Dick and Gayl's Cruising Adventures

Northern Florida

Our Loop Stats
About Us and Starsong
Where Are We Now?
Where Were We Recently?
Archives: Where Have We Been?
Photo Gallery
Great Loop Map
Contact Us
March 20, 2005   Palm Sunday and the Vernal Equinox
Daytona Beach to St. Augustine 
(52.5 miles)
Halifax Harbor Marina in Daytona Beach is so big that most people who stay there never make it to the office.  A dockhand checks you in right at your slip, and when you leave, you radio the office so that they can station someone at the gas dock with a big pouch on a stick that you can toss your security key into.  Sometimes people miss.  Maybe because we have been watching the NCAA Tournament lately, I didn't miss.  Or, maybe it's because Dick skillfully drove the boat right up to the basket so that I could just drop the key in with scarcely any tossing whatsoever involved. 
We were only under way for a little over an hour when two dolphins started riding our side wake the same way dolphins rode it yesterday.  This time, we were prepared with our 35 mm camera close at hand and freshly loaded with film.  I got more photos.  Now all we have to do is find someplace with one hour developing.  We have gotten so used to the instant feedback of digital photography that the suspense of seeing how these pictures turned out is killing us.

St. Augustine Municipal Marina

We arrived at St. Augustine Municipal Marina at 2 pm.  If only we had gotten there an hour or so sooner, we could have been part of the Blessing of the Fleet boat parade.  As we were approaching St. Augustine, we kept hearing radio calls concerning the parade impeding traffic and delaying boats from entering the marina, but by the time we got there the blessed boats had dispersed.
We came in right behind Cocoon, a Krogen trawler flying the Canadian flag that was at Vero Beach when we were there. We met friendly Bristish Columbians Tom and Phyllis on the bus riding back from the grocery store in Vero Beach, and got to know them better in St. Augustine.  

A Tourist From Key West? Note the dog's little guns and his boots on the bench

The municipal marina has a wonderful location.  We walked off the docks into historic old St. Augustine.  Letting nearby geocaches be our guide, we walked along the waterfront to the Castillo de San Marcos, a coquina stone fortress with a history dating back to 1672.  Coquina, a natural mixture of sand and seashells, proved to be an ideal building material for the fort. It is soft when first mined, so it can be formed and molded. It dries to be hard, like cement. Unlike cement, it has a special porous property that allows it to absorb the force of a cannonball, and incorporate the ball into its structure, rather than cracking and breaking where the ball hits. The fort never fell to enemy assaults, although it was attacked many times over the years
Not far from the fort, we passed remains of the old stone walls that used to surround the town in the days when attacks by the British or Indians were a constant concern.  As we searched in vain for a cache, we found a huge coquina stone globe marking Mile Zero of the Old Spanish Trail that ran from St.Augustine to San Diego. Nearby was the Visitor Center, where we gathered information to help us plan our brief day and a half visit to the area.
We walked back toward our boat along St. George Street, now closed to traffic to create a walking mall lined with historic buildings turned into quaint and tacky shops and paid attractions.  We enjoyed reading the historic plaques on just about every building, and we almost managed to walk the full length of the street without buying anything, until we got to Kilwin's (a Northern Michigan legend) where we had to get ice cream cones and peanut popcorn. We did resist the urge to buy fudge, though.

Cathedral of St. Augustine

When we asked at a pseudo-historic bookstore along St. George Street where we might find a New York Times, the proprietor directed us to the Casa Monida Hotel.  Henry Flagler purchased and extensively remodeled this hotel when he was developing St. Augustine as a tourist destination in the late 1800s.  Although it has been renovated and modernized some since then, the Casa Monida still has the grandeur of an opulent turn-of-the-century resort hotel.  And, it has a cafe serving Starbucks and selling The New York Times. Needless to say, we continued our stroll with lattes in-hand and a newspaper tucked in our backpack.
As we walked past the landmark Basilica Cathedral of St. Augustine (built in 1888, but serving a parish that dates back to 1594), Palm Sunday evening services were just letting out.  Everyone was clutching palm fronds.  I remember what a special treat it was to get one of those exotic palm fronds when I was growing up in snowy Rochester.  I wonder if kids in Florida where there are palm trees everywhere have that same special feeling on Palm Sunday.
Monday, March 21, 2005   Scenic St. Augustine
We decided to go to a Greek resaurant recommended by our cruising guide for breakfast.  When we arrived, there were several tables of men finishing up their breakfast, drinking coffee, and engaging in loud and animated conversations, between tables and across the restaurant.  Promptly at 8:45, the men cleared out and headed for work.  At nine o'clock, the women began arriving.  One table was surrounded by women who looked like they could be the wives of the men who just left.  Our waitress retreated to a table at the back and had a heart-to-heart with a friend, limiting the amount of attention she was able to pay to our empty coffee cups.  We miss the Oasis in Fort Myers, and Tacky Joe's and Pearl's in Lantana
Despite our coffee deficit, we were well-fortified to face the day.  We hopped on our bikes to take in some sights beyond the center city area.  Again, we let geocaching guide us to places less traveled.  We found a 600 year old live oak in th middle of a Howard Johnson's parking lot, then saw a sign for the Fountain of Youth nearby.


When we arrived at Ponce  de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, look who greeted us at the entrance.  Calling it an archaeological park implies that the place has some sort of authenticity. Somehow a fiberglass statue of this sort undermines the premise of authenticity. We didn't pay the somewhat steep admission to get beyond the dilapidated privacy fence where we could tour the grounds and drink from the fountain. Contrary to the promotional literature for this park, historians believe that when Ponce de Leon landed here in 1513, he wasn't searching for the Fountain of Youth, but rather just stopping by to claim the land on his way to Bimini, where he had been granted governorship.


We visited the Our Lady of la Leche shrine, which bills itself as "America's Most Sacred Acre."  A massive stainless steel cross visible from afar marks the spot where in 1565 Pedro Menendez and the 700 colonists and soldiers who founded St. Augustine celebrated their first mass.  Later it was the site of the Nombre de Dios Mission, the first Roman Catholic mission in what is now the United States. According to signs on the grounds, the Marian priests at the mission had resident Indians saying mass in Latin in the 17th century. 
We rode around gracious neighborhoods of old homes. Outside the historic downtown region, there are beautiful homes in all styles.  We were especially drawn to Victorian painted ladies and other homes with wide porches and lovely gardens. The jasmine in bloom saturates the humid air with an aroma so sweet that it is impossible to pass by without stopping to sniff and savor.

Our favorite house in St. Augustine

We decided to have dinner at Columbia, a Spanish Cuban restaurant that is one of our favorites in Florida.  The restaurant is known for its Sangria and paella, both available in multiple varieties.  We shared a pitcher of Sangria, ordered entrees we hadn't tried before, and were delighted.  Our dessert was a liquer-soaked poundcake, covered with merengue, then finished tableside with berries and syrup and a flambe flourish.  It caught the attention of .Tom and Phyllis from Cocoon, who had arrived for dinner about a half hour after we did.  They ordered the tasting menu, five courses of food and wine, so they were into dinner for the long haul.  They invited us to join them after our dessert, and we sat and chatted our way through a couple of their courses.  When we left, it was pouring rain.  We ran from awning to doorway making our way back to the boat, but still arrived soaked.
Rain is predicted tomorrow.  As a sign of how far we have come as boaters, in the old days (a month or two ago), we would have delayed moving due to rain.  Now, we are thinking that since it is going to be raining, there's no point in staying.  But we aren't really intrepid cruisers yet--scattered rain is supposed to turn into strong storms tomorrow evening, and we are only moving a half day's distance with a spot reserved for tthe night at a very protected marina.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005  St. Augustine to Jacksonville Beach
(30.8 miles)

Cocoon passing through Gate of Lions Bridge

We woke to thick white-out fog. We had plenty of time to dawdle over breakfast, since the fog precluded us from leaving by 7:30, and the Gate of Lions bridge next to the marina doesn't open between 7:30 and 8:30, to accomodate rush hour traffic.  We planned to make the 8:30 opening, but the fog was so thick we still couldn't see to leave.  We could just barely see Cocoon go through at 8:30, though. 
We made the 9 am opening, just as the fog was beginning to clear.  After we got through the bridge, it started to rain, and the fog was washed away in an instant.

The bridge as we are waiting for its opening

The rain only lasted about five minutes.  We didn't see rain again until five minutes after we were securely tied up at Beach Marine in Jacksonville Beach, at about 12:45.  Beach Marine is down a narrow channel off the ICW.  When we were tied up at our face dock spot, we were protected from all directions by land, buildings or a bridge approach embankment.  We came to truly appreciate the sheltered location of the marina as the day wore on and the winds increased.
Pelting rain. Thunderstorms. Driving winds that bent the trees and buffeted the boats in the marina, creating a cocaphony of flapping canvas and tackle banging on masts. We estimated the winds hitting us were  35-40 mph.  The weather radio reported winds in the range of 40-50 with higher gusts, and  issued a tornado watch until 11 pm. Needless to say, even though there were no waves rocking us, we didn't sleep well that night. But, we slept a lot better than we would have just about anywhere else within a 100 mile range of Beach Marine.
Our trip by the numbers:
We have traveled more than 1,000 miles since we left Hilton Head Island back in January.

We have found 54 geocaches.

We have seen and identified 85 different bird species.
March 23, 2005 Jacksonville Beach to Fernandina Beach
(31.0 miles)
We began our day with a walk to West Marine.  It was a mile and a half walk along the shoulder of a busy divided highway and a bascule bridge with a wide curb we traversed almost like a balance beam.  Clearly no one had done roadside trash duty here in a long time.  Since we were wearing sandals, we had to keep a vigilant watch for glass (there was plenty, including a whole windshield crackled, but intact). People throw the darnest things out the windows of their speeding cars.   
Once at West Marine, we bought three gallons of oil and a pair of shorts to replace a pair Dick destroyed.  On the way back we stopped at Starbucks for lattes and a New York Times.
Back at the boat, we stowed our purchases, fired up the computer and GPS, and cast off at 10:30.  The tidal current was strong, and we set a new speed record for Starsong as we passed through a narrow channel under a bridge--13 mph!  Just 25 minutes later, as we entered the St. John's River, the current against us slowed our speed from nearly 11 mph to 6.4 mph.  
The wind was as much a factor in our progress as the tides. We had hoped that if we delayed our departure a bit, the residual winds from last night's storms would die down.  It didn't happen.  The wind blew us around and it roughed up the water.  It didn't make for relaxing cruising, and we were glad we had planned this to be a short day.
We arrived at the marina at 1:50, greeted Barbara and Norm on Beta Omega as they arrived at the fuel dock about a half hour later, and then we headed out to explore the town. 

Shrimp boats in Fernandina Beach

We went to the funky little fish store right next to the marina where we have gotten wonderful fish fresh off the boat before, and got mahi mahi fillets that just came in a half hour ago, according to the fish monger.  After putting them in our refrigerator, we went off again, in search of ice cream.  That need easily met, we strolled up the main street of town, window shopping. 
At the far end of the street, we noticed that the Sailor's Wife Antique Store has a used book exchange.  We are well acquainted with the two other book stores in town, but had never been to this one.  It was brimming with books, every shelf full, some stocked two books deep, and boxes and bags lay about on the floor full of books waiting to be shelved, should space open up. 
Ever since I read recently on The Writer's Almanac that six of Mickey Spillane's books are among the 25 best selling novels of the twentieth century, Dick has been looking for Mickey Spillane books at used book stores, to no avail.  Here he hit pay dirt, with three novels, all in the $1-1.50 price range.  I found a hard cover copy of William Least Heat Moon's book River Horse for just $5.95. The book is a travelogue and meditation upon his journey by boat crossing the US by river from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
I just love this town--its main street is just a few blocks long, but it supports three bookstores! The Amelia Coffee Company, just a three minute walk from the marina, makes a dynamite latte and sells the New York Times.  It would be nice if they had a grocery store less than three miles away, but we do not live by bread (and milk and fresh produce) alone.


After walking the town, we returned to Starsong, took our books and newspaper up to the flybridge along with some refreshing beverages and snacks, and whiled away the late afternoon into the early evening.  We watched the sun set, then set about preparing our mahi mahi. 
Tomorrow we cruise to Jekyll Island, leaving Florida behind us for at least eight months.  We have already called to let the insurance company know, and they have reduced our premium accordingly.
Before we leave, here are a few Florida facts we learned, but didn't have a chance to tuck in anywhere else:
   Florida has 30,000 named lakes.
   Florida has 1,000 miles of beaches.
   Florida's state bird is the mockingbird.