden Arches, VB 10,000

After the arrival of the Seven Seas Explorer, the VB 10,000, an engineering marvel, also made a voyage to Fernandina Beach. The answer to removing a massive shipwreck, it’s the biggest heavy lift vessel in the U.S.A., according to its owner, Versabar.

The strange looking golden arches were first spotted on the horizon, out in the Atlantic Ocean when it passed by the beaches of Amelia Island. Then its gigantic size was truly realized when the VB 10,000 moored at the Port of Fernandina. It towered above the Seven Seas Explorer, making the cruise ship look small. At 25-stories-tall, the VB 10,000, a special type of crane, is more than three times taller than any building on Amelia Island.

The VB 10,000 will be navigating a bit north after peak hurricane season passes. Its job will be to cut up and remove a 25,000-ton ship, the Golden Ray. A huge 656-foot long car carrier, the Golden Ray capsized in the St. Simons Sound, GA over a year ago with 4,200 vehicles on board.

The VB 10,000 first arrived at Fernandina’s port in early July 2020, so it’s been here nearly three months. See related article with videos of the Golden Ray shipwreck, an aerial view and an animation showing how the VB 10,000 will cut it up.

Bella Vita, 248-Foot, $96 Million Yacht

The other unusual voyager to show up in Fernandina spent about a month docked at the city’s downtown marina. The Bella Vita is a mega yacht unlike any ever seen here in memory, worth more than $96 million. See related article and video about the Bella Vita, a 248-foot luxurious yacht.

LA VITA E BELLA means “life is beautiful.”  It certainly would be cruising in the freedom of the seas and rivers on such a super yacht.

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By The Editor

Observations of island life, news & opinion by W.B. Lawson. Wendy has enjoyed the laid-back Amelia Island lifestyle since 1993. Her professional background began at a newspaper in NY. She then worked in PR/Investor Relations at Fortune 500 company, and later became a managing editor at an equity research publishing firm. She was Series 7 licensed while with Merrill Lynch Private Client Group.