Sunday, April 18, 2021

The oldest city

We are underway northbound in the Atlantic Ocean, angling gently out to the 3nm limit en route to Jacksonville from St. Augustine. It's been raining since before we weighed anchor, and forecast is for rain at least till dark -- an excellent reason to be on passage. Visibility is hovering around three miles, and occasionally the weather radio alerts to warn us of fast-moving thunderstorms, generally south of us.

When last I posted I said the current had been against us, and our arrival was projected after 5pm, but after we passed Matanzas Inlet we got a push from the last of the flood, and we crested the hill at the tide change and rode the ebb all the way into St. Augustine. We were so early for the 4:30 opening at the Bridge of Lions that I had to station-keep for twenty minutes in front of the city marina. We would have just anchored for the night south of the bridge, but there was no room between the mooring field and the cable area.

Time travel is a regular occurrence in St. Augustine. I'm not sure if these actors are from the Castillo or one of the numerous other historic sites around town.

We instead dropped the hook off-channel just north of the bridge (map), rather than continuing to our more usual stop at Vilano Beach. We were hoping to have weather to go outside, which would make Vilano a short detour, and after our last visit there found a dearth of restaurants, I thought a stop in town would make a nice change. I was also hoping to run into an online acquaintance with whom I've been communicating lately; they tied up at the city marine shortly before we arrived, having also started from Daytona in the morning.

We got the hook down just before the skies opened up, so we had a nice dinner on board, with the lights of the town as our evening backdrop. It rained on and off all night and then through the whole morning, and I was beginning to think I would not make it ashore at all. But the skies cleared by noon, and Louise-the-weather-geek informed me that I might have until 3 or 4 to explore without getting wet. I tendered ashore to the municipal marina, where landing a dinghy is $12 plus tax for a day.

We saw numerous tour boats, including the pirate ship, each making many excursions throughout our stay, often in the rain ("no refunds due to weather"). This tiki boat passed us close aboard four or five times.

Just as I landed at the dock I spotted my acquaintance Bob and his wife Ann coming back from walking their dog, Hoolie. We exchanged greetings and I spent about five minutes chatting. Bob is the author of a guide to the ICW and he regularly publishes electronic routes depicting the best depth along the way. I am part of his on-line posse of depth and trouble-spot contributors. It was great finally meeting them in person.

After getting my dinghy pass and key cards for the boater amenities, I made a large circuit of downtown. We're very familiar with St. Augustine, but I was on a mission: scope out potential dinner spots with outdoor covered seating, in case the forecast improved, and pick one for take-out in case it did not. Considering the weather had been lousy and we are still in a deadly pandemic, I was surprised at how busy the place was; the streets were packed, and popular restaurants had waiting lines even at 2pm.

I did not take many photos around town; I seldom do in a place I've already posted about on the blog. But coming up on Flagler College evoked a flood of good memories of being here with dear friends Karen and Ben, who used this building as a backdrop for their craft.

As I strolled the waterfront between the Bridge of Lions and the Castillo de San Marcos, I learned that what we thought was just sailing school between Vector and the city bulkhead was actually racing, the start of Race Week events. An E-Z Up along the bulkhead had an announcer calling the races over a PA, and perhaps Race Week accounted for some of the crowds I encountered.

In my quest for covered patio dining, I crossed through the courtyard of the Hilton Bayfront, where I stumbled upon a monument I'd never seen before. Brick steps of the Monson Motel are preserved here, with plaques dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther Kind and the 16 rabbis who were arrested here in 1964, demonstrating for civil rights and against segregation. The Monson, its restaurant, and its pool, like much of downtown St Augustine, was whites-only. The steps and plaques are unremarkable, but the rabbis' story is moving.

What's left of the Monson Motel. Plaque at left commemorates Dr. King; at right, 16 rabbis.

By the time I was ready to come home, the forecast had changed, pushing the rain back past 6:30. We agreed to return ashore at 5 for an early dinner to beat the weather. By the time we were back on shore, the rain had moved back even further and it was a gorgeous evening. I had figured on the A1A Ale House, which has a covered deck, but it was so nice out that we strolled instead to Nonna's Trattoria and had pasta at a sidewalk table. This part of Aviles Street is a bit further from the crowds east of Cathedral Place.

While we were sitting there, two different wedding parties walked past in all their finery, on their way from their receptions to one of the numerous historic sites popular with wedding photographers. I had seen two other parties doing exactly the same thing earlier in the day. Apparently, St. Augustine is a popular wedding destination.

Vector at anchor in the Matanzas River, as seen from the Bridge of Lions.

As I wrap up typing, we are ten minutes from the St. Johns inlet. We had to detour a quarter mile to avoid some type of dredging or salvage operation offshore. It's still an hour upriver to the first anchorage, and I'll use some of that time to get the photos in. We're early enough, and we'll have enough tide with us, that we may well just run all the way to Jacksonville before dropping the hook.

Update: We blew right past our usual post-passage anchorage just upriver of the ICW, riding the flood into downtown. I expect we will find ourselves in our usual downtown anchorage when we drop the hook just under two hours from now. Even with the extra distance, we'll be set well ahead of cocktail hour.

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