Photographing the Stricken Golden Ray along the Beautiful Georgia Coast
When my good friend, Ed, called me up out of the blue on Tuesday morning, I knew I was in for an adventure. On our last photo excursion, we enjoyed being eaten alive by gnats, nearly being swallowed by a waterspout, and being deluged by a pop-up thunderstorm. Yet, when Ed asked if I’d like to photograph the Golden Ray, which had capsized in the mouth of Saint Simons Sound a few days earlier, I couldn’t refuse. Thankfully, this adventure was far less eventful, though every bit as interesting as our last excursion.
Our first glimpse of the stricken Golden Ray came as we approached the majestic Sidney Lanier Bridge. Still some five miles away, the ship’s red underbelly – the length of two football fields – was cleanly visible on the horizon. As we crossed from Brunswick to St Simons Island, we were treated to fleeting glimpses of the ship, looming larger and larger as we approached. The seaside island was noticeably busy for a Tuesday morning, with people from far and wide arriving to get a glimpse of the marooned ship. From this vantage point, you can clearly see the whole top of the ship, resting in about 15-20 feet of water less than a thousand yards away. Though the port is closed until further notice, smaller craft like shrimp boats and yachts frequently slipped by the ship, and its busy entourage of small boats tending to the cleanup and stabilization of the Golden Ray flitted around the ship non-stop.
Unfortunately, even with rescue operations complete, this area is a drone no fly zone due to the proximity to the St Simons Airport. As such, the only opportunity to view the ship from an elevated view was to climb the 127 steps to the top of Saint Simons Light. A beautiful view at any time, this unique incident allowed for a site unlike I’d ever seen before.
After a perfect marsh-side lunch in Brunswick, Ed and I headed to Jekyll Island to see the bottom side of the ship. The fishing pier on the north side of the island provides another great vantage point, this time at a distance of about a mile away. From here you can see the ship’s large center screw, its tiny rudder, and a whole lot of red paint! Thankfully, just south of the pier, the airspace restriction change, allowing drone pilots to climb to a maximum of 100 feet with LAANC clearance – roughly the same height as the lighthouse on St Simons – providing a different angle to give a bit more context and sense of place to the image.
All in all, we spent the better part of the day on Georgia’s Golden Isles, photographing this bit of news. But, if you don’t haven’t got a whole day to spare, below is a minute-long video with some of our favorite videos and stills from the day.
And if you’re curious about exactly what happened, the short answer is, it’s too soon to say. We heard all sorts of theories and statements of not-so-factual facts from many we encountered, as we all attempted to Sherlock Holmes our way to a clear and comforting answer. My best guess, with the information I have seen and heard, is that there was something wrong with the ship as early as its departure from the dock, which was causing a list to port. There was also a fire onboard, discovered sometime after departure, perhaps linked to the list. When the ship rounded Jekyll Island – a sharp 90-degree turn – it capsized. during rescue operations, the ship was pushed onto a sandy shoal to stabilize the vessel and prevent it from sinking. I have heard estimates of weeks to years to remove the ship. Time will tell.
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