29/11/2007/7:20 am, Fort Matanzas, Florida Mile 792
We crossed from Georgia into Florida, our final state on the Intracoastal Waterway on November 20, 2007. It has been a long trek to get here, but the Georgia portion of the ICW has been a highlight with great scenery and lots of bird and dolphin watching. The city of Fernandina lies just within the Florida border. What a stark contrast to pastoral Georgia. The harbour is busy and industrial, creating a first impression that I later had to revise. We took a mooring can at Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina at the cost of $15 a night. It is comfortable enough but there is a very strong current in the harbour. Beth is going to leave from nearby Jacksonville airport on Wednesday for a week to visit her mother who is in the hospital in Moncton, New Brunswick. That means I will be batchin'it for one week. I have decided, with some trepidation, that I will make my first stab at solo sailing when it comes time to leave Fernandina Beach in a couple of days. Our friends on Stratshpey have promised to keep an eye on me while underway and that provides me with reassurance - one of the great advantages of a buddy boat.
I decided to rent a car for while in Fernandina Beach so I can run Beth to the airport and get around the city. We have been anticipating this stop for some time now, since we met Steve Swanson and Sandi Eberle on Hillary, and Oyster 41 much earlier in the trip. We first encountered them on July 9th, back in Mont Louis on the Saint Lawrence but got to know them better while Madcap and Strathspey were anchored near Hillary in Baddeck Harbour at the end of July. They have a home near Fernandina Beach and invited us to meet up with them when our two boats made it to Florida. Lucky for us we have arrived during the American Thanksgiving holiday and Steve and Sandi have opened up their home to Blair and Mary of Strathspey, Jim and Jeannie of Estelle and me for Thanksgiving dinner. Not only that, but they have set aside two whole days to entertain us and show us the area. We have been amazed by the generosity of fellow cruisers throughout this trip, but Sandi and Steve's warmth, charm and hospitality has been truly incredible. As a result of touring Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island with them I revised my initial impression of the town. It has the feeling of community and permanence. It is more than just a summertime beach front town. There are several blocks of interesting boutiques and shops and wonderful homes on quiet residential streets. We also visited Tiger Point Marina where our hosts keep their other boat, a Hinckley Bermuda 40 named Princess. For those looking to keep their vessel on the hard in Florida after wintering in the south, Tiger Point Marina impressed me with its modern, well-maintained facilities and equipment. Moreover, Fernandina Beach is situated far to the west of the Gulf Stream and has been spared from the ravages of hurricanes and tropical storms that have so damaged other parts of the south. After passing much of Thursday touring the area, we spent the late afternoon and early evening at Steve and Sandi's home at Amelia Island Plantation. Sandi prepared a superb Thanksgiving meal with all of the traditional trimmings. As is my habit on such occasions, I enjoyed seconds of everything and retired from the table as stuffed as the turkey I had just eaten.
Friday - known as Black Friday - in the United States got off to an early start - 0800 hours. Many of the local residents were out and about in their pyjamas. The town celebrates Black Friday and the start of the Christmas shopping frenzy by having a pyjama party. Those so attired earn a discount at the local shops. After meeting Steve and Sandi at the marina dressed in our street clothes, we went for breakfast at a popular local restaurant called T Ray's in a nearby Exxon service station. It reminded me a bit of the Irving Big Stops back in the Maritimes, except much more compact and definitely not part of a big chain of eateries. I highly recommend this place for breakfast. It is where the locals go and for good reason. Heaping platefuls of good food, especially the biscuits, which I devoured though still full from the Thanksgiving feast the previous evening. After breakfast, we helped Strathspey and Estelle provision their boats for the crossing to the Bahamas - anticipated in the next couple of weeks whenever a weather window presents itself. I decided to wait until Beth returns before doing the same for Madcap, though I did make an exception to take advantage of the incredibly low Florida wine prices. At the end of the afternoon, Steve and Sandi picked me up after I returned the rental to Enterprise and took me back to the beautifully landscaped Amelia Island Plantation for the annual Christmas lighting party. It seemed strange to be dressed in shorts, standing under palm trees drinking hot apple cider and listening to Christmas carols - but I could get used to this. The place was alive with children and young families spending quality time together. From there we returned to Fernandina Beach and a local restaurant to help Mary (Strathspey) celebrate her birthday. Nine of us gathered for this special occasion - Blair, Mary, Steve and Sandi, Jim and Jeannie Lea (Estelle), Bruce and Nancy Montgomery (Seabird) and me. It was another wonderful time of conversation, celebration and good food. Blair played the pipes and toasted his bride and we all wished Mary the best of health and happiness in the year to come. How lucky was I to be in Fernandina Beach while playing the bachelor!!
All good things must come to an end and Saturday was the designated day for me to take Madcap out solo for the first time. After speaking with Strathspey on the VHF we agreed to leave around 9 am and start down the ICW toward an anchorage at Pine Island, some fifty statute miles distant. Most of the trip took us through marshland areas, but there were tricky spots near the St. John's River and again under the Wonderwood, Atlantic Boulevard and McCormick bridges where currents ran very strong, especially because of the full moon. Those areas required lots of attention and a powerful engine. Apart from that, the greatest challenge was staying alert on the wheel for nine hours without relief. You don't have the time to enjoy the countryside and the wildlife as you do when cruising with a partner. I was glad when we arrived at mile 765 of the ICW and the Pine Island anchorage. I anticipated how to drop and hook the anchor by studying other solo sailors I had observed and I am happy to report all went well. There were a number of boats in the anchorage at that late hour but fortunately I was able to find a spot without difficulty. It was late in the day and I was very tired so there was no opportunity to tour around the anchorage.
St. Augustine, Florida was the next stop. It is a popular spot for cruisers and there are a number of us here now, so we decided to leave Pine Island early the next morning (0700 hours) for the short trip (13 miles) to St. Augustine in time to find space to anchor. The biggest challenge I faced today as a solo sailor was to raise the anchor, secure it and get back to the cockpit before Madcap drifted into a neighbouring boat or to shallow water. Luckily the anchor came up quickly and clean so I did not have to take time hosing the chain and anchor before storing them. As they did the previous day, Strathspey led the way out of the anchorage and along the ICW followed by Madcap and Seabird. Having another boat take the lead makes the solo navigator's challenge much easier. Before we knew it, we were at Vilano Beach and approaching St. Augustine. Our plan had been to explore San Sebastien River for a place to drop the hook; however, as we were waiting to catch the next opening of the Bridge of Lions, we received a call from Seabird to say that they were going to anchor in the area next to us just north of the Bridge. There were a number of spots available at this early hour and the view of historic St. Augustine and the walls of the Spanish Castillo de San Marcos was appealing. Taking Seabird's lead, we quickly revised our plans and dropped anchor in this attractive anchorage. There is another area just below the Bridge of Lions that is more popular, but in my opinion the northern anchorage is preferable. Either way, you have to be prepared for the construction noise from the Bridge of Lions. There is a dinghy dock available at St. Augustine Municipal Marina just south of the bridge. They charge $10 daily for dinghy space but that gives you access to showers and laundry facilities.
Shortly after anchoring, Mary came by in her dinghy to pick me up to go into town for lunch and sightseeing. Blair stayed on Strathspey to repair its windlass which had broken earlier in the day. St. Augustine dates back to September 1565 when Spanish colonists landed making it the oldest continually occupied European settlement in North America. Sir Francis Drake attacked and burned this town in 1586. On November 25, 2007 however, the sun was shining, it was 80 degrees and the historic area of St. Augustine was a great place to wander - definitely having the feel of a Spanish settlement. We ate lunch at Columbia Restaurant, a popular eatery serving Cuban food. Its reputation is well deserved and I enjoyed a sampling of popular Cuban dishes - beans and rice, plantain, chicken, pork and beef. Following lunch, Mary and I wandered over to the Castillo de San Marcos. This fort dates its origins back to 1672. Over the years Spanish, British, American, Confederate and Union forces have occupied the fort. The walls of this stone fort were built of coquina, a shell-rock formation, quarried in the area. The National Park Service hires animators dressed in Spanish military uniforms dating back to 1702 when the fort was under siege from English forces. Spain successfully resisted the attack on the fort, but the English burned St. Augustine as they withdrew. The fort is well worth a visit. After touring it, we wandered over to an annual juried craft fair that was in its last day. The fair reminded me of the craft fair Beth and I visit every Christmas season at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, except it is held outdoors and I was dressed in shorts and a T shirt. The afternoon quickly passed and it was time to head back to Madcap for the evening. After going into town Monday morning for breakfast with Blair, the rest of our second day in St. Augustine was spent doing chores on Madcap - including cleaning the waterline to remove the "waterway moustache". The internet connection is good from the anchorage so I was able to touch base with Beth via Skype to find out how things were at home. Fortunately our daughter, Mary Beth, lives in Moncton so Beth has also had some quality time with her while visiting her mother and father.
I plan to meet up with Beth again in Daytona Beach so I started the trek there today. Madcap left St. Augustine and caught the 9:30 opening of the Bridge of Lions. Since it is about fifty miles to Daytona Beach, I decided to break the trip into two days. Stratshpey and Madcap pulled into this pretty little anchorage some thirteen miles down the ICW from St. Augustine. We are anchored under the ruins of Fort Matanza, another fort dating back to the days of the Spanish occupation of Florida. It is a little cooler today, but it is fun to watch the dolphins breaking the surface of the water and the eagles soaring in the sky above. It has been an experience to be solely responsible for managing this sailboat for the first time. I feel good for having done that but look forward to the return of my sailing partner. I am thankful for having had the company and friendship of other cruisers while batchin' it.
26/11/2007/8:13 pm, St Augustine (sort of)
This is a quick update with a story or two.
First of all - kudos to Cap'n Jim who has been single handing Madcap for two days now. He traveled about 50 miles through the ICW on Saturday, has anchored twice and is now enjoying the sights and sounds of St Augustine, FL. Tomorrow he heads on toward Daytona Beach.
I suspect he has wonderful stories to tell of his stay in Fernandina Beach - of Thanksgiving Day and Mary's Birthday celebrations in the fine company of local hosts, Steve and Sandi, and a rousing group of other sailors.
I have been spending quality time with my Mum in the Moncton (NB) City Hospital and with Dad in Amherst, NS. I am so very glad I came back because every moment I've spent here feels just right. Mum is continuing to improve. The bypass on her leg has taken so she has circulation again in her foot, her appetite is coming back and we hope she will be able to move to the Amherst hospital this week, and then home within another few days. It has been good to share the care and planning with Dad, as he decides on how best to continue his care of Mum.
The marvelous synchronicities we have been discovering continue here. Mum's hospital room mate, Val, and her husband Ned, have friends in Baie Verte, NB who are wending their way south. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while now will be nodding your heads already. Yes indeed - the friends are Sally and Steve of Sea Duck. It was such fun to be able to tell them that I not only know of their friends, Jim and I enjoyed their hospitality just this past Tuesday in Fernandina Beach.
I have also been able to hang out a bit with Mary Beth and her friends. It has been a delight since they have such enthusiasm and energy for life. They have some important things figured out: the treasure of dear friendships, clearly defined personal values, the ability to stretch and push themselves, and a great capacity for laughter. It kind of reminds me of our sailing community!
Thanks again to readers, fellow travelers and well-wishers. Your support warms our hearts - and at least one of us is warm on the outside too. The other one is f-f-f-freezing!
21/11/2007/7:13 pm, Fernandina Beach, FL
In between the towns and cities, we have stayed in several beautiful anchorages. Today, having spent the last three nights in such places, seems like a good time to tell you about some of them.
These are not like the anchorages we were used to in the Thousand Islands, or Maine - surrounded by rock and trees - nor are they like the first few we encountered in the ICW - in a bight just off the channel. They are tucked away in the marshes. We motor along a little channel up a creek or down a narrow river. There is usually a significant tide (7 -8 ft) so we check to see just where the tide is when we stop, making sure that we don't go aground when it goes down, and that we have enough chain out to hold us when it goes up. There is rarely enough high vegetation to protect us from wind, but then again, it's been awhile since we had any real wind overnight.
These marshes are all golden and teeming with life. There are pelicans and egrets, blackbirds and grackles, terns and gulls, fish, dolphins, alligators (we hear about although we haven't seen any more since our first one). The water and sky are blue, the mud a rich brown. It smells marshy - not unpleasant - just earthy. There are a few fishing buoys, little boats carrying fishers with their rods and reels, and large shrimp boats with their net laden arms stretched wide and masses of birds flying around or perched on every line or rail. Some fast little boats go speeding by with a man and a dog off for a day's hunting and gathering. When we do find trees, they are massive live oaks, pecans, palmettos, pines - often dripping with Spanish Moss. It is not a parasite, and does not damage the trees. It survives on moisture from the air.
We stopped in the Wahoo River on our first night after leaving Isle of Hope, and enjoyed a very fine happy hour on Strathspey. Paul, Deb and Ginny (Deb's adventurous mother) (Werplayin), Jim (Bees Knees), Nancy and Bruce (Seabird) and Jim and Jeannie (Estelle), and Jim and I joined Mary and Blair in their spacious cockpit. Blair produced his guitar and we all sang a rousing rendition of Johnny Mercer's Moon River in honour of our crossing it earlier in the day. We picked up Jim and Jeannie on the way over, and it didn't take more than a minute and a half for Madcap Jim (Bissell) and Jeannie to discover that they were both at Mount Allison during the same years, and they both carry lingering negative memories of one particular fellow student. It was really too funny for words and Jim (Lea) and I rolled our eyes as the stories flew.
The next morning, Bees Knees and Seabird departed first, very kindly radioing back information on depths for those of us with deeper keels. Not for the first time, we decided to delay our departure till the tide rose a bit and we would be able to move without quite so many anxious looks at the depth sounder. The updated information in our 2007 copy of Dozier's Waterway Guide proved to be accurate and was supported by the findings of our fellow sailors.
We explored parts of Fort Frederica at the next day's stop - along the bank of the Frederica River. There is not much there in the way of buildings any more - the remains of the magazine on the bank of the river, some tabby walls and outlines of where buildings used to be. Tabby - not as in cats. Tabby is the enduring substance used "back in the day" to build houses and walls around these parts. It is a mixture of oyster shells, lime (made from burning piles of shells), sand, and water that was poured into molds. It was usually covered with stucco and whitewashed. Now, it looks like a porous jumble of shells but in many places, has had the staying power to last through hurricanes, floods and fires.
Pecan trees abounded and we picked up handfuls to munch as we walked. They took serious man-fingers to crack open. There were also heavily laden orange trees and Bruce (Seabird) generously peeled one and offered it to Nancy and me. Just as I was about to pop a section into my mouth, his kind nature overcame his mischievous side and he said, "Just try one little bite at a time." These beautiful little oranges were SOUR. One would have to be very concerned about scurvy to eat them - or use up a good portion of the sugar ration. Jim (Bees Knees) told us that the purpose of the trees was not to provide fruit, but so that the fragrant blossoms would overpower the less than fragrant scent of unwashed bodies and primitive sanitation systems.
There were several familiar boats anchored here and we all took advantage of the opportunity to stroll around. Estelle, Bees Knees, Werplayin, Strathspey and Madcap dinghies made their way to the dinghy dock. We decided to row rather than put the motor on so Jim could have a little upper arm exercise. He ended up with more than he planned. We had parked ourselves up river a bit, but thought that the trip home would be easy since Jim was rowing against the current for the 10 minute trip to shore. We forgot about tides turning and by the time we left Strathspey after a post walk visit, Jim had a very strenuous 20-minute row to get us back home.
On Monday morning, we lingered once more in the anchorage, allowing that 7-foot tide to rise before we started off. It was a good thing, because we would never have been able to clear some of the "shoaly" bits at dead low tide. I have been frustrated by the lack of wifi and cellphone coverage in the evenings so we dropped the anchor temporarily off Jekyll Island to do some updating and get some messages. Our winlink position reporting system is still not working reliably either, so it is difficult for folks to know where we are.
We decided to check out Brickhill River that takes a winding course along Cumberland Island, parallel to the ICW route, and find an anchorage in there. This turned out to be another of those perfectly wonderful decisions. Estelle was there, and a small boat was just leaving their side as we came closer. Jeannie called to pass on the information the boater had given them - not to anchor too close to the bank because of significant mudflats at low tide, and his invitation to show them around part of the island the next morning. They came over to Madcap for an evening visit, after which we settled down for another quiet night in the marshes. Quiet until morning that is, when birds arrived to chirp and do "other things" as they perched on our spreaders and life rails.
On Tuesday morning, Jim and Jeannie arrived to pick us up and, because the phone wouldn't work, we went off in search of Thornton, their friendly boater. We wound in and around great muddy banks and shoals - and it was a very good thing they had relocated the night before - to a dock where the familiar boat was secured. As we wandered around the empty property, with Jeannie finally getting a phone connection, Jack came along on his 4-wheel drive to check on the strangers. He had a gentle way of letting us know that we were on private property, but was reassured that we had a local contact and stayed around while we waited for Thornton to arrive. Because we had to leave by noon hour, and Thornton had an 11 o'clock lunch engagement, we ended up piling into his open vehicle - along with Edouard - his little white dog, and bouncing along the woodland trails to his house. We all laughed at his answer to Jeannie's query about whether this was the main road, "No - this is a tributary!" I have to say there was not a lot of difference between tributary and main road.
This island is a National Seashore Park with thousands of acres deeded to the Park Service back in the 1960's by various members of the Carnegie family. A few properties are still held by family members, and the rest is available to shelter wildlife and careful visitors. Wild horses roam freely; turtles, alligators and birds have safe homes, and visitors are able to go ashore at the southern end of the island. Greyfield Inn, once a Carnegie home, Plum Orchard Mansion, and the ruins at Dungeness can all be seen there. Thornton Morris, who acted as counsel for the families who approached the park Service with the proposal to safeguard the island in its natural state, and who is a founding member of the Cumberland Island Conservancy, proved to be an absolutely delightful host as he opened his lovely home to us, shared his stories, his pictures and clear love of the island with us.
Other writers have written about "thin places" those places in Celtic tradition where the tangible world we know comes close to another less tangible one - the world of spirit. It is where we can sense something greater than ourselves and it can be a place or an experience. I think Thornton knows thin places. He gifted us with such an experience that day and gave us a brief introduction to such a place. One just never knows what experiences await in tucked away corners of this world. We would love to have spent another night or two at Cumberland Island, exploring the southern section, but we had to get closer to the Jacksonville airport for reasons I'll get to in a minute. This is one more place to put on our "must visit" list for the spring trip north again.
We encountered a shoal at the southern end of the Brickhill River where it joins Cumberland Divides. Because we had to make Fernandina Beach that afternoon, we left when the tide was a little lower that we preferred, and sure enough we bounced lightly over shoals. Fortunately we had enough momentum to keep moving through it, and it didn't cause us any delays. We tied up to a mooring ball off Fernandina harbour Marina (very reasonable rate of $15.00 plus taxes per day) and were happy to encounter Sally and Steve on Sea Duck and Kathleen and Rich on Wind Drum. We went over to catch up on the news with Wind Drum over drinks, ended up staying for dinner and came home after a thoroughly enjoyable evening with them. Our community of wonderful boating friends is growing wider and richer.
Another sort of shoal is affecting us right now. My mother has been in the hospital with circulation problems. She had surgery a week ago in which a bypass graft was created to bring blood flow to her foot, and is doing reasonably well. My dad continues his excellent care of her - in the hospital now rather than at home. Mary Beth visits almost daily. The anxiety is taking its toll on me however, and I finally decided I just cannot stand being this far away when my mother is ill. So - I am in the process of flying home to Nova Scotia for a week, while Jim stays in Fernandina Beach for a few days and then will perhaps try single-handing. He will not be lonely though, as he joins friends for American Thanksgiving and Mary's birthday celebrations. He will certainly have to find time to make a posting or two about all that!
I'll rejoin the ship next week after spending well-needed time with Mum and Dad, and Mary Beth. I get to see her new apartment and snuggle with the dogs too. I am very grateful that I can make this trip, and increasingly aware that traveling budgets need to be built with room for such events.
Happy Thanksgiving to all our American friends, and also to our Canadian friends who celebrated Thanksgiving in October. We have so very much for which to be thankful.