Thursday, January 2, 2014

The oldest city

We are anchored in the Tolomato River, just east of Camatchie Island in Saint Augustine, Florida (map), the oldest city in the US.  We are just north of the Vilano Beach bridge, which crosses to the community of that name at the south end of the barrier island.

We anchored here because there is virtually no place closer to town where one can legally anchor.  The city of St. Augustine has "paved over" the nearby anchorages with city-owned mooring balls, and enforces an ordinance prohibiting anchoring within 100' of mooring fields, 50' of marine infrastructure, and a few other places, as part of a Florida state pilot program for mooring fields.  The legality of the anchoring restrictions is currently being challenged in federal court.  While essentially forcing cruisers to take their mooring balls, the city at the same time disclaims any liability for them, so if your mooring breaks free, you're on your own.

Vilano Beach happens to have a free dock, attached to the city pier, that is just a couple of blocks from a Publix supermarket and a couple of nice restaurants.  We could even tie Vector up at the free dock, but there is a four-hour limit there, so we decided to just splash the tender today and make two trips, one for groceries and one for dinner.  It's been raining all morning, so we are holding off for a break in the weather.

If the weather was nicer, we'd stay another couple of days and spend some time in St. Augustine proper ($10 fee to land the dinghy at the city dock, or we could drop the scooters at the dock in Vilano Beach).  But the weather will not be all that pleasant, and we've already spent quite a bit of time exploring St. Augustine on the scooters on various visits in Odyssey.  It's a nice town, but they've made it so difficult to visit by boat, that it's not worth it.  By contrast, Vilano Beach has gone out of their way to welcome our business, and we are happy to do our grocery shopping and have dinner there.

We had a nice cruise yesterday down the ICW, with a fair tide the whole way.  We had to leave Jacksonville Beach at 8am to have such conditions, and folks who know what a notorious cheapskate I am will know that it was difficult for me to unplug the cord from the power outlet that was, in theory, paid up till 3pm.  The 8am launch also had us both in bed before midnight, so we rang in the New Year on "boater's time" -- three time zones ahead, as "boater's midnight" is generally 9pm.

That put us here mid-ebb, and the current is wicked.  It is again mid-ebb as I am typing, and a good three knots is trying to rip the tender away from Vector -- we put an extra line on it just in case.  When we stopped the boat yesterday, the propeller continued to windmill in the current for another two hours. Once it stopped, near slack, static friction took over, and it has, thankfully, remained unspinning since.

Last night the Nordhavn First Forty, hull #1 of the popular Nordhavn 40 series, anchored just a few hundred feet upriver from us, so we were in good company here.  We're also just a few hundred yards from the entrance jetties to the Camachee Cove marina, and we just watched a 40 or 45' trawler make three attempts to get into their channel at mid-current before giving up and heading back upriver to wait for slack.

This is a great spot from which to head offshore via the St. Augustine inlet, and it would be a nice day's run down to the Ponce de Leone inlet near New Smyrna Beach.  But the inlet here requires calm conditions for us, and the forecast is not favorable for the foreseeable future.  Instead we will continue south along the ICW, which will also be more interesting, as we have not done this section.

In order to have favorable tides for this next leg, we will weigh anchor no later than 8am tomorrow, which should put us at the Bridge of Lions in downtown St. Augustine for the 8:30 opening.  The bridge does not have an 8am opening on weekdays, and the 7:30 opening would have us leaving mid-ebb in very heavy current.

The next anchorage south is near the Matanzas inlet across from Fort Matanzas, in uncharted depths.  That's just 20 miles or so from here, and if we have any trouble getting in there on a falling tide we will continue on to Palm Coast, where we'd have a choice of marinas.

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