Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The St. John's River - Jacksonville to Sanford Boat Works

It was another cloudy, cool day on Wednesday, November 5th, as we walked over to Jim & Sherel's boat, "Sandpiper." After visiting for a while they took us to a nearby Publix to restock a few basic groceries and then we made plans to get together later that evening for dinner at the Jacksonville Landing food court.

Shortly after we returned from shopping we were visited by Lee aboard "Green Heron." We had seen "Green Heron" in the mooring field at Fernandina Beach and saw it again, heading upstream on the St. John's, as we were walking over to "Sandpiper" to meet Jim & Sherel. Come to find out, Lee is good friends with Wayne, a friend of ours who we originally met at the Demopolis Yacht Basin in the fall of 2006. Lee had been talking to Wayne and Wayne told him to keep an eye out for us, so when Lee saw "Life's2Short" docked at Jacksonville Landing, he came over to introduce himself and talk boating for a while. Yet another example of what a small world it is on the water!

The weather finally cleared up on Thursday so we took a bus across the river and went to Jacksonville's Museum of Science & History (MOSH) and the Maritime Museum. We also spent some time strolling along the riverfront before walking back across the Main Street bridge to the Landing where we had an early dinner of happy hour appetizers at the Twisted Martini.

The view of Jacksonville Landing from the south side of the St. John's River with the Main Street Bridge on the right.

The Museum of Science & History.

The Jacksonville Maritime Museum.

This riverfront statue pays tribute to Jacksonville's historical ties to shipbuilding and sailors.

This fountain is made of an authentic ship propeller. Interesting idea!

Another view of the Landing as we walked back across the Main Street Bridge.

Friday was another beautiful, sunny day and we decided to leave the Landing early that afternoon. A few hours later we were anchored in Old Bull Bay near the Mandarin Holiday Marina. However, the holding was virtually non-existent in the soupy mud so we got out the Danforth hoping it would do a better job than the CQR. I'm not sure the Danforth did much more than the CQR, but fortunately it was a calm afternoon and evening with no wind and the weight of the chain rode held us in place.

The next afternoon we dinghied past the marina, under the 15-foot bridge and up the left fork of Julington Creek to Clark's Fish Camp for a late lunch,. Clark's is a very cool place with an extensive menu including all sorts of wild game and unusual meats such as snake, gator eggs, gator tail, eel, turtle, ostrich, kangaroo, quail, rabbit, frog legs, buffalo, venison, and antelope, plus a mouth-watering array of seafood entrees, platters, baskets, etc., and the biggest slab of prime rib we've ever seen!

Clark's is quite the funky joint - and it's huge inside!

There are several displays like this throughout the restaurant.

Anyone care for prime rib? Believe it or not, this is the "ladies" cut!

We started with the fried onion & jalapeno loaf and had to rethink our plan to order the stuffed flounder, finally deciding on two more appetizers - prime rib stuffed mushrooms and coconut shrimp - and we still had leftovers to take back to the boat! We really enjoyed our visit to Clark's and highly recommend it to anyone travelling in the vicinity of Jacksonville, whether by boat or by car. You can check out their web site at

On Sunday we went about an hour to Green Cove Springs Municipal Dock only to find that it has been condemned and no one is allowed to dock there. So we untied and went another hour to anchor in Palmo Cove. The holding was just as bad as our previous anchorage but it was a calm, sunny day near 70 degrees and, once again, the weight of the chain kept us in place.

We took off in the dinghy the next day to explore the two creeks branching off Palmo Cove, Trout Creek and Sixmile Creek. A short distance up Trout Creek past a 14-foot bridge we found Pacetti's Marina, Campground & Fishing Resort. The marina is small but there is a nice little country store with a well-stocked book exchange and on-site laundry facilities. After leaving the store we continued up Trout Creek a few more miles before turning around and heading for Sixmile Creek.

 A few sights from Trout Creek.

A short distance up Sixmile Creek we found the Outback Crab Shack with its 1000-foot floating dock, and if you eat there you are allowed free overnight dockage. From what we were told, the dock is well-used and boats are often rafted three to five deep, which is hard to imagine considering how much dock space there is! The menu was not nearly as impressive as Clark's Fish Camp and we decided not to eat there, but were told by some other cruisers who docked there overnight that the food was quite good.

On Tuesday we travelled about 15 miles to a protected anchorage in Deep Creek where the holding was lousy again, even though it was rated as a "4" (excellent) in our cruise guide. By this time we had pretty much accepted that the holding on the St. John's just isn't good! Todd tried a little fishing in the area but didn't have any luck. We had early morning light rain on Wednesday and light rain showers off and on all day, which made for a very quiet day on the water.

We motored another 12.5 miles on Thursday to tie up at the Quality Inn Riverfront Piers ($35.95 per night) in Palatka. We had an unremarkable lunch in an old railroad dining car called Angie's Diner, which is touted as Florida's oldest diner, and then spent a few hours walking around town. We found that the town docks are closed for repairs and the nearby Boathouse Marina was fenced off with a locked gate. Todd had called the marina the previous day and was quoted $1.00 per foot, per night for transient dockage, even though the on-site brochure priced transient dockage at $25 per night. At any rate, we were not impressed with Palatka, although the town docks (with the only pump-out station in the area) should be pretty nice once the repairs are completed.

We covered another 8 miles on Friday to anchor in Murphy Creek where we were happy to find some semblance of holding when we dropped the anchor, although the Captain didn't want to push our luck by backing down on it too hard! That evening at 7:55 p.m. we sat on the bow watching the southeast sky hoping to spot the glow from the shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral and were disappointed that we weren't able to see anything.

After two days of temperatures in the mid-80's, a cold front moved through Saturday afternoon bringing some light rain and wind with it and cooling the temperatures down into the upper 30's overnight. But we were still able to catch an alligator sunning on a nearby log that afternoon, and after hearing from another boater that there was a "monster" sunning on a log around the corner, the Captain took off in the dinghy in search of it. Unfortunately, he either didn't see it or it had already been spooked enough to abandon its log for the safety of the water.

On Sunday, November 16th, we went another 12 miles to tie up at the public dock in Welaka. The dock is very nice but the slips are only about 20 feet deep so it was rather interesting pulling in there with "Life's2Short." I told the Captain he was crazy to even attempt it but we finally got situated and walked a short distance up the hill to Cafe Bleuu where the owners told us that 48-hour dockage was allowed.

The Public Tie Up at Welaka Landing with Cafe Bleuu in the background.

Cafe Bleuu had a very limited lunch menu but their dinner specials sounded wonderful, so we walked the remaining three blocks into town and ended up eating lunch at Shrimp R Us & More, the only restaurant in sight! Todd ordered the pork tenderloin sandwich and I had the fried fish sandwich and both were so massive and so good that we stuffed ourselves and had to forego dinner at Cafe Bleuu, which was unfortunate since they were closed on Monday.

The temperatures were in the 30's again overnight but Monday was sunny and in the mid-60's by the afternoon so we took a dinghy trip up the nearby Oklawaha River, locally referred to as the Jurrasic Park of the St. John's, where we found hundreds of ibis, egrets, and herons and dozens of turtles and alligators sunning on logs along the bank.

Scenes from the Oklawaha River.

What an ugly mug!

Can you find the alligator in this picture?

Smile, you're on Candid Camera!

This was a big dude!

Looks pretty content, doesn't he?

When we returned from our dinghy exploration we walked back in to town to go to the Welaka Maritime Museum, only to find that it was closed until Wednesday. So we stopped in for a couple of drinks at the local watering hole, the Log Cabin Bar, before returning to "Life's2Short" where the Captain spent some time fishing off the dock with a couple of locals.

While fishing the previous day, Todd had hooked a rod and reel that we were told had been lost by one of the locals who fishes there often. After reclaiming his rod and reel late Monday afternoon, that same local laid it on the dock with a line in the water and a fish promptly jerked it off the dock and back into the water! Todd tried to find it for him again but his retrieval efforts were unsuccesful the second time around.

The forecast on Tuesday called for northwest winds gusting up to 30 mph with a hard freeze warning overnight, so the Captain decided we would spend the night at Georgetown Marina ($40 per night), about 10 miles south of Welaka. We had planned to stop there to pump out our holding tanks anyway and having discovered how poor the holding is on the St. John's, we didn't want to be anchored out in that kind of weather. The marina was nicely protected from the northwest wind so the Captain did some exterior cleaning on the boat while I caught up on our laundry.

On Wednesday we covered 13 miles, travelling through Lake George to anchor at Morrison Island for the evening. About two-thirds of the way through Lake George we dropped the anchor and took a little side trip in the dinghy to Silver Glen Springs. The color of the water on the St. John's is similar to the iced tea-colored water we saw on the Waccamaw, but as we made our way toward Silver Glen Springs the water became consistently clearer and was crystal clear by the time we reached the springs.

What a majestic bird the bald eagle is!

There are lots of different types of herons along the St. John's River and its tributaries.

The turtle and the Anhinga are both enjoying the sun's warmth.

We had freeze warnings overnight again but the daytime temperatures climbed into the mid-60's and we motored another 16 miles on Thursday to anchor in River Forest Loop. We then took the dinghy through a nearby canal and explored part of the Zeigler Dead River, which was mostly wooded swamp and the terrain was not conducive to sunning alligators.

The Captain couldn't resist taking a picture of this Florida Gator Orange MG sitting on a pontoon base in a dock slip. Now that's what you call a true Gator "motor"-boating fan!

This is one of the few alligators we saw along the way, but it's a big one!

The wind was forecast to pick up again early in the day on Friday, so we decided to spend a couple of nights at the Hontoon Island State Park dock, about 5 miles south of our Morrison Island anchorage. The park charges $13.50 per night, including power and water, and is available on a first come, first serve basis. In contrast, Hontoon Landing Marina, directly across the river from the state park dock, quoted $100 per night for a boat our size!

The T-docks at the end of each finger pier are perfect for larger boats.

Saturday was even breezier than Friday so we didn't venture far from the boat. The Captain took advantage of the dockside water, though, and spent a couple of hours scrubbing the starboard side of the boat from the rub rail to the water line. We went another 10 miles on Sunday, dropped the anchor at Emanuel Bend and then took the dinghy several miles up the scenic Wekiva River. It was sunny and near 70 degrees but we only saw a few alligators taking advantage of the sunshine.

We travelled the final two hours on Monday through Lake Monroe to Sanford Boat Works, our winter home on the water, where we have a nice spot on the north side of the fuel dock. The Captain got industrious on Tuesday and spent a good part of the day cleaning various areas of the boat, something we will continue to work on over the next few months, while I tackled three weeks of blog notes.

Todd's sister, Jennifer, who lives about 20 minutes south of Sanford called and invited us to dinner last night. She picked us up and then let us bring her truck back to the marina after dinner. We will also be joining her and her family and some friends for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday before making a trip to Cathy's in St. Petersburg where we will spend the weekend. Boating friends Robin & Warren, former owners of "Pepi," will be at Cathy's until Saturday and Steve & Lisa, who live north of Tampa, are also scheduled for a visit over the weekend, so we are looking forward to a great time catching up with our good friends.

After that we are scheduled to fly to Missouri on December 8th and will stay through Christmas. We then plan to road trip back to Florida in our "new" throw-away car, courtesy of my dad and my brother Dewayne, and hope to see friends along the way in Demopolis, AL and Crystal River, FL before going back to Cathy's in St. Petersburg for her second annual New Year's Eve bash. So, even though "Life's2Short" will be docked for the next few months, we will still be "on the go" into early 2009!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Off the Beaten Path and On to Florida

On Thursday, October 23rd, we left our anchorage at Queen Bess Creek around 9:30 a.m. and travelled the remaining three hours to Bob & Stephanie's home. They live about one hour off the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway up the North Newport River and, as promised, were there when we arrived to catch a line and help us get tied up to their wonderful dock, complete with power and water!

As you cruise this part of the world, sea gulls sometimes gather off the stern to eat small fish and shrimp that get stirred up in our wake. The Captain also feeds them stale crackers and then wonders why he gets so much poop on the boat - go figure!

"September Song" and "Life's2Short" share Bob & Stephanie's dock. Thanks again for letting us tie up for a few days!

Our original plan was to arrive late Thursday afternoon, but it was already very windy and, at Stephanie's recommendation, we decided to motivate earlier so we could get through St. Catherine's Sound before the winds reached gale force, as was predicted for later in the day. After a lazy and relaxing afternoon on the boat, Bob & Stephanie took us to the nearby Sunbury Crab Company for a casual, laid-back dinner.

On Friday we borrowed Bob's truck and drove to Hinesville, GA, about 20 miles away, to make a Wal-Mart run. It was a very nasty windy and rainy day and we both got wetter than we wanted to hauling our purchases to the boat - especially the Captain who did most of the hauling!  That evening Bob & Stephanie invited us to their house for an excellent steak dinner as it continued to blow and pour rain outside.

Late Saturday morning I did a couple of loads of laundry at Bob & Stephanie's and then we untied "Life's2Short" from the dock and followed "September Song" to Blackbeard Island where we were anchored by 6:30 p.m. The trip through Blackbeard Creek to the anchorage took about an hour after we left Sapelo Sound. The creek is narrow and winding and can only be accessed within a few hours of high tide, at least for boats like ours, but we were anchored just across the sand dunes from the Atlantic beach - a rare treat!

The entrance to Blackbeard Creek.

A bald eagle perches on a gravel bar in Blackbeard Creek.

As you can tell from the two shots below, it is a narrow and winding path to our anchorage.

We had a beautiful sunset our first night at the Blackbeard anchorage.

Bob & Stephanie joined us aboard "Life's2Short" that evening for homemade seafood gumbo and cornbread. The gumbo was given to us by the owner of the Demopolis Yacht Basin who makes a huge batch each fall for his annual gumbo-feed. At any rate, Bob & Stephanie seemed to really enjoy it and we were happy to share with them!

Late Sunday morning we went for a two-hour walk on the beach and found several nice shells - lettered olives as well as sand dollars, starfish, sea urchins, moon snails, whelks and clams. It was a very nice day, sunny and near 70 degrees with very little wind and we had miles and miles of beach all to ourselves. That evening we joined Bob & Stephanie on "September Song" for another nice dinner and introduced them to Catch Phrase, one of our favorite games.

Sunrise over the dunes that separate us from the Atlantic Ocean.

Just beyond the 20-foot sand dunes lies the beach, the subject of our morning exploration.

Stephanie, Bob, Brenda and our four-legged friends Cassie and Godiva (Bob & Stephanie's girls).

The view toward Cabretta Inlet.

We had a wonderful time with Bob & Stephanie and were sad to see them leave Monday morning, but the weather was forecast to turn nasty again with gale force winds out of the northwest by afternoon and they, understandably, wanted to get home before it got any worse. We are very grateful to Bob & Stephanie for inviting us to their home and allowing us to stay on their dock, use their vehicle and laundry facilities and for sharing this exceptional anchorage with us. What wonderful people, generous hosts and great new friends! You can check out their blog at

After Bob & Stephanie left, we also decided to pull anchor and ended up tying up to a nice floating dock we had passed on the way in that is part of the Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. There are a couple of houses on the land, but apparently no one lives there this time of the year so we had the place all to ourselves.

What a great place to spend a few chilly days!

By noon it had gotten quite windy so we stayed pretty close to the boat all day. Todd did some fishing off the dock and caught a small flounder and three sea trout. Since it was forecast to be in the mid-30's overnight we made use of the 110-volt outlet we found at the dock and ran an extension cord to the boat so we could at least plug in a space heater.

It has been a while since we had some of the Captain's fresh-caught seafood!

Tuesday was still windy and in the mid-50's, but it was sunny and the wind was from the northwest, so we headed east on Blackbeard Island and followed the trail about three-quarters of a mile to the beach. We then followed the beach north two miles where we intersected with another trail that eventually took us back to the dock. We were both worn out by the time we made it back to "Life's2Short," three hours and more than five miles later!

Beautiful scenery on our way to the beach.

This area of the beach on Blackbeard Island is called the bone yard. Can you figure out why?

Tom Hanks had "Wilson," the Captain found "Mitre!"

Wednesday was sunny and near 60 and somewhat less windy, but other than Todd doing a little fishing off the dock we basically just relaxed on the boat. We decided to move back to the anchorage Thursday morning and found that it was still very windy. Todd took the dinghy to shore for a brief visit and said there was blowing sand on the beach. He also did some more fishing in the area and caught a redfish to add to the flounder and sea trout. Way to go, Captain!

It was not as cold Friday morning, probably in the mid-40's, but the wind just wouldn't give us a break so we decided to try an anchorage in the Duplin River about 20 miles south. Bob & Stephanie had told us about a community of Gullah that lives near the river and we were hoping to pay them a visit. For those who are not familiar with the term, "Gullah" are African descendents who live in the Low Country (coastal) region of South Carolina and Georgia and have their own language (creole) and culture. Unfortunately, the north wind was whistling down the Duplin River so we gave up on that idea and went a few miles further south to anchor in Back River for the evening. We were still somewhat exposed to the north wind but not nearly as bad as in the Duplin River.

Saturday was a warm (60's) sunny day with more north wind, which caused it to be rather rough in St. Andrew Sound. We covered 45 miles in about six hours and were anchored by 4:00 p.m. in Brickhill River. On Sunday we crossed the Georgia-Florida state line and took a mooring ball ($15/night) at Fernandina Beach. The north wind was still nasty and showed no signs of letting up. We dinghied to shore about 3:30 Sunday afternoon and spent a few hours walking around town before settling on a Spanish/Portuguese restaurant called Espana for dinner. We had a couple of appetizers and shared an entree, thoroughly enjoying everything we tried. The food and service were both wonderful!

Some of the sights in Fernandina Beach, a wonderful stop if you get the chance!

Didn't we see this V.W. van in Puerto Rico this past February?

We had planned to continue south on Monday but we woke up to a dismal, gray and even windier morning and decided to stay on the mooring ball another day. Besides, the Captain was really jonesing for shrimp and grits and the restaurant that a couple of people recommended was closed Sunday evening so we thought we would make another trip into town Monday evening to satisfy the Captain's craving. Unfortunately, the weather was so nasty we elected to stay on the boat and forego the trip to town.

Tuesday we were up and underway early with a stop at Florida Petroleum to top off with $2.91 per gallon diesel fuel. By 8:00 a.m. we were on our way south to Jacksonville, and five hours later we were tied to the dock at Jacksonville Landing where we spent a quiet afternoon and evening.

Our nighttime view of Jacksonville Landing.

Today is Wednesday, November 5th, and the weather is still cloudy, though not as gloomy as it has been. And we don't have the coastal winds to deal with here which is a huge bonus! Jim & Sherel aboard "Sandpiper" are docked nearby and have offered to give us a ride to the grocery store this afternoon to do a little reprovisioning. We met Jim & Sherel this past May in the Exumas and they have been docked in Jacksonville since returning from the Abacos this summer.

We will probably leave Jacksonville on Friday or Saturday and continue upstream on the St. John's River toward Sanford where we plan to winter at Sanford Boat Works. Much of the St. John's is remote so our next blog update will most likely be from Sanford, depending on the strength of our Internet signal along the way. But we are looking forward to having "Life's2Short" in fresh water again!