While Rick, a diesel mechanic whose boat was across the dock from ours, worked on the boat for a few hours on Saturday the 15th, I walked a couple blocks past the old Fort Foundation Park to a fantastic farmer’s market. A steel-drum band played Caribbean music as I made my purchases; brown eggs, pineapple, fresh squeezed orange juice, blueberries, soap, rice, green onions and more.
After Rick removed a filter and re-plumbed the fuel system, Jim and I walked to a nearby marine store and hauled back 10.1 gallons of diesel fuel, and added it to the starboard tank. The boat always draws fuel from that tank, and takes nothing from the port tank. All systems were a ‘go’, so we prepped for departing New Smyrna Beach the following morning. We had happy hour aboard a custom built boat named ‘Escargot’, with owners Royce and Carol. They are a friendly couple and seasoned boaters with many interesting stories.
We shoved off Sunday morning about 9:00 after a hearty breakfast. Jim filled the water tanks. We fueled up at the nearby marine facility via tanker truck. We were nervous after all of our prior fuel issues, and we had a long cruise. Our destination of St. Augustine was 70 miles up the ICW.
Sunshine and warm temps were in store, although the wind made it a little less than ideal. We cruised past the Ponce Inlet spotting the lighthouse in the distance, past Daytona Beach, and by the canals in Palm Coast where we had purchased the boat. Finally, new territory to cover! We pulled into the St. Augustine Municipal Marina mooring field, and got connected to ball #32. We made it without mishap, with only a small amount of water in the Racor filter. Such a relief!
Overnight it poured, the rain pounding loudly above our berth on the bow. The wind roared and the lines attached to the mooring ball creaked to the rise and fall of the waves. On St. Patrick’s Day morning we donned our green, and braved the weather. We dinghied into the St. Augustine city dock, and roamed around the mostly deserted streets in the intermittent downpours. We walked the pedestrian-only St. George Street and stopped in the Mill Top Tavern for a beer and an Irish Coffee.
From there we took in the Castillo de San Marcos, a National Park fortress complete with moat and 12 foot thick stone walls. The only place really hoppin’ was the Irish Bar. That night we watched a movie back at the boat after another wet and bouncy dinghy ride. After sunset the wind died completely – eerily calm, and a couple dolphins surfaced next to the boat. The beacon from the St. Augustine lighthouse could be seen blinking in the distance, along with flashes of lightning.
We had another noisy rocky night during the storm with little sleep. The next morning we took the water shuttle into the city dock. The weather had improved a little, and we took the trolley tour of the city, learning much about its history. We passed over the highest elevation in town, a whopping 27 inches! My favorite point of interest was the old Ponce de Leon Hotel, now a dormitory at Flagler College. The ornate Spanish architecture was unlike anything I’d ever seen.
Another highlight was Magnolia Street, lined with live oaks adorned with hanging Spanish moss. St. Augustine would be a real shopping treat if money were no object. Although very touristy, the shops were unique and upscale. The city claims to be the oldest in Florida, but is really the oldest continually inhabited city in the U.S. Pensacola was actually founded earlier.
We departed St. Augustine Wed. morning the 19th. It was cold, in the low 50’s, but not as gray and no rain. We made our way up the ICW to our destination of Jacksonville Beach to a marina there. The tidal currents are becoming more noticeable as we head north, slowing us down or speeding us along, depending on whether the tide is going up or down.
We pulled into Beach Marine, following behind Tony and Sharon aboard ‘Summer Recess’, retired teachers from Michigan who are also doing the loop in a Mainship (albeit much newer and bigger than ours). We showered up and hit the tiki bar at Beach Marine for happy hour and a good live band. Then back to the boat for the arrival of the Nina and Pinta, the Columbus boat replicas. We last saw them in our home port of Lake City, MN in July. We met a nice family aboard ‘The Red Jacket’, from Nova Scotia, and a woman from White Bear Lake, MN who did the Great Loop aboard the Nina.
In the morning we shoved off again with help from our neighbors, and headed north, then took a side trip up the St. John’s River to Jacksonville, the largest city in Florida. The river was wide with a strong current, and ships lined the western shore. This is one of the few rivers that flows north. In downtown Jacksonville we got a free slip at Metropolitan Park docks, and paid $8.56 for electricity. The weather was warm and sunny, with a slight breeze, and we had the place virtually to ourselves.
The next day, another fair weather boating day with blue skies overhead and temps in the low 80’s, we ventured further south up the St. John’s, past Green Cove Springs. The surroundings became more rural after we left the skyscrapers of Jacksonville behind. The banks were green with many trees, and reminded us a little of the St. Croix and a little of the Tennessee, although the terrain was much flatter. We anchored out in a little cove along the eastern shore, and took our dinghy up Six Mile Creek to the Outback Crab Shack, in business since 1898.
There we had our best meal yet; grilled steak, shrimp, scallops, grouper, with crab cakes, corn on the cob, and boiled veggies. Yummy! We had enough left-overs for a couple more meals which we relished the next day. We raised our glasses and toasted my Dad, whom I’m sure went there when he was in the Navy during WWII. I can see why he loved this area along the St. John’s River.
Our anchorage was blissful, calm and peaceful. I would love to come back to the St. John’s and venture further up-river, as it is so beautiful. But the next morning we pulled up the muddy hook, and headed back to the free dock in Jacksonville. Again, it was in the low 80’s with low wind and sunny skies. ‘Summer Recess’ was in one of the slips, and Tony helped us get docked in the strong current. We walked to Jacksonville Landing, and listened to a free band, then hopped aboard the water taxi which took us back to Metropolitan Park. We enjoyed ‘docktails’ and Tony and Sharon’s company in their fly-bridge aboard ‘Summer Recess’.
We shoved off about 10:00 the following morning, again with a little help from our friends. This time the current was in our favor, pushing us along at 9 knots going only 1700 rpm’s. Along the way we passed a ship in the channel, and three tugs heading to help get it into port. We turned left to head north up the ICW. It was very narrow, and wound its way through the marshes. Many locals were out enjoying the beautiful Sunday weather.
Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island was our destination, about a 40 mile trip. We made it in about 5 hours, and took a mooring ball at the Fernandina Harbor Marina. Lo and behold, the Nina and Pinta were tied up to the long outside dock, with many people taking the $5 tour aboard their decks. We decided to explore this most northern Florida town a little, as the weather was supposed to turn foul once again. We dinghied in, and walked around the quaint village with its many shops and old Victorian homes. This town reminded us both a bit of Red Wing or Stillwater back home.
Today the weather indeed turned foul, but we took the dinghy in to the marina, loaded down with 4 loads of dirty laundry. We will spend another day here to do a few minor repairs and cleaning. The waves and wind are blowing and bouncing us around, and currently the generator is running so we can get a little heat to warm up the cabin.
I’m already thinking ahead to our next jaunt when we will be saying farewell to Florida and venturing into Georgia, and wondering what lay in store for us there. Until next time…