Tuesday, April 18th
It was 2 years and 5 days ago that we set out on the Great Loop adventure then completed it on April 20th of last year. So it is only fitting that we head out on our next adventure during this same time period.
As with all boating adventures, you must remain flexible and be ready to change plans, and this trip is no exception. We had started out on April 3rd cruising with friends Tim & Karen Nicholson aboard their boat (TiKa2), but our work schedules and their travel plans had us sitting in marinas longer than desired, or bypassing intended locations in order to keep moving north. As a result we made an early decision to adjust our mutual itineraries and abandon the trip together. They have decided to head to South Florida and on to the Bahamas, and we decided to relaunch Island Office (put up on the hard for the FL summer) and take her to her birth place; Maine! We wish Tim & Karen all the luck on their trip, and yes, we are still good friends.
So at 6:50 am we untied the dock lines at Harbortown Marina and headed north up the ICW. It was a spectacular morning and we enjoyed all that nature threw at us.
There were tons of birds, dolphins, and manatee all greeting us along the way. We love seeing the fisherman along the banks of the Haulover Canal near Titusville, and even the bridge repair guys.
The beauty of Mosquito Lagoon and the Canaveral National Seashore in the morning is something everyone should see either by boat, kayak or paddleboard – if you are so daring. It is also one of the best places to watch a rocket launch from KSC (Kennedy Space Center) – and there was one this morning…but we were too far north to see it by the time it went off. We saw more manatee today then I think we have ever seen in all our trips combined! Literally hundreds along this part of the ICW. We also were grateful that it was not yet May 1st when the entire ICW all the way to St. Augustine becomes a no-wake zone to protect these creatures.
Our travels took us past familiar spots in New Smyrna Beach, Daytona, Ormond by the Sea, and eventually Palm Coast, where we pulled in for just enough fuel to get us to Brunswick, Georgia. Here are some sights from along the way:
Eventually we entered the St. Augustine area where we encountered several Custom Border Protection boats preparing for a training exercise. They were headed out to sea with a boat in tow that was full of “dummy” passengers that had obviously been used for target practice. If was kind of funny to watch them go through the Bridge of Lions with the dummy boat in tow, and immediately zipped out into the inlet and off they went. Unfortunately, we were not able to get a good photo of this as we didn’t want to invite them to come visit us!
We negotiated our way through the inlet, passed the dredging equipment and barges that were working to eliminate the shoals created by last October’s Hurricane Matthew. At the same time, the sand was being pumped up onto the north shore beach which saw so much erosion from the same storm. All along the ICW today we saw remnants of boats and destroyed docks that were impacted by Matthew.
Finally we arrived in the Guana River Wildlife Management Area and our favorite anchorage just north of St. Augustine. It is near a place called Pine Island (not as big as the Pine Island on the West Coast), and it is so beautiful. We chose a location right near where we had anchored two years ago and had the place almost to ourselves. There were a few small fishing boats in the marshland, but they left after a while.
Only one other boat came in to anchor for the night; an old boat named “Lady Catherine” whom we had passed twice earlier in the day. They stayed close to the ICW and all we could see was their light once it got dark.
Here we saw a spectacular sunset and saw so many incredible birds. It was a long day and we arrive so late that we immediately prepared dinner (hamburgers on the grill) and called it a day!
Wednesday, April 19th
Denise was up early and admired the quiet beauty of nature, but eventually cranked the generator to get some coffee going and to charge all the electronics (phones, iPads, Computers, etc.). At 7:30 we pulled up anchor and headed north through Palm Valley, Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville where we swear there are triple the number of homes with docks on the ICW then there were 2 years ago. And here we saw lots of evidence of damage by Matthew as well with many docks being repaired or waiting on repair.
We crossed the St. Johns River and cruised north, grateful for the Active Captain posts that warned of storm-caused shoaling along the way. We must admit however, that many of these have now been corrected due to the hard work of the Army Corps of Engineers (COE). Your tax dollars at work!
Normally we would have stopped in Fernandina Beach as it is one of our favorite towns to visit. However, they were severely impacted by Matthew and they have limited space. They do have their mooring field back up and running, but they are still not really operational. It was obvious as we approached that much work is still required, so we continued on to our planned destination Cumberland Island National Seashore.
It was only 50 miles from the Pine Island anchorage so we arrived early and in time for lunch. We stopped in a great spot in the northern part of the anchorage – far from the other boats and right across the dock for the Greyfield Inn – which is an historic inn on the island. We had dinner reservations for the evening at the Inn, and so after 6 pm we were allowed to tie up to their dock (sans electricity).
Our plans were to take the dingy to the Park entrance and spend the afternoon exploring the beach and park. This island is known for the horses that run wild – and they are all over the place – so we were hoping to see some. However, after launching the dinghy and starting to head out, the dinghy engine control handle broke. We had already untied from our boat and the current immediately began separating us from the boat. We rushed to quickly break out the oars and eventually row back to the boat. After a bit of trouble-shooting, Mark determined a repair part was needed and it was not something that could be fixed today. Therefore, we abandoned our plans to visit the park, and grateful that we would be moving our boat to the dock in order to go to dinner. The thought of having to row with Mark in a suit jacket and Denise in a dress was like something that really only happens in movies.
About this time we were visited by a Looper we met in Apalachicola in the fall of 2015. Their names are Jonathan Arthur and Rosa Cross (“Salty”) and they came by in their 26 ft C-Dory. We were delighted to see them and reconnect. We had read on the AGLCA forum that they started the Loop again (Jon’s 3rd Loop and Rosa’s 2nd) and they were proudly flying their Platinum burgee (2+ times a Looper). We chatted for a while, discussed the dinghy engine issue, and then they were off. They were headed to another part of the island they can get into as their boat draft is less than a foot. It was fun to see this little boat zip away. By the way, Jonathan owns a fish camp/marina (“Honest John’s Fish Camp”) in Melbourne Beach. It is located on the eastern side of the ICW, just North of Sebastian Inlet. If you are ever in the neighborhood stop by and say hi!
Soon it was time to get showers and prep for dinner. We moved the boat over to the Inn’s dock, finished getting ready, and then had a drink on board before heading up to the Inn. Although it is a short walk from the dock, the staff at the inn drove us there as the path is very sandy and in some places loaded with horse droppings. Yes, the horses are everywhere – so they claim – but we never saw any the whole time we were here.
The significance of the Greyfield Inn is that it was built in 1900 by Tom & Lucy Carnegie for their daughter – as a wedding gift. The Inn is still owned by the Carnegie family and was made more famous 1996 when John F. Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette inside the island’s First African Baptist Church. It is an all-inclusive get-away with very limited cell service and no internet (on purpose). You can learn more about it here.
We received a brief tour of the house and were oriented on the procedures for drinks at the bar, and dinner, which is not served until 7:30 pm. In the meantime we were welcome to enjoy the living room where hors d’oeuvres were served, as well as the library and beautiful front porch. We chose to get a bottle of wine, took the first pours to the porch and conversed with a nice couple from Bermuda who were visiting in advance of a meeting on Amelia Island later in the week. We also met a young couple from Los Angeles and briefly chatted with them. The inn and surrounding cottages were sold-old for the evening and they were expecting 30 guests for dinner.
When it was time, they ring the chimes in old school fashion and everyone makes their way to the dining room – really two rooms adjacent to each other. Both rooms are set up with large dining tables that accommodate multiple guests. However, we were seated at the only table that was not part of the big group. Denise felt like she had been banished to the kids table. The main waiter introduced the menu to all in the dining room and they began to serve. It was an evenly paced meal with a salad, entrée and dessert. The food was delicious and we were served sheepshead fish that was very fresh, while most of the salad ingredients came from the on-site garden. We finished our bottle of wine in the process and got a ride back to the boat at nearly 10 pm. While we enjoyed our dinner and glad we got to experience this, we both agreed that it was not worth doing it a second time. We will come back to Cumberland Island, but very doubtful we will come back to Greyfield.
Thursday, April 20th
We had to be off the dock by 9:00 am and had already decided that we would make an early start of the day even though we didn’t have far to go. We were headed to Jekyll Island and figured it would take us about 90 minutes to get there. The situation was that Denise had a web conference call she had to be on, and Cumberland has no Wi-Fi internet access. While we could have used our hot-spot, we didn’t want to burn the data for this call as we had no idea how long it would last. So we cruised out of the anchorage, passing St. Mary’s submariner base and a few other interesting sights along the way. We headed across St. Andrews Sound – which was very calm and mostly flat, and into Jekyll Harbor Marina. We have been here before and we know one of the owners (Dave Blue) who also owns the marina in Jacksonville (Ortega) where we used to keep our sailboat when we lived there.
As glamorous as our life sounds, sometimes we do have to pay the bills, so today was a work day. We had to hunker down and do work for our clients. Denise did find time to catalog some pictures and write a bit of the blog post, and Mark got some tech support and eventually a repair part ordered for the dinghy engine handle. He also made reservations for marina’s in the coming days and weeks. Together we also decided to investigate a place for dinner in the Beach Village – a short ½ mile walk from the marina.
The marina here is really nice and we planned to stay two nights. The amenities include a pool, big bar-b-que grill & picnic tables, and an on-site restaurant. The staff here is really great and they have a bicycles and a golf cart you can use (for free) for up to 1.5 hr at a time.
The restaurant used to have a terrible reputation, but when the lease ran out new tenants were installed, and now it is supposed to be great. However, we had also read about a bar-b-que place in the Jekyll Market and Deli located in the Beach Village, so we decided to walk there for dinner. (Obviously Mark won the coin toss for the day).
The Bar-b-que place is called the “Love Shack” and it was well worth the half mile walk from the marina. They have fried shrimp, & oysters, Brunswick stew, chicken & wings, pulled pork, cole slaw, fries, sweet potato fries and green beans on the menu. That is it! It is a no-frills place. You place your order, pick it up and go sit at one of the handful of tables in the Market. The food was delicious and very affordable. We both got the pulled-pork and loved it. Also, because we ordered water only – we got some pretty cool to-go cups too!
After dinner we walked around the Village and out to see the beach for some great pictures. Then we rushed back to the boat in time for the killer sunset!
Because they have cable tv here, we were finally able to get caught up on news and weather; learning that tropic storm Arlene had formed in the Atlantic, but would not impact us. Whew!
Friday, April 21st
With the best of intentions, Denise was going to get up and go for a much-wanted run. However, she forgot to get all the stuff out the night before and she realized too late that some of it was underneath the bed that Mark was sleeping in. So instead she made a pot of coffee and utilized the great Wi-Fi to get some emails done.
We spent the morning working and confirming future marina reservations in Brunswick, and in getting more work done. Before we knew it, it was lunch time. We grabbed a quick sandwich and wrapped up a few things on the boat, and headed out for an adventure.
As luck would have it, the marina golf cart was available and we decided to take advantage of it. Off we were to see the sites around the Island. We drove first to the historic district of Jekyll Island where the Jekyll Island Club Resort is located. There are numerous cottages, a sea turtle center, the main resort, and even a croquet court.
Then we rode all around the northern and eastern part of the island, stopping long enough to take a few pictures of the Atlantic Ocean. The wind was really blowing out of the south, and the whitecaps on the waves showed how confused the seas were. It would not have been a good day to be offshore. Afterwards, we drove to the southern part of the Island and eventually back to the marina, getting back right at the 1.5 hour mark. It was a great way to see the island and all it has to offer, and we are glad we did this.
Around the marina, there is always a boater who you stop and chat with, and here is no exception. Denise was curious about the house boat (“Maria”) across the dock from us and eventually struck up a conversation with its owner, Annette. Her boat is very cute with a nice size galley and sleeping room for 6. Of course this vessel never leaves its slip (nor could it because the steering station has been removed), but has been her home for many years. Her cat “little bit” is a friendly guy and has tried to get on our boat several times. Fortunately, it is well behaved and all you have to do is say NO and it turns around and leaves.
Based on reviews by some of the other boaters we talked to today, we decided to try out the marina restaurant (Zachry’s River House) for dinner. We were not disappointed, but did have a little trouble finding a seat. The place was really crowded when we arrived at 6:30. Fortunately, we found a spot outside on the porch and we were glad we ended up there instead of inside. We got to see the spectacular view of the marina with the ICW as a backdrop. There was also a local musician playing on the porch and he was really quite talented. He played the acoustical guitar and the saxophone and had a terrific voice. It was the perfect ending to a great day!
Back at the boat, there was this blog to get done and posted, and tomorrow we will move on to Brunswick, Georgia and pick up the next post from there.