Two States to Home!
We are now home in Winter Park, and this will be the last entry for the adventures on our Down East Loop trip of 2019. Here is how we spent the last week on this journey:
Jekyll Island, GA – Tuesday, 11/5
Early in the morning the forecasted rain came through Hilton Head, but was light in the marina. When Denise got up she witnessed some spectacular lightning offshore and to the east of where we were. Before we could get under way, we had to wait for Denise to have a client conference call at 9:30, so we took to a few minor chores on the boat.
While waiting for the call, we saw our friends Vicki & Mac (“Confetti”) who were out for a morning walk. We had discovered they were in the marina last night when we arrived as they showed up on “Marine Traffic” (an app that uses AIS to track the movement of vessels on the water). We had considered going over to see them in the evening last night, but due to our delayed dinner we thought it would be too late for a visit. We chatted for a while before Denise had to jump on her call and they continued with their walk around the complex.
Once the call was complete, we headed out of the slip and through the lock, once again saying goodbye to Harbor Town Marina. The skies were cloudy as we headed down the ICW and through Calibogue Sound. We turned right and followed the ICW in a narrow, but somewhat protected channel in the Cooper River, and around Daufuskie Island.
Eventually we came to “Fields Cut”, an area just north of the Savannah River and known for shoaling to near impassable depths. However, they are dredging the area and we had to negotiate around two dredges and a few other boats. At the same time we had visibility to two large container ships coming up the Savannah River. Once past the dredge we came to an area where they were dumping the dredge and building up the island right at the mouth of the river.
As we came to where the ICW crosses the Savannah River we had to slow to allow the first container ship to pass, then negotiate around a northbound fuel barge at the ICW entrance south of the Savannah River. It made for some interesting boating, but Captain Mark handled it all perfectly. And as we did so, we entered the state of Georgia; Denise was elated that we were only one state away from home.
After this excitement and once in less trafficked waters, we prepared and ate lunch while underway. We finished just in time to go through the Bluff-Varnedoe bascule bridge, soon to be replaced by a new fixed bridge now under construction. Then on our right we passed the Bonaventure Cemetery, made famous in the book/movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil”.
Shortly thereafter we approached the area where the Savannah marinas are all aligned on both sides of the river. We stopped for fuel at Savannah Bend Marina on the eastern shore, across from the Hinkley marina. The pump was very slow and it took a long time to fill our tank, which was very frustrating. We knew today would be a long day and we had a very limited amount of daylight to get to Jekyll Island.
Finally, we finished fueling and were able to push off the dock and continue south. We passed a few more marinas, including Morningstar Marina and the famous Thunderbolt Marina; known for “big yachts”, great service, and donuts at your boat every morning. Here we also saw the barge the “RL Enterkin” whom we passed twice in the Carolinas.
We headed south through the no-wake zones of Skidaway Island, then Isle of Hope, and Burnside Island. Finally, we were able to open up the throttle and speed up. We still had a long way to go and feared arriving at Jekyll Island in the dark.
We continued in the Georgia ICW passing through the Ossabaw, St. Catherine’s, Sapelo, Doboy, and Altamaha Sounds without issue. It stayed mostly cloudy all day, but we were treated to dolphins as we came up and went through all these outlets to the Atlantic Ocean.
Soon we approached St. Simons Island and could see the Sydney Lanier Bridge in the distance. This is the bridge we would go under if going to Brunswick, GA where we stayed in 2017. However, we opted for staying in Jekyll Island this trip instead as it is on the ICW and they are only 8 miles apart.
We cruised around St. Simons Island and came upon St. Simon’s Sound; a major entrance for container ships and other freight carriers. Here we could see the salvage operations of the car-carrier ship “Golden Ray”, which wrecked here in September. You may recall this as it was in all the news when it happened. The carrier was intentionally grounded by the port pilot as the ship was listing and would have been a major disaster if it sunk out at sea. Now the salvage operations are underway as they try to cut up the ship and remove the more than 4200 cars that also sank with the vessel. You can learn more about this incident here.
It was right after 6 pm when we cleared the sound and entered Jekyll Creek and into the Jekyll Island Marina. We were grateful for the extra 20 minutes of daylight and due to the late hour the marina put us on the fuel dock for the night. Since we intended to stay two days, they would be moving us to another spot in the morning after other boats pulled out. That was ok by us as we were happy to finally be tied to a dock and ready for a happy hour drink.
After getting the boat settled and checking in at the marina office, we ate dinner aboard our Island Office. As much as we didn’t want to, we were forced to keep the back door closed and turn on the air conditioners; the bugs came out after dark and we were infested. This was our Georgia welcome: heat and bugs! We finished up the evening watching a little tv and then called it a day; exhausted but pleased with our 106 mile trek through a slow-going route on the ICW.
Jekyll Island, GA – Wednesday, 11/6
We slept in a bit this morning, but that didn’t stop Denise from going for a long walk (and some running) to the village downtown to see what had changed since April. As expected construction of the “Homes2” hotel has been completed and is now available for guests. She walked around and took some pictures, including of the fog out on the Atlantic Ocean.
Shortly after returning back to the boat the marina office had opened and the dockmaster (Terry) wanted to move our boat back to one of the many slips that had opened up. With little fanfare we were repositioned without having to turn on the engine. It helped that the tide was coming in and the fast current helped to push our boat along.
After this, we spent the morning doing work for clients, client calls, cataloging pictures and starting the last blog update. We also captured some pictures of the marina, so you can see why we really like it here:
After lunch we noticed boats had started coming into the marina and were tying up behind and in front of us. We were not really paying much attention to any of them, but did notice one that appeared to be flying a Gold Looper burgee. Later in the afternoon Denise went for a walk up to the marina office and saw this boat which had been positioned on the fuel dock in the very spot we were last night. As she approached the boat and saw its name (“Velomer”), she immediately knew who it was. On board were Bob and PM Amidon whom we had met in 2015 in Port Orillo, Ontario on the Great Loop, and who also were gracious hosts to us in Portland, Maine in 2017 (see post from 2017 here). Denise text Mark to come join her and he did. We then spent a bit of time talking with Bob & PM, then agreed to get together for dinner in town later that evening.
At 6:00 we met on the dock and walked together into the Village of Jekyll Island and to the Wee Pub for dinner. We have never eaten at this Irish pub/sports bar, and found the food quite good and very reasonably priced. We talked for a long time with Bob & PM, getting caught up and learning of their plans to cruise to Jacksonville this winter, then put their boat on the hard for a year. They wish to spend time visiting their kids in Colorado this spring, and then they are going to walk the Camino de Santiago (de Compostela); the way of St. James through France and on to Galicia, North-West of Spain next year. This is something Denise would like to do some day, and has a friend (Doreen) who completed it this past April.
We stayed in the restaurant talking for a long time since it was not crowded and they did not need the table. We walked back to the marina and said “good-bye”, promising to keep in touch – and forgetting to take their picture. They are staying on the island a few days, but we are headed south in the morning, trying to beat bad weather expected to hit on Friday.
St. Augustine, FL – Thursday, 11/7
Compared to some prior days, we did not have a long way to go, but it would still take us at least 4 hours to get to St. Augustine. We left the docks at Jekyll Island at 7:35 am with excitement knowing that we would be spending tonight in a Florida marina; the first time since April.
We entered St. Andrews Sound and only half paying attention to where we were headed, we mistook one set of channel marks for the ICW when in fact it was for a different channel. Right away we realized we had made a wrong turn and were able to reverse course and locate the proper set of marks. Back out on the sound we found the waves a bit bouncy, but it only lasted about 10 minutes. We entered the ICW where we should have originally, losing only a little time and a little pride. Even with all our experience, it is easy to get confused as the channels off of the ICW in Georgia are like a maze; when complacency sets in it is easy to make a mistake.
We rounded the northern tip of Cumberland Island, wishing we could again anchor here like we did in 2017. We were hoping to see the park and go on the tour; it was closed due to damage by the hurricanes at our last visit. But now this will have to wait for another adventure as the weather has not been cooperating again and we need to get to St. Augustine today. As if a consolation, we were able to spot a few wild horses on the north beach.
We continued on the ICW, paralleling Cumberland Island and eventually turning into St. Mary’s Inlet. Here we saw the familiar sight of the USCG Station with a few boats in port, and the familiar US Navy degaussing structure. And right after that at 8:55 am, we crossed the state line into Florida.
Denise was still smiling as we passed along the WestRock paper mill and downtown Fernandina Beach, where they were actively doing repair work on the marina. Hopefully they will open soon and the town can once again benefit from all the cruisers who usually stop there.
South of town we saw the Rayonier paper mill in full production, and continued as the ICW begins its narrow winding path southward, happy to not have any boats to pass in this area. We did get to see workman doing work on the railroad bridge near the Amelia Island Bridge and the Downunder restaurant. This is right at the entrance to the Amelia Island Marina where we stayed on our way north in the spring.
Eventually, we came to the St. Johns River and cruised across it without issue, seeing lots of dredge activity east of us in the river. We hugged the westbound side of the ICW channel as instructed in the warnings on Active Captain and had no issues with shoaling. And it was here that the clouds seemed to disappear and it turned into a beautiful day.
Continuing south we passed many boats all the way until we went under the J Turner Butler Bridge; always a landmark as we used to live not far off of this highway during our Jacksonville days. Next were the luxurious houses of Ponte Vedra Beach and the not quite as luxurious, but still nice homes of Palm Valley. Although not posted as a “no-wake” zone, there are numerous docks behind all the houses, and a USCG boat held us to 9kts. We took advantage of the slow down and ate our lunch while underway, but things had turned really hot in this narrow area, and we actually turned on the air conditioners while under way. This was a first since July on Lake Champlain.
Finally we arrived at the Palm Valley Bridge and entered the Tolomato River. For the next hour we cruised through the Guana River Wildlife Management Area until we came to Vilano Beach and the bridge that connects this area with St. Augustine.
Just after this we crossed the St. Augustine inlet, and entered the Matanzas River. Up ahead we could see the cross at Our Lady of La Leche, the fort (Castillo de San Marcos), and the skyline of downtown St. Augustine. We cruised under the Bridge of Lions and continued south until we reached the San Sebastian River, where we turned and headed to the Rivers Edge marina; our home for the next 3.5 days. It had taken us 6 hours to complete the 84 miles, but we were happy to be in St. Augustine. We have a fun weekend planned (again) with Claire & John as they are driving over from Tallahassee so Claire can run in a half marathon on Sunday. Unlike in Bar Harbor, Denise will not be joining her for this race.
After checking in at the marina office, we went back to the boat and spent the afternoon doing work for clients and working on the last blog update. We ate dinner on the boat and spent the evening watching tv. We tried to have a quiet evening, but we were put on a dock right by Hurricane Patty’s restaurant and the musician playing in the bar was a bit loud. Since he was a solo guitarist, it was tolerable, but it had us wondering what it was going to be like on Friday & Saturday nights.
St. Augustine, FL – Friday, 11/8
Today was a day to hunker down in the boat, at least for a good bit of the day. The wind picked up and it was stormy. We were happy to do client work and a few boat chores while waiting for Claire and John to arrive, which they did around 5:30 pm. We visited for a while on the boat, then we went to dinner at one of our old time favorite St. Augustine restaurants, the Gypsy Cab Company. Getting there was a challenge as it is on Anastasia Island and required us to navigate through downtown rush hour/tourist traffic and over the Bridge of Lions (BOL). However, we had a great meal and a terrific time and planned out the rest of the weekend.
After dinner, they took us back to our boat and called it a day. Once again there was entertainment at Hurricane Patty’s but it was much better than last night, and with the inclement weather the windows & doors were closed up, so it was not as loud for us. We got a good night’s rest as the wind continued to blow.
St. Augustine, FL – Saturday, 11/9
In the morning, we ventured off the boat and found the entire parking lot at Hurricane Patty’s was under water and the route to the marina office required us to walk through the restaurant’s porch. The winds had blown all the water from the northeastern side of the river to the marina and the fixed docks were only a few inches from being flooded. Fortunately, the boat was tied to a floating dock but the gangplank now required us to walk up it to get back to our boat.
Denise had plans to meet up with Claire at the race expo so she headed out for a walk to do so. However, Claire did not stay at the expo very long and before Denise could reach the venue, she and John picked her up in route. Together the three of them headed back over the BOL to the farmer’s market located at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre. Meanwhile, Mark stayed behind to wash the boat.
The farmer’s market was getting crowded and we could understand why once we arrived. There was a large variety of vendors selling produce, cheeses, beef & beef jerky, pottery, candles, maple syrup, jewelry, crafted clothing and baked goods. We spent a good hour there walking around, buying a few things and talking with some of the entrepreneurs about their businesses.
After the market we went to Claire & John’s hotel and then back to pick up Mark so we all could go to lunch. We opted for Sonny’s near our marina so Mark could enjoy some much-missed barbeque and so we didn’t have to get caught up in all the craziness of downtown tourism.
After lunch Mark helped Claire with a technical issue on her computer as she was trying to get an iPhone video transferred to her notebook computer. They were able to get it resolved in a short period of time and she was very happy for his assistance.
After this, we visited the St. Augustine Distillery, located about a half a mile from the marina. We had seen it when we were all here in May of 2018, but ran out of time then to visit it. Additionally, Denise had read an article about the business and was now really interested in checking it out. When we arrived, we were told that there would be a 45 minute wait for the next tour (free). While we were trying to decide if we wanted to wait, one of the guides came up with 4 tickets that someone had just turned in for the next tour, starting in 10 minutes. We were delighted that we would not have to wait and spent time reading about the history of the old building in which the distillery is housed.
Once the tour started, we got an education about how their whiskey, gin and vodka are made, and how the business utilizes every byproduct of their production to be a truly sustainable enterprise. In addition to the distillery (production room) and the labeling room, we were taken to a special tasting room where we were offered 3 different products to taste. From there, in very “Disneyesque” fashion, we were escorted to the gift shop and bar where we were afforded unlimited small tastings of any of their other products. It was really a lot of fun, and even though we all purchased something, it was a very reasonable fun afternoon adventure. We even got to meet the CEO (Philip McDaniel) and get our picture taken with him. You can learn more about the St. Augustine Distillery here and here.
After the distillery tour John and Claire took us back to our boat so we could shower and get ready for the evening. Later they picked us up to attend the 5:00 mass at the St. Augustine Cathedral, and from there our plans were to dinner together. Here are some of the pictures of the church.
Our dinner was two blocks away from the Cathedral at Old City House Inn & Restaurant, right across from the Lightner Museum. We arrived early and had a drink in their bar area, then were seated at a table outside in the courtyard. While the weather had turned cool, the heater kept us warm…that was until it ran out of gas and none was replaced during our visit. Our food was delicious, but our server was young and inexperienced and made our visit less than stellar. However, being together was the primary purpose of our visit, so we focused in on that.
After dinner we were taken back to the boat and retired for the evening, not even aware of any music coming from Hurricane Patty’s. It had been a fun-filled and full day of activities, and we were tired.
St. Augustine, FL – Sunday, 11/10
Denise got up very early and walked to downtown so she could cheer Claire during her race. Since she had run this race before, she knew the course and knew that after the BOL there was less than a mile left in the race. Strategically placed for maximum viewing, she was able to catch Claire after she came down the BOL and made a turn towards the fort. She jumped in and ran most of the way to the finish line with her.
After the race and rendezvousing with John in the car, they dropped Denise off at the marina. Here Mark was waiting in the parking lot and we were able to say our goodbyes. We were headed south in our Island Office and they were going to head back to Tallahassee as soon as they checked out of their hotel.
Here are some other pictures we took of the marina and St. Augustine:
It took us no time to ready the boat and we left the dock at 10:15 am. We headed out of the San Sebastian River and back into the ICW for the 60 mile cruise to New Smyrna Beach. Almost immediately we passed by the Trumpy Yacht “Angelus”. Denise is such a fan of these boats and loves to learn about them.
It was a mostly uneventful day for most of the trip, with the biggest excitement coming when we had to negotiate a very close passing around the dredge and shoals at Matanzas Inlet.
We made our way through the narrows at Palm Coast and got through the Knox Bridge without incident, and then the ICW opened up around Ormond Beach.
Along the way we did encounter a large number of pleasure boaters of all types (it was the weekend after all) and had to negotiate around each of them.
Although we probably could have made it safely all the way to our home port on the fuel we had, we decided not to cut it so close and stopped for fuel at Halifax Marina in Daytona Beach. We added the bare minimum of diesel as the boat is going to be hauled and put on the hard for maintenance in 2 weeks, and we didn’t need the extra weight on board.
Finally, we made our way past Ponce Inlet, went under the North Causeway Bridge and into the slip at the New Smyrna Marina. We had stayed here before with friends in their boat, but have never brought Island Office here. We tried to get into the New Smyrna City Marina where we usually stay and is closer to the downtown and area restaurants, but we were not able to get in there. This marina is slightly more expensive (comparatively), but is set in a very nice complex of townhomes, a restaurant (Outrigger’s) and close to the home of our family friends who will be meeting us.
We finished settling the boat and took quick showers in time to meet our friends (Pat & “Skirt” Skrtic) who came to the marina to pick us up. We headed over to see the renovations of their “beach house”. This is not their primary residence, but rather a rental property that Denise and her family would sometimes stay at when at NSB with this family. The house was a “kit” home (aka “Montgomery Wards”, “Sears” catalog order) and was built in 1909. It has been in their family for 50 years and their 3 sons want it kept it that way. So they have undertaken a major renovation to replace windows, update the kitchen, redesign/remodel the bathroom and a second bedroom, among other things. But mostly they had to level the floor and that required pilings and leveling jacks; not an easy task. But the inside has beadboard walls that are all original wood and the memories shared in the house makes it a special place. Here are some pictures:
After the “tour” we went to dinner at the “Gill at the Riverview”; a restaurant that is attached to the old Riverview Inn and overlooks the New Smyrna Harbor. The food was excellent and we were treated to a wonderful sunset.
Of course the time together flew by and before long it was time to take us back to the marina. We said goodnight and made a promise to get back over to the beach before long. We then readied the boat for tomorrow’s departure and went to bed.
Here are some other pictures of the buildings around the marina:
Harbortown Marina, Merritt Island – Monday, 11/11
The day started early with a bright and beautiful sunrise. We both were up early and although we didn’t have far to go and were not going to leave until 8:00 am, by 7:30 we had already finished breakfast so we untied from the dock and left New Smyrna Beach.
It was slow going at the start as there were many boats in the anchorages and at the New Smyrna Yacht Club, but we were able to pick up speed for a little while. We made our way through Edgewater, passing the Boston Whaler boat manufacturing plant and the Lathrom’s Landing RV Park as we headed through Mosquito Lagoon.
This is one of the prettiest parts of the ICW in Florida. It is part of Canaveral National Seashore and is a year round “no-wake” zone due to the manatees. And we spotted a few in the water, but there are far less this time of year than in the spring where they are plentiful. We also had dolphins around us all over the place, which added to the beauty of the place.
The channel stays narrow through most of the lagoon, but the small islands give way to the east opening up the view so as to clearly see the Kennedy Space Center in the distance. It was a beautiful day and we had good visibility on the VAB (vehicle assembly building) and the launch pads. We were trying to time our arrival for a Delta Rocket Launch scheduled for the morning, but because we left so early, we were through this area sooner than expected. We confirmed with a friend that the launch was still a “go” but had time to make it to the Indian River, where viewing would be good there as well.
So we followed the right turn of the ICW, through the Haulover Canal and out into the Indian River, negotiating the small fishing boats along the way. Here we were delighted with the number of dolphins frolicking all around us. We were able to capture a few of them running in the bow of the boat for a good way, before they broke off.
Cruising south on the Indian River was a pleasure as the weather was great and the water very pretty. It was a perfect day on the water and the best way to end our adventure.
We passed through the NASA railroad bridge, and the town of Titusville, where there were lots of cruising boats at the anchorage outside the marina. As we passed under the Max Brewer Bridge we had a good view of the launch pads and calculated our time with respect to the launch. We slowed our progress so we could stay in this part of the river in order to see the launch. But we were not sure which of the launch pads the rocket would hoist from, and we had visibility to several. So we waited patiently until 9:51 when we saw the smoke and the rocket launch. It was very fast moving off the pad, but we had a terrific view and caught these pictures over the next few minutes:
And just like that it was all over; the launch, and soon thereafter our 2019 Down East Loop. Within 15 minutes we turned left and headed up the Barge Canal, returning to our homeport marina “Harbortown” in Merritt Island. Along the way we noticed more cleanup of the old marina and final construction of the Cape Cove Resort & Marina complex, and happily cruised under the SR 3 Bridge.
We turned into Harbortown and parked our boat in the assigned slip on E dock.
In 117 days we cruised over 4200 nautical miles. We saw all types of wildlife: eagles, osprey, gannets, porpoises, dolphins, fish, seals, & whales. We encountered people and places of many different origins and nationalities, and learned a lot about each. But most of all we met new cruising friends, connected with old friends and had a wonderful adventure.
Who knows when and where our next one will take place as we have none planned right now. You will just have to stay tuned for more of our adventures on Island Office.
Thank you for taking my wife and myself along on your 2019 adventure. Y’all portrayed your entire adventure exquisitely. Your Back Cove 37 may be the most traveled vessel the factory has produced. Have a great winter Paul and Jane on SouthernBelle a Back Cove 34.