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St Johns River Cruise

Jerri and Paul Ives

February 2012

 
Hi Folks,

Blue Hen of Lewes and her crew have cruised up the ICW from Vero Beach to Jacksonville (2 1/2 days), through the port and city, then out into the beautiful St Johns River. We headed back south which is actually "up" the northerly flowing river. We arrived at the Florida Yacht Club about Saturday noon and joined our Oxford, Md. friends, Tom and Tricia Bliss in their new Selene 48, a real yacht. The folks at FYC were most hospitable, the fleet captain even drove us out to Publix and a West Marine Store to pick up a few necessities. We enjoyed cocktails onboard Highlander followed by a delicious dinner at the club joined by Bliss's crew, Gugy Irving, Past Commodore of Tred Avon Yacht Club. It was a crystal clear night, we stood on the dock and looked at the brightly lit skyline of Jacksonville, a beautiful sight.

We enjoyed a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast and late departure before running about 12 miles south to Doctors Lake Marina where we joined the rest of the boats to begin the Tred Avon Yacht Club Winter St Johns River Cruise. The cruise was organized by TAYC Fleet Captain Sandy King and her husband Clacky aboard Crusero. There are seven boats and nineteen people in the fleet including two 41 foot rental house boats with two couples aboard each. A bit of visiting along the dock, then out to Whitey's Fish Camp, a real old Florida bar and grill, where we all enjoyed fresh fish and shrimp while we watched the Super Bowl on large TV screens. We passed up the alligator tail filets that were also on the menu.

Monday, a lot of activity making final preparations for departure. We enjoy a cup of coffee aboard Highlander while I help Tom figure out the sophisticated hydraulic system aboard his boat. 1100 away from the dock for the six mile run up the river to Black Creek. Except for a few docks and cabins at the entrance, we ran about a mile up the creek surrounded on both sides by heavily wooded marshes with no sign of human habitation. We anchored in a little bend in the river, launched the dinghy and exploredthe shoreline. The creek is very deep, 45 feet in some places, light brown fresh water, and sandy bottom. Our afternoon reverie was rudely interrupted when one of the house boats began dragging anchor right down on us. The problem was further complicated when they discovered their engine would not start. With much pushing and shoving and large fenders, we were able to bring them alongside us with no damage or even scratched paint. We discovered the new Volvo engine, just installed, was frozen and would not turn over. We got underway and towed them to a better anchorage where we stayed alongside and visited while help arrived from Doctors Lake. Rick Savage, one of the men aboard, turned out to be an old Ocean City clammer and waterman, he knew just about everybody we knew in Maryland and Delaware. When he mentioned a particularly good friend, Steve Lyshon, he almost fell overboard when I said, "that's his sister Jerri right there". Small world!

In due time, Monte from the charter company arrived in his boat, we discovered water in the cylinders causing a hydrostatic lock. We dropped off and Monte towed them to Green Cove Springs nearby to await a new exhaust manifold. The remaining six boats enjoyed cocktails aboard River Runner, the other houseboat. A very quite night, interrupted only by wild life occasionally calling and splashing in the still water.

Tuesday morning, another easy start. We traveled about 15 miles up river to Six Mile Creek off Palmo Cove. Another isolated creek with heavy wood on both sides. Tie up at Outback Crab Shack, even more rustic than the one on Sunday. They have a floating dock almost a quarter mile long, they claim longest in the world. Today, we are the only boats here. We are just a few miles west of St Augustine, about 150 miles from home but many, many more miles retracing our route by water. We arrive in time for a delicious soft shell crab sandwich. The proprietor is a commercial crabber, he told us he sends a truck load of crabs to Maryland every day. Go figure. Fare Share arrives with repaired engine, we are now a fleet of seven again. See attached picture. Tomorrow we will run about 20 miles up river to an anchorage at Dunns Creek.
Jerri and Paul Aboard Blue Hen of Lewes
2/7/2012
 
 
Hi again,

Tuesday night, we had a great time at the Outback Crab Shack on Six Mile Creek. This is definitely a funky, laid back bar and grill in the old Florida cracker tradition. Their motto is: "No shoes, no shirt, no problem!". The friendly people were real Florida country and treated us like visiting royalty. Miss Margaret, the owner, in conjunction with a local Baptist minister, holds worship services in the bar on Sunday mornings. We were not exactly sure how that all worked, but we heartily endorsed their efforts. Her son runs the business, her grandson is a commercial crabber. We enjoyed a delicious fried and broiled seafood dinner served family style on the largest platters you can imagine. Needless to say, nobody went away hungry. Somehow, a few of us managed to stagger back in this morning for an eggs, hot biscuits, and grits breakfast ($5). We worked some of that off by walking the 3/4 miles down the road to Buddy Boys Convenience Store and Corners Hardware Store, the greatest hardware store you have ever seen. They had just about everything imaginable including live rabbits the alligator hunters bought for bait. I bought a 24" Stillson wrench ($13+tax) to tighten a weeping stuffing box on the rudder post.

After a twenty nine mile run up the St Johns River from Six Mile Creek, we are anchored Wednesday afternoon in Dunns Creek, a beautiful deep creek on the eastern shore of the St Johns River, about five or six miles south of Palatka, Florida. The creek is heavily wooded on both sides, a few weekend cabins and docks here and there, but pretty much isolated from civilization. We explored the shorelines and wildlife in the dinghy, later dinghying over to Highlander for cocktails and some great camaraderie. At 48 feet, Highlander easily accommodated nineteen guests, and Tom and Tricia are great hosts. A big, full moon rising over the creek put the perfect touch on a wonderful evening.

After winning the first America's Cup in 1851, the schooner America sailed back home and eventually ended up in the south at the beginning of the War Between the States. She was renamed the Memphis. As Union troops approached Jacksonville, the Confederate sailors took her up the St Johns River and scuttled her in Dunns Creek, just about where we are presently anchored. A Union search party later found her, she was raised, renamed America, and sailed for many years as a private yacht. As a young boy, I remember exploring her with my father as she lay rotting in Annapolis.

We are underway about 1000 Thursday morning after a nice breakfast aboard and some writing in the log. On the way out, we took an alternate route through Murphy Creek, which winds its way south, then out into the St Johns. The creek, like most of the tributaries on the river, is deep and clear, with wooded marshes on both sides. We saw numerous turtles sunning themselves on fallen trees, a sleepy alligator, and lots of birds of various descriptions. We pass the town of Welaka, the river is a little more narrow as we pass numerous houses and fish camps. We stop at Georgetown Marina for a little fuel, ice, and fresh water. A short run around to the west side of Drayton Island where we find a nice anchorage with the rest of the fleet. On the island, we see a large eagle and 17 blue heron nests in the tall trees. A beautiful spot to spend the night. We are anchored 92 miles south of Jacksonville and have 46 miles to go to Sanford. We will spend the weekend in Sanford where the two charter boats will change crews. Monday, we head north retracing our course toward Jacksonville then south on the ICW to Vero Beach.

Jerri & Paul Aboard Blue Hen of Lewes
2/10/2012
 
 
Hi Friends,

Tonight, February 14th, finds us alongside the dock at St Augustine where we topped off fuel, water, and ice. We are headed south in the Intra Coastal Waterway with the Homeward Bound Pennant flying. Interestingly, we left the Outback Crab Shack dock on Six Mile Creek off the St Johns River early this morning. After running 85 miles all day, we are exactly 12 miles east of where we started. The dock manager at the marina told me he patronizes the Crab Shack frequently, it is a 15 minute drive from here.

After a nice evening at anchor west of Drayton Island that included everybody aboard Crucero for happy hour, we are underway Friday morning (2/10) and across Lake George. This is a large fresh water lake, about fifteen miles long and at least ten miles wide. There are several creeks on the western side that feed clear, fresh water from underground springs into the lake. At the south end of the lake we pass through an elaborate breakwater and the first of many "Idle Speed" and "Manatee Zones". The river is quite narrow here, we pass through the little town of Astor, a mix of nice homes and weekend cabins. Southward, the river remains narrow, sparsely populated, lined with cypress trees draped heavily with Spanish moss. We spot another bald eagle in the tree tops. The other boats stop at Hontoon Island State Park, we decide to explore Lake Beresford and moor at the Lake Beresford Yacht Club, a member of the Florida Council of Yacht Clubs where we have reciprocal privileges. The folks are very friendly, we enjoy a nice dinner and sociability in the temporary buildings they are using following a fire that burned their clubhouse to the ground.

We leave LBYC Saturday morning, joining the rest of the fleet for the short run to Sanford, Florida, on Lake Monroe, the southerly terminus of our voyage, and the headwaters for navigation of boats much larger than outboards and canoes. In a small craft, you can actually go as far as Route 60, west of Vero Beach, where the river is said to originate in the swamps and marshes. Sanford is well known to us as the southern terminal of the Amtrak Auto Train, we have been here many times. The fleet spends the weekend in the Boat Tree Marina where we busy ourselves with visiting, shopping, and dinner at the marina restaurant. The houseboats change crews, four new couples join our group. Sunday afternoon we join the Bliss' for a trip down to the Sanford waterfront in their fast dinghy. Dinner again to welcome our newcomers and say goodbye to those leaving. which, unfortunately, includes us. We will leave the cruise and head back down the river in the morning. The temperature drops to the low thirties during the night, and there is a skim of ice on the docks and deck as we take in the lines. We head down the river (north) as sea smoke rises from the water and makes a little radar navigation necessary. The bright Florida sun soon warms the cabin, and we run along at 7-8 knots back down the river. Monday evening we moor alongside the long floating dock at the Outback Crab Shack on Six Mile Creek. Another artery clogging fish dinner, we bring enough food home for breakfast and lunch. Underway early Tuesday morning, passing Palatka, Green Cove Springs, the river widens out considerably as we near Jacksonville. As we pass the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, a large Navy cargo plane flies about 200 feet directly over us on final approach to the runway. We had planned to pass through the Florida East Coast Railroad Bridge in downtown Jacksonville at its scheduled 1130 opening, but the bridge was up so we poured on the coal and went through an hour earlier. We pass through the Jacksonville waterfront and the Port. There are many ships loading and discharging, we meet a very large container ship and a product tanker coming in. We have retraced our course in one and a half days, we spent a week going south last week. It was a fun cruise; the St Johns River is definitely worth seeing.

Proceeding seaward on the St Johns River, we turn south on the Intra Coast Waterway for the familiar run toward Vero Beach. Tonight we are in St Augustine, tomorrow Daytona Beach, Thursday Eau Gallie Yacht Club near Melbourne, arriving at our Vero Beach Yacht Club home dock before noon on Friday. It has been a wonderful two weeks, we hope you enjoyed cruising along with us.

Jerri & Paul Aboard Blue Hen of Lewes
2/14/2012


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