Thursday, November 16, 2023


We have finally made it to Florida, our "home" state, and as I begin typing we are under way upbound (south) on the St. Johns River, headed for our "home" town, Green Cove Springs. It's been exactly one month since we finished at the shipyard in Mamaroneck, NY, and for that entire month when asked where we were headed we've simply answered "Florida," with no real plan beyond just getting here. We have arrived.

Our dinner view under way, sunset over St Simons.

The remainder of the offshore portion of our passage Friday was uneventful. We enjoyed dinner aboard right at sunset, and turned into the St. Simons entrance channel on the last of the flood. That put us in the sound in the dark, but it's a familiar harbor, well marked and deep, and we have several tracks. Due to forecast winds we turned up the Frederica River and anchored in a familiar spot behind Lanier Island (map). Several sailboats were already anchored, taking up the entirety of the marked Special Anchorage, so we set the hook just south of it.

Saturday morning we were up early to weigh anchor at high tide, and we made it through the shallows behind Jekyll Island without issue. As we entered St. Andrews Sound we soon found ourselves in steep 2-3 footers on the port beam, making us very thankful we had made our way back inside before the end of our window. Things got better after we made the right turn around the shoal and put the seas on our stern. We had a nice cruise all the way to Cumberland Island.

Passing USNS Black Powder, on their way to the submarine base, in Cumberland Sound.

Normally at this point we would continue down the ICW to Fernandina Beach, where we can either use our free night at the yacht club across the river, or anchor and dinghy into town, where there is enough interest for a pleasant stay of a few days. But we need high slack to enter the club, and the winds would make both the anchorage and any dinghy ride miserable. Thus it was that we decided instead to make a right at the St. Marys River and run the three miles upriver to the historic town of the same name.

There were perhaps a dozen or so boats on anchor in the river, quite a few of them full-time denizens. With a weird eddy mid-anchorage, we hunted around a bit for a suitable spot to drop the hook (map). Even here, with some protection from the north wind, the river was choppy, confirming our decision to avoid the much more exposed anchorage in Fernandina.

Offshore in the dark I discovered the compass light had burned out. I was able to fit an LED in its place, as the pins were nearly identical, and put the dropping resistor at the power connection.

This was our first time to St. Marys, Georgia in the boat, but we'd visited before. Our friends Vicky and Charles brought us here with their more local friends Brooks and Hazel back when we were still in the bus, for an evening of music at the legendary Seagles Saloon, where Charles and Brooks were performing. Our friends have since moved from the relatively close Jacksonville to the much more distant Live Oak.

This visit gave us a chance to see a bit more of the town. Saturday night we tendered ashore for dinner at the Riverside Cafe, which we knew would be closed Sunday and Monday, for excellent Greek fare with a number of nice beers on draft. And Sunday I tendered ashore stag during the day for a long walk around town. I stopped at the Park Service office for the Cumberland Island National Seashore to purchase my lifetime National Parks pass, and I walked down to the "market," really nothing more than a C-store, to find the only milk choices were 8oz or a full gallon. I don't understand why anyone is living full time in this anchorage with the nearest grocery store a 3.5 mile walk.

I identify more with "ram" than "senior."

I also stopped by the new city-run marina, spendy at $2.70 per foot. Until they construct a marina building, the amenities such as rest rooms, lounge, and laundry are available in an adjacent single-family home the city acquired, open only during business hours. We returned ashore for dinner at Locals Dockside, which we knew to be closed Monday, leaving Seagles for a possible third night in town. It was a mixed bag - my chicken parm was decent but Louise's burger was oily and the fries fishy, though they did have a selection of drafts.

Monday morning we studied the weather to decide if we could get out of Dodge. Other than a return visit to Seagles we'd seen the whole place, and I was eager to move along. The forecast was for three footers in Cumberland Sound, and we decided to poke our nose out and see for ourselves. It was a bit lumpy until we were past the inlet but then it was fine.

Vector at anchor in the St. Marys, from the city's new "Intracoastal Gateway Marina."

There was one spot left on the dock at Port Consolidated Fuel in Fernandina, and one of the boats already there told us they expected a fuel attendant to arrive within the hour. With the best diesel price on the whole east coast at $3.55 per gallon, we decided it was worth the ~3-hour wait for the attendant and the boats ahead of us to fuel, so we tied up. While we waited, we took on water and Louise ran a couple of loads of laundry.

The putative one-hour wait kept getting longer and longer, and after we had sat for a full three hours I finally reached someone who admitted the attendant would not be coming at all, due to issues elsewhere. Neither the fuel dock (gated from the outside, so no shore access) nor the nearby anchorage was going to be comfortable overnight, and in fact had been getting rougher throughout the day, and we dropped lines at 1:15 with just enough daylight to make the St. Johns, giving up on fueling.

You can get New Haven style "apizza" in St. Marys. No inside dining to speak of and no beer, so we skipped it.

One of the consequences of leaving Fernandina at 1:15, vs. when we arrived at 10am, was that we were running the ICW at low tide, in an area where numerous shallow spots require careful attention to the helm. I had the latest Army Corps of Engineers depth survey up on the screen, and numerous tracks for guidance, and we never had less than a foot under our keel. But the tug Engineer, pushing a crane barge, who had passed us while we were at the dock, did not have the same good information, and we watched him run aground no fewer than four times. We went around him in Nassau Sound, where he was sitting aground in the middle of a charted dredge cut through a shoal which has not existed for years.

We had to push against the current in the St Johns for the last three miles, but we had the hook down in a familiar spot between Blount and Little Marsh Islands (map) in the daylight. We found our friends on Tandem and Worknot, both of whom also passed us at the fuel dock, already anchored. We splashed the tender and braved the chop to go to Palms Fish Camp for dinner. We think of this as a fried seafood joint, but they have lots of other choices; I had the best and least expensive ($18) lobster roll in quite some time, and Louise enjoyed her shrimp tacos. They also have a nice selection of drafts.

Approaching Sisters Creek Bridge as the Carnival Elation makes her way down the St. Johns.

At Blount Island we were well positioned to run upriver with the tide Tuesday morning. We passed Metropolitan Park, a regular stop for us, as the docks there are closed for renovations, which don't really seem to be happening. Most of the park has been bulldozed, including the marine fire station. A new courtesy dock is available just to the east, at the Gatorbowl complex, for landing the tender.

We also passed a new set of courtesy docks along the south bank, just east of the Alsop bridge, which appear to be available on the same 72-hour basis as the other Jacksonville docks. We'd love to stop there, but reported depth is less than 6' on the outside dock, so we won't chance it until we can sound it in the tender. Instead we proceeded through the bridge to an old standby, Jacksonville Landing (map), where we were tied up before lunch.

Vector center-frame at the Landings docks, with the Alsop Bridge at right. This part of the waterfront is still under construction, and they've removed the pavilions that framed the docks.

That gave me the whole afternoon to tackle one of the most unpleasant of tasks aboard -- repairing the head. Our master head stopped flushing while we were in St. Marys; I'll spare you the details. We opted to just use the guest head until we were someplace where I could run out for parts if need be. I am fond of saying that, aboard a boat, two heads are better than one. Long story short, the discharge line has occluded over time; thankfully it was not a problem with the expensive and hard-to-source macerating pump.

I had budgeted the whole afternoon but finished in an hour, and I spent the afternoon walking around town to see what was new. Jax is slowly declining; the once-vibrant James Weldon Park is now just a hangout for shady characters, and the Skyway is falling further into disrepair. The Landings itself is still a large empty field where once a mall and event space stood. At least they have been doing a good job repairing and adding to the docks. In the evening we walked to Indochine for dinner.

Flat tire, with the tube visible behind the bead. The valve stem had ripped free of the tube. This wheel, with the electric motor inside, will need to come off to replace the tube.

Yesterday morning I deployed the e-bike, figuring to ride down to Metropolitan Park to have a look and also across the river to the new docks to check those out. I got about two blocks along the river walk before I realized my rear tire was flat. The hand pump was ineffective and I walked it back to the docks -- I need to replace the tube. That put the kibosh on our provisioning plan, which was to involve me cycling to a grocery store either here downtown, or at the next stop at the yacht club. It turns out we've come to rely on this little e-bike quite a bit.

The flat tire might have been something of a blessing, as the heavens opened shortly after I returned to the boat. Between the rain, and how choppy it was getting at the dock, and the inability to go anywhere, we decided to just drop lines and head upriver to the Florida Yacht Club, a one-hour cruise. We got tied up in the tail end of the heavy rain (map), and after settling in for a bit we took an Uber over to the Publix to provision. We had a nice dinner at the club, where we prefer the cozy and less formal atmosphere of the bar to the main dining room. The club is in the middle of major renovations to the marina and the pool area.

Holiday tree in front of the eponymous spring in Green Cove Springs.

We were glad they had room for us, but the new and more protected docks are not yet ready, so we were on an exposed dock where we had a pretty rough night. This morning we dropped lines before the wind could pin us to the dock for the rest of the day. That meant leaving with less than a foot of tidal help, and we had just six inches under keel leaving the dock. Fortunately the tide was just becoming favorable for continuing upriver.

Update: We are anchored in a familiar spot near the town docks in Green Cove Springs (map). It was just a three hour cruise, not nearly enough time to finish a blog post. The river here is pretty choppy, but  I decided to brave the very short tender ride ashore, where I wanted to get a library card and straighten out some billing with the Elks lodge. There is not enough waiting for us down at our mail box to make it worth the trek.

Vector as seen from the pavilion on the public dock in Green Cove Springs. I tried to shelter here during the worst of the downpour, which was thankfully short-lived.

I got through the chop but then got drenched by rain going ashore this afternoon. I got my library card and put a quilt in the mail for Louise, but the Elks will have to wait. If everything dries out we'll try to go back ashore together at dinner time.

1 comment:

  1. Since it's been a while since you last made a post, I hope you both are doing well.
    I follow you all the time, but rarely comment.
    Happy holidays!


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