After 1200 miles and 50 days, we are finally in Florida…and we finally run aground.
Day 51 – 52, December 4 – 5
Our stop in Amelia Island – our first in Florida – was one of convenience. We would have loved to stay and visit in Fernandina but with the Fernandina Harbor Marina closed that wasn’t an option. Thus we limited our visit to one night at the less-than-exciting Amelia Island Marina and pressed south into Florida.
We planned a short day for our first full day in Florida waters. After the day before’s long 107-mile run outside along the Georgia coast we were OK with keeping the day easy. It gave us time in the morning to organize shipment of our new Stidd flybridge seat to St. Augustine, and to re-route our shipment of Richard Alan Coffee (our preferred roast from Rhode Island) from the Charleston Harbor Marina (where it arrived after we had already left). These administrative tasks can be challenging while traveling constantly with no itinerary. Sometimes it is nice to pause and let everything catch up.
We weren’t sad to leave our spot at Amelia Island. The marina had been a letdown, although we had met some new Canadian friends through their misfortune with their power cord being “removed” from their boat, and arriving back after a week-long absence to dead batteries and spoiled refrigerated provisions. So inexcusable.
It was a beautiful day and we were happy to be on the move and enjoying the relative warmth of Florida. It was brisk but the sunshine was delightful. We wandered along Kingsley Creek to the South Amelia River, paying close attention to waterway alerts for shoaling, picking our way around the shallows at the bends. We encountered numerous other boats while crossing the Nassau River into Nassau Cut and Sisters Creek and had to negotiate several passes in shallow, tight quarters.
The scenery was vaguely familiar to us as well passed along the western side of the Talbot Island and Little Talbot Island. The Florida State Parks there are lovely: we had visited by Airstream on previous trips south. This is remote Florida and offers transition between Georgia lowcountry to the north, and Florida civilization in the form of Jacksonville and St. Augustine to the south.
The fun was just beginning as we passed out of Sisters Creek and crossed the Saint John’s River which runs from the Atlantic up to Jacksonville. We stayed on the waterway route, cutting across the strong current in the river and into Mount Pleasant Creek.
The main channel markers at the entrance to the creek were great. And then everything fell apart. Nothing matched the chart. There were floaties and day markers across the river in varying colors with no rhyme or rhythm. There were two sailboats that appeared to be anchored in heavy current in the middle of the channel. Suddenly Law & Order was like a National Lampoon movie. I pulled the throttle back to neutral. And we ground to a gentle but firm halt. In the mud.
We were in what appeared to be the middle of the channel, with a green day-marker properly to port. The two sailboats also seemed to be anchored in the channel, but on closer inspection were, like us, hard aground in mud. The tide was almost dead-low. As we sat there trying to figure out where we were supposed to be, we saw, beyond the grounded sailboats, two tiny red floaties tucked up under a large sea wall to the north. They had been hidden by the grounded sailboats, but we wouldn’t have known to look for them anyway since they weren’t on the charts at all.
Long story short. All three of us broke free of the mud after five or so minutes. One of the sailboats steamed off at full-throttle, tail between it’s legs, back into the deep water of the Saint John’s River. We followed the other sailboat up to the sea wall near the little red floaties where we found a completely uncharted deep channel, and passed through the creek without further incident. Sheeshe. This is a pretty major intersection. I’m sort of astonished it is so poorly marked and completely uncharted.
The fun wasn’t over yet. We approached the Atlantic Beach Twin Bridges, which are noted for strong current. We were ready, but were still surprised as we approached the bridge fenders when the current against us spiked from about two knots to almost six knots. We were fine as we had plenty of power, but we went through the fenders at almost 10 knots through the water. Sailboats could get into big trouble here. As it was, we had to ignore the “slow no wake” signs on the bridge. At 10 knots we are throwing a pretty big wave.
We motored the rest of the short distance to the Palm Cove Marina at Jacksonville Beach. This was another convenience stop. Bruce was trying to catch up with a childhood buddy who lives in Jacksonville and we thought this would be the easiest place to meet without going all the way up the river into Jacksonville. As it turned out we would meet him in St. Augustine so this was a superfluous stop, but it worked out anyway.
It was a gorgeous day. After we got settled in our slip (the dock staff couldn’t figure it out — again, second night in a row – but a manager stepped in and sorted things out) we walked around the LARGE dry-stack facility with the dogs. Welcome to Florida boating. There was a small swimming pool (too cold for that!) but otherwise we were on a busy strip mall road. Our slip neighbors were friendly and the facility was clean and nice. The marina had just installed a solar system on the roof which would power the entire marina — slips and all. Wow.
We risked our lives crossing the busy road to the Publix just a half mile away, then tried to settle in to enjoy the lovely sunny, cool, dry late afternoon on the flybridge. Unfortunately the marina had a small dredge barge running that was VERY NOISY so we gave up after a brief effort. The on-site restaurant, Marker 32, was excellent and we had a good dinner at the bar. Two thumbs up.
The next morning we had another short trip, this time to the popular historic town of St. Augustine. It was a beautiful ride down Pablo Creek and the Tolomato River. Crisp, clear, chilly and blustery. Beautiful homes and substantial docks and tiki huts lined the narrow waterway, then gave way to a beautiful remote marshland with plentiful bird life, fish and porpoises.
The water was generally deep enough not to worry about. It was a pleasant ride, and just 26 miles. We saw almost no other boats, with the exception of an American Cruise lines small cruise ship moseying along at about six knots, enjoying the scenery, and two meant-for-business looking border patrol boats just hang’n, with some serious horsepower off their transoms. Rumor has it they run up to 60 knots.
We had to make a final mad dash to get to the scheduled opening of the Ponce de Leon “Bridge of Lions” bridge at St. Augustine, but we made it, and then slipped effortlessly into our assigned spot at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina. This reportedly can be challenging because the current sometimes runs very strong, but we were lucky.
We had also heard that the marina had been crowded and that it was often difficult to get a reservation. Our observation was that while it might be difficult for larger boats (45-feet and over) to find a spot, there was plenty of space for anything under 40-feet.
We settled in and prepared for several days of exploring, socializing and boat projects.