New waterway wakes
Today's travel was on a part of the ICW that we have never seen before. On the way down we jumped offshore from Hilton Head Island, near Beauford all the way to St Augustine so this part of the trip will cover unknown territory for us.
Last night, in spite of blisters on our feet from the sandals hike from New Smyrna Marina over to the beach side and back, a distance of 5 or 6 miles, we decided to walk over to the historic part of St Augustine. It was well worth it even though it rained for part of our walk adding to the blisters. Downtown St Augustine's is unique. I can't imagine any other city in the USA having a section quite like it. First, there is Flagler's College which has bought up and maintained whole sections of historical buildings including the amazing Ponce de Leon Hotel; then there is the St George Street pedestrian mall consisting of hundreds of preserved historical buildings, the ground floors of which have been converted into trendy boutiques; and add to that museums and galleries and you have a really interesting place to visit. We will be coming back, that's for sure.
Today's trip was a lot more pleasant that the previous couple of days. For one thing there was hardly any wind by comparison, and for another we caught a break with the tidal currents so we almost never dropped below 6 knots and in fact for a lot of it we were traveling at much more than seven, sometimes as fast as 9 knots.
We have decided that this part of Florida, from St Augustine to Fernandina Beach, is our favourite. Generally speaking the ICW here has plenty of water depth, but most importantly is still almost completely wild Florida. No shyster has decided to make miles and miles of condo developments; there are no strip malls lining the waterway and the marinas, although they exist, are few and far between. The houses are all individual family developments and, for the most part, are older and appear more established. There was only one stretch of a couple of miles where the houses were on both sides, but mostly they were just on one side of the canal when there were any. The other side was still the wilds. There were many, many places along the ICW where you could pull off with plenty of water to anchor and a short dingy ride to a small natural beach if you needed to get to shore for the dog or if you simply wanted to explore. Our feelings are that, for most Canadians, the ideal Florida cruise would be to head to the Keys for November through to mid-January, and then make a bee-line for this place for February, March and maybe April. Any sooner and it would be a little too cold and any later and the bugs come out. Be advised and reminded, though, winter in the keys is the high season. That's when everyone else will be down there.
We saw three or four bald eagles during the day. It's funny how they seem to like to perch on dead trees. I speculate that they like to do this so that nothing can creep up on them through the foliage.
We did have one heart stopping moment during the trip. About midway, there was supposed to be a lift bridge at McCormick's but when we got there, we found a high span bridge in its place with 65' clearance (Yahoo! No waiting!) but on closer examination there was a bunch of barges at the foot. On even closer examination we could see that they had left the passageway clear for us to get through. How professional! How considerate! Off we went. As we drew closer making turns for what would normally give us only 4 knots, we were captured by the current and swept along at over 9! As we came abreast of the barges we noticed that all the workers on the barge stopped what they were doing to stare at us open mouthed. This was not a good sign and as we roared past them I could see why. Behind their barge I could see the wooden abutments of the section of the bridge that we were supposed to be going through. We were hurtling through the span immediately to the right of the one that we should. Eeek! By that time at 9 knots I had only enough time to realize that we could be well and truly screwed before we were at the bridge. Was there clearance under the bridge? Was there enough depth? Well, we popped through like a cork out of a Champaign bottle with never less that 16' under the keel and a couple of feet over the top of the mast. Whew! After a little prayer of thanks to the very busy guardian angel who keeps tabs on me, we continued on the trip.
From Jacksonville onward we had to be a little more careful of depths as the channel meandered and the inside of the route was quite skinny. We bumped a couple of times at one spot before we learned our lesson. I knew that there had to be reasonable depth as we were being followed by a tug pushing a barge and he was as deep, if not deeper, than we are.
At any rate we arrived in a rain squall and Jay was there to help us with the pennant for the mooring. We took the dog over to the beach for a run and then went over to Screech for a lovely chicken and salad dinner. Mary Lou and Jay were the couple that we had met in Ilsboro Island in Maine at the start of their trip and who we joined at the Annapolis Boat show courtesy of Jay's free tickets. They brought Screech down here in the fall and decided that this was far enough and have stayed here ever since. They will be proceeding north at the same time as we will so we'll be making up a small flotilla. They have pretty much the same ideas about timings and where we were going to stop so it should be a very cooperative cruise.