Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Not the one in the Bahamas, unfortunately, but rather, Nassau County, Florida, where we are anchored in the Amelia River just northwest of the town of Fernandina Beach (map).  While I dithered at the end of my last post, in the calm light of morning yesterday we decided to go back outside while the weather was favorable, and make the relatively short hop to the next inlet north, the St. Marys River.  We decided the 30 miles round trip to Jacksonville was best left to a time when we were ready and able to go further and cruise the St. Johns River south from there, and the inside route north past Sisters Creek was rife with shoaling trouble spots and would only save us a mile or two.

We thus had a very pleasant cruise in the Atlantic, after riding the ebb out the St. Johns, which put us at the St. Marys inlet in time to get a push from the flood.  At one point I looked at the display and we were doing nearly eight knots, despite turning only 1500 rpm.  We were under way a total of five hours.

The oceanside campground at Fort Clinch.

The St. Marys is the dividing line between Florida and Georgia, and today will be our last full day in the state.  Coming in, we had Fort Clinch State Park on our port side, where we could clearly see the campground where we stayed on our first visit here, in Odyssey, nearly a decade ago, and the well-maintained fort itself as we rounded the corner into the Amelia.  The southwestern corner of the park is just across the river from us, as is a nice new Nassau  County public boat ramp, where I've availed myself of the restrooms and trash receptacles (getting the trash off the boat when spending several nights at anchor can be a real challenge).

The fort itself.

I had hoped to be spending part of today on Cumberland Island, a national park just across the St. Marys, but it was just not to be on this pass.  We splashed the tender yesterday afternoon and braved the chop on the river to visit the touristy little downtown of Fernandina Beach, and just walking around town, Louise, who is considered a delicacy in the insect community, was bitten four or five times.  We did have an excellent dinner at Pablo's Mexican Restaurant, and the nice folks at Fernandina Harbor Marina waived their customary $3 fee for landing our dinghy there.  The historic downtown was pleasant, but too much of a tourist trap for our tastes.

Aside from tourism, which presumably comes mostly from high-end condo rentals on the beachfront side of Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach is predominantly a mill town, with the prominent feature here being an enormous pulp mill for megalithic container corporation Rock-Tenn.  Having spent many months in Washington and Oregon around paper mills, we're used to it, but many of the negative comments on this anchorage and the dockage in town concern the smell when the wind blows in that direction.  Fortunately, we've been mostly upwind of the plant since we arrived.  On the plus side, the mill keeps the channel dredged to 50' or so.

Around the corner from here is the small town of St. Marys, Georgia.  Someday we may run upriver and make a stop there, but we've seen the town already, as we have friends who sometimes play music in a club/bar/restaurant there.  Other friends, with a boat similar to ours, have warned us that the marina facilities are inadequate.  In any case, on this pass we are pressing northward instead.

Anchored, as we are, once again at the intersection of the ICW and a major river entrance, we have two choices for that northward progression.  Deceptively, the ICW appears wide and deep, the result of continual dredging of the Cumberland River to support the nearby Kings Bay Submarine Base, home to the Atlantic fleet of ballistic missile submarines, some of the largest in the world.  But Kings Bay is only a few miles from here, and after that the ICW returns to its more usual meandering self, with boat-eating shoals at nearly every turn.  With a 6'-7' tidal swing here, we can certainly do this stretch with careful timing, but that requires meticulous planning and constant vigilance at the helm.  We've done that kind of running before, and it makes for very tiring days interspersed with forced downtime to accommodate the tide.

We are opting instead to again take advantage of very favorable weather on the ocean, and tomorrow morning we will leave on the ebb to arrive at Wassaw Sound, one of the gateways to the Savannah area, on the flood at nearly high tide.  Wassaw has a fairly challenging bar that must be crossed; the megayachts that come in to Thunderbolt Marine just upriver are mandated to have a pilot boat lead them across.  We know the pilot, and I spoke to him today; he allowed we should have no problem with our draft at that tide and current, and gave me some detail on the uncharted markers.

It will be late afternoon when we arrive, and, just as we did here, we will drop the hook in the first usable anchorage.  Afterwards we will move to one of the several marinas in the area for a night or two to visit friends.  We are making good progress, and are on track to be in Long Island Sound in August, which is our goal for this cruise.

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