Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fernandina Beach - "Not Florida"

N30°39.958', W081°28.483'
Fernandina Beach is another of those stops that "Everybody" makes along the Cruiser Highway.  After leaving Jacksonville, we discovered that we were missing a card for our Chart Plotter for this part of the East Coast (I know, how did THAT happen?) and we would have to wait for a few days for the new one to arrive.  Fernandina Beach, with it's inexpensive mooring field and close proximity to the Florida/Georgia border,  looked like a great place to hang out!

After our rainy arrival (remember, we're still in Florida where it rains EVERY DAY!), we began to get the impression that the people at the Fernandina Harbor Marina were pretty laid back.  That impression held true thoughout our stay here as the staff made us feel very welcome and couldn't have been more accommodating.

The marina is just on the other side of the ICW from the mooring field with this long fuel and transient dock.  Even with the strong reversing currents that run through here, it's an easy on/easy off stop for fuel, water and pump out services.

We unloaded our bikes and parked them near the dinghy dock so that we could get around town a little quicker, although the main street runs just up from the marina, so we're right in the middle of the entertainment.  The grocery store, however, is a couple of miles away so having the bicycles was VERY nice. We ended up staying just over a week here before moving on.  We had great wi-fi and lots of things to do to pass the time.

The only thing even remotely wrong with this town is the view of, and smell emitting from this paper plant.  It's fine when the wind blows the smell of burning 'something' in another direction, but when it comes your way... it permeates everything, leaving an odd burnt smell lingering in the air that we could still smell after the wind changed direction...

Awesome sunsets!

We enjoyed the beautiful sunsets every day.  There was nothing to restrict our view with the wide open landscape to the West of our mooring field.  The dolphin rolled lazily at the water's surface adding to the gorgeous scene.

The railroad track ran between the marina and and the town.  We grew accustomed to the daily sounds of the trains as they moved back and forth carrying 'something' to/from the paper plant...  There is a bar in town that it is rumored, gives shots to the patrons every time the train goes by... but somehow, we never got there...

Coming and going by dinghy, we were continually amazed by the dramatic tide range of this place.  We just don't HAVE this where we come from...

Mud Flats where there had been water!

We parked the dinghy at the dock and left for a few hours... and when we returned, we had THIS!

See the mud there at the edge of the dock?

It left a trail of slimy icky muddy water...
Our dinghy was practically sitting high and dry!  We had to raise the motor and pull it back out to deeper water before we could leave!

We learned our lesson and parked at the OTHER dinghy dock where there was plenty of water all day.

A quiet space tucked in between two buildings...
The town is just lovely.  The City of Fernandina Beach has done a great job of creating beauty in the most unlikely places.  Everywhere you look, there is evidence of the pride this community takes in their town.

I love the old buildings still in use.  And there is NO shortage of churches.  It seemed like there was literally one on every street...

Lesesne House

The Palace - Florida's Oldest Bar

We found a little bakery on Atlantic Avenue that had the most wonderful Sticky Buns EVER.  Ok so I've never had a sticky bun... but I'm sure that these are the BEST!
We ended up having breakfast here about half of the days we were here...  We discovered that they also make a muffin that is very much like carrot cake, which is Bruce's favorite.  They were scrumscious...  My rationale is that since we were riding our bikes to get here, it didn't matter if we ate pastries for breakfast every day...  

We had a little bit of shopping to do while we were here.  We don't do a lot of that in our travels since we have no room for nick-nacks on the boat... But my daughter's upcoming birthday gave us the excuse.  We found a sweet set of pearls from China that seemed like just the thing...

The trip to the Post Office to mail off that package was even a treat.  We have visited several communities who still use their old old Post Offices.  

Entering these quiet halls produces a sense of reverence in me.  I can almost feel the multitude of people who have come and gone here through the years... leaving their presence in the air.  I know, strange... But the place just had a historical feel to it that was palpable.  
We made it across the island to the beach one day.   We were a little surprised to see the waters all brown and muddy looking, even as far offshore as we could see.

We stopped for lunch at Sandy Bottoms.  We had a nice lunch overlooking the Atlantic and wondered if the waters were so stirred up because of the shifting shoals that reach out for miles from here.  Sandy Bottoms serves a side dish we've never had before... Fried Baked Potatoes.  They bake the potatoes, then cut them into chunks and coat them in a light covering, then briefly deep fry them.  It was pretty good...

Why does this Lifeguard look to be about 12 years old?...

They say that you should never try to do more than one thing in a day as Cruisers.  This is very true when it comes to grocery shopping.  We made several trips to the Winn Dixie and the Dollar Store right next door.  We can only carry so much on our backs so we had to make several trips... But it's great exercise and we took a different route each trip so that we got to see a lot of the town.  We rode down by the paper plant and the railroad tracks on the way home one day, and found this enormous pile of wood pulp.  There was a machine blowing more on top of the pile.  The air smelled of wood all the way to the mooring field.  I wonder what happens to all that pulp when it rains?

All week long we kept an eye out for a good place to have our Anniversary dinner...  We were married ten years ago on July 18th, 2004 and had a tradition of eating lobster on our anniversary.  We've kind of let that go in recent years, but were looking for fish at least...

Angel Food Cake with strawberries and Amaretto Chocolate Liqueur.
In typical Cruiser style, we found some nice looking tuna steaks at the grocery store, and ended up having a simple, delicious tuna salad with a decadent dessert on our own boat instead of going out.  I think our quiet, low key celebration was just perfect and befits our lives together much more than any fancy dinner ever could...

We did have some touristy fun while we were here... One day we rode our bikes to the Community Center to take the Amelia Island Lighthouse Tour.  The lighthouse is Florida's oldest continually working light and it is very rustic.

They only offer a limited schedule of tours and we were lucky to be here during one of them.  We rode the shuttle from the Community Center to the lighthouse.  This site is set apart from the other lighthouses we've visited, (and there have been many...) by their lighthouse keeper, Helen O'Hagan Sintes.  Helen is a third generation keeper and has lived in this lighthouse for her entire life.  She is in her 80s and still climbs the stairs daily.

We weren't able to climb into the tower as it isn't safe for the public, but we got to take a peek inside the bottom.  These stairs are made of stacked granite and there is no evidence of any type of supporting structure inside of them.  They are just stacked in a spiral all the way to the top.

I'm not sure that I would have been able to climb them even IF we had been given the opportunity...

While we were in the neighborhood, we detoured to the entrance of Fort Clinch... but unfortunately we put it off this trip.  The miles we had already traveled plus the additional three mile bike ride to get to the fort were more than I could do at the moment.  Will have to save this one for our next visit here...

We always love a local farmer's market and were happy to walk through the stands set up all along one of the closed off side streets.  The produce was beautiful and there were many other things we don't usually see such as locally made goat cheeses and meats.

We bought some veggies and I got my first taste of Georgia Peaches... YUM!  Oh just the smell of them makes me swoon!

We also bought some more pastries... I know, I know... but they look so good!

We got our new map card and would have been ready to get out of Florida...  Our insurance premium goes down the moment we cross the Florida/Georgia Border... and it's just moments away... But, we were delayed by some back pain that I experienced for about a solid five days.  Luckily, we had something for it and I was able to get over it enough to pull my weight, so to speak on board and we were only delayed by a couple of days.

Fernandina Beach has a lot to offer and we will make it a regular stop on our way up and down the coast in the future.  The Marina staff were so friendly and welcoming.  The laundry and shower facilities were in great shape and very clean.  The Cruiser's Lounge had deep leather couches and cold AC.  The wi-fi was super-fast... there are just so many reasons why this spot is so very "Not Florida"...  Gone are the wall to wall developments... Small town ways are prevalent here.  It's really more like "South Georgia" than Florida... We haven't even left yet and it's already like we're somewhere else!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

St. George River

N30°26.416', W081°26.142'

Looks deceptively calm...
What is our purpose for being out here?  Are we here to make time, tick off miles?  No.  We're here to see things.  If we wanted to tick off some miles, we'd be riding the Gulf Stream Northward...  so what's next?  What is there to see? How do you find it?  Looking at a nautical chart, there doesn't seem to be much out here... but when you go looking for it, the information is there.

My friend from Sea Soul  (now What If) told me about a website/app that she uses to find cool stuff to do in the areas we're traveling.  And she ALWAYS seems to find the cool places!  It's called Roadtrippers.  I won't say that the app is perfect, in fact it's a bit quirky for people not traveling on highways, but it has shown me some cool things and I plan on making use of it all the way up the East Coast!  I had my eye on our next stop, found on Roadtrippers...   The Kingsley Plantation.

I checked the tide tables in the morning and we decided that it was time to head out.  It was near slack high tide which would make getting off this dock a bit more easy.  We eased right off and turned Northward into Sister's Creek.  The current was dead against us.  The water was glassy calm, hiding the insistent pressure of the tide which held us to a lumbering 3.5 knots.

We were alone in the world as we made our way past four miles of marsh and turned into the St. George River where we would anchor for the night.

The Kingsley Plantation

Following the deeper water along the Southern bank, we encountered just one bump near the entrance.  I'm not sure that I would feel as comfortable passing over that at low tide.  Note to self:  leave near high tide...  We passed the stately Kingsley Plantation and found a spot to drop our hook just past the last green channel marker.

We could feel and hear the water rushing beneath our boat

We only plan to stay one night so we'll visit the Plantation today.  The outgoing tide isn't due to switch direction until mid afternoon.  With this being so, we figured that we could leave the boat and be back before the tide turned.  We wanted to be on the boat for that.

The Plantation has a nice dock for use while visiting.  They post a 59 minute limit but they told us you can stay as long as you're visiting their place.  There's room for a couple of decent sized boats but the floating dock is protected by tall pilings, so fender boards might be necessary.  We just took the dinghy in.

The main house
The plantation has a self guided walking tour.  You check out an iPhone with stories that are triggered by your location on the grounds.  There are stations that you visit to hear all about the Kingsley's and their time here.

Dos Libras from the banks of St. George Island
It is a fascinating story and one that is uncommon for the times in which the Kingsley's lived.  They built the Plantation near the inlet and shipped the cotton and indigo grown on the island to foreign ports.  The land was under Spanish rule at the time and their laws were evidently a bit more liberal in regards to slave ownership.

Kingsley owned many slaves.  He was a benevolent master and never mistreated them, although he did expect their behavior to match their station in life.  There would be punishment for a slave who got out of hand.

Kingsley's home from the back
Kingsley provided quarters for his slaves and treated them well... and they worked his plantation as was the practice in those days.

But... he had more forward thinking ideas about slaves...  He fell in love with one of his slave women.  Her name was Anna.

He did a thing that was almost unheard of in those days... He married her!

Anna's Kitchen house

Anna had her own home joined to the back of the main house by a long corridor.  Her home was the kitchen house, where she reigned supreme and even owned her own slaves to do the work of the kitchen for the plantation.  Anna was the overseer of the Plantation, even running it in Kingsley's absence.

He educated her and taught her the intricate workings of the Plantation so that she could run it as well as he.  Kingsley gave Anna her freedom, as he did for many of his slaves.

The story becomes even more strange as the Kingsley's were of a religion that practices polygamy.  While Anna would be allowed multiple husbands, she never took another.  Kingsley however, had several wives, but Anna was the "primary" wife and continued to enjoy top status on the plantation.  The other wives were never given the education she was, but remained as sisters to help Anna.

The Stables

When Florida became part of the United States, the changing times and fear of slave uprising made the Kingsley's views on slavery unpopular.  Kingsley eventually moved his family and some of his slaves to Haiti.  The Plantation was sold to his nephew.

It is a fascinating story and it started us thinking about the way in which society views slavery today.  It sparked many hours of conversation about the subject between Bruce and I, and I couldn't help but wonder about some things...

We enjoyed our visit to the Plantation and the anchorage.  We marveled as we sped around looking for a beach, that this spit of land was completely covered by water when we arrived.  I'm glad we didn't try to anchor in this nice looking little cove...

Peahens strolling the shoreline
We enjoyed our evening here.  Holding was excellent, we never budged with the changing tidal current.

It is sublimely peaceful here with only the birds, dolphin and even a manatee for company.  We did see a few boats passing by, but most were nice enough to slow down.

Leaving on the high tide while it was still incoming the next morning was a snap.  We are SO glad we found this little side trip treasure.  There is just so much out here to enjoy when you aren't in a hurry.  Next stop... Fernandina Beach!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Path Is Winding And The Tides Are High

We bustled our guests off early in the morning so that we could all get back on the road after an enjoyable family mini-vaca with my Mom.  Bruce and I were ready and dancing around in the current as we waited for the 7:30 opening of the Bridge of Lions.

Looks bigger from out here...
We motored past the sleeping Castillo and headed out towards the St. Augustine Inlet on a strong outgoing tide.  We struggled to break the grip of the current as we turned into the ICW for our next Northward bound hop.  The Inlet and the Atlantic will have to wait for another day.

My Favorite Bird - Roseate Spoonbills
The waterway between St. Augustine and Fernandina beach has been described to us as being "more like Georgia and Florida", and I can believe it.  There are no condos, just birds and trees and marsh.

We relaxed and enjoyed the peace and quiet as we made barely 4 knots against the current.  Today we would be underway all day.  The winds were light and variable and it was cool out on the water for a July morning.

We marveled as we moved along at just how dramatically the landscape changes with the outgoing tide.  It was like the bathtub was being drained and all the rubber duckies were left stranded in the bubbles on porcelain.

The docks have dropped their drawers!
Coming from a place where the tides are (now we know them to be) minimal, we begin to understand how different the lives of people who live near these waters can be.  Do they really plan their boating activities around the tides?  They MUST!

Bridges that we are normally concerned about have become a non-event.  When the bridge height is published to be 65 ft. clearance at high tide, that is always subjective.  If the tide is higher than normal for some reason, it could be that we would need to wait until the tide drops to pass safely beneath the span with our 62 1/2 ft. mast height.  NOT TODAY!  We've never SEEN 70 ft of clearance on a 65 ft. bridge before...

So now should we be worrying about the depth???  Well, luckily no.  The depths along this part of the ICW are some of the deepest we've seen.  Perhaps the strong currents keep the channels cleaned out as the rivers we're traveling wind their way along the coast.

It was an easy day even though we were hand steering most of the way. There were some long straight stretches where we could engage the autopilot, but not too many.  The river twists and bends enough to keep it interesting.

Our big event for the day was crossing the St. John's River Inlet.  Bruce had memories of it which caused him some concern.  The tide was still coming in so we expected to be offset a bit as we negotiated the turn into and across this sometimes busy waterway.  We could hear ships announcing their approach to the ICW intersection and we hailed them on the VHF to let them know we were coming through.  We just had to hop across and turn into Sister's Creek on the other side where we would find a bridge that opens on demand.  That's the best kind... especially when you're dealing with the strong current, which would now soon be whisking us along instead of holding us back.

I'm still not sure how it happened, but suddenly we were across the River and there was the bridge.  I never saw the oncoming ship, or even the river for that matter.  I must have blinked and it was gone.  I guess I had expected it to be wider...  I scrambled to hail the bridge tender and he opened it right up for us and one other sailboat to pass through.

Deceptively serene
Our destination was immediately to Port as we passed the free pump out station and turned up a creek to find the Sister's Creek Free Dock totally empty and waiting for us.  Ahhh do we deserve such riches?  The current in this small creek sucked us in so fast it made turning the boat around in this narrow space a bit of a challenge.  We barely made it in this confined space but once we got turned around, I had to pour on the steam to escape the clutching waters.  I was full throttle just to get the boat close enough to the dock for Bruce to jump off with the lines and hastily secure us to the cleats to keep the current from sweeping us onto the shallow north bank of the little creek.

We walked the dock and watched a man catch THIS!
Once we were positioned near the end where we could find some air and quadruple lines were out, we relaxed and checked out our new home.  We had planned on staying here for one night, but maybe we'll just stay for two.  The dock is NICE and we have some projects that need ding which would be much easier with all this space.  And the water... the lovely free unlimited water...

We had a surprise visit from a FaceBook friend whom we hadn't seen since Clearwater Beach.  Cathy and Ed on Sea Soul (for a little while longer) were headed our way and would stop and stay for the night.

Their day had been a long one but they were still up for joining us for sundowners until the no-see-ums chased us in for the night.

Another boat arrived near dark and the guys helped them dock, but it wasn't until the following morning that I realized looking out my bedroom window... that this was yet ANOTHER of my fellow sail bloggers... Jason from Sailing Chance!  Cruising is really showing us how small the world can be!

Beats walking the plank?
By mid-morning, everyone but us had cleared off the docks so Bruce and I got down to business.

My victim awaits...
We've been putting of his haircut for a couple of weeks now.  He wouldn't have a problem with growing woolly but he complains so much about having to tuck his hair behind his ears or it gets in his eyes...  Cry me a river Buddy!  But since we had this lovely salon at our doorstep, I took pity on him and gave him a trim.

Next on the list was to repair the damaged sunshade.  Remember, we learned our lesson about leaving it up in a squall while anchored near Peanut Island?  Well, we've been without it since then, but we have the parts to fix it onboard.

We laid it all out on the dock and put it back together better than before.  When we originally built it, we used small screws to join the two halves of the PVC frame so that we could break it down and store it in the V-berth.  This time we used a push pin that we picked up at a hardware store in Palm Beach.  I think this is going to work out much better!

By the time we did all of that stuff, the afternoon Thunder Boomers arrived and we ended our day there.  Besides, we're Cruisers... we don't want to get TOO much accomplished in one day... it just wouldn't be right!  Maybe we'll take tomorrow off...
Gorgeous full moon... (imagine sound of crickets)

But we just couldn't let this dock and the free water go to waste... Our entire next day was spent working our tushes off to clean the decks.  I went to work on the cockpit and enclosure.  We donned our swimsuits and beat the heat with copious amounts of water.

While I worked on that, Bruce took everything off the decks except for the Platypus bags. (We had cleaned those out back in Ft. Pierce).  I wish there was someplace else we could store all of this stuff.  We've culled it down several times, but there are just some things that we can't get rid of...  Sometimes I feel like the Clampetts with all of our worldly belongings piled atop our ride...

You would be amazed at how long it takes to thoroughly clean a 45 ft. sailboat.  We didn't even get the decks finished when the rainclouds began to threaten once again.  We hastily packed everything back on board and battened down for today's afternoon mini-storm.

This Free Dock has a 72 hour limit.  During our stay we were visited by the self appointed  Official Unofficial Greeter, Browne.  He is a CLOD (Cruiser Living On Dirt) with hopes of getting back out there some day... but for now, he visits Cruisers who stop here and helps people get things they need.  Town is 15 miles away and he was on his way there.   He offered to stop by Home Depot for us to pick up something we needed.  What a very nice man he is.

We had a second visitation from the local law enforcement person.  He showed up in shorts and a ratty t-shirt and chatted us up for a bit.  It wasn't until I asked him if he lived around here that he told us that he was a policeman.  Cool JOB!  He asked us how long we've been here and when we planned on leaving... and didn't bat an eye when our answer included four nights.  That's over the limit. But since he said nothing, we stayed on.

Our final day was spent finishing up the deck and visiting with our new neighbors aboard Country Dancer.  Somehow the hours flew by and we had stayed our limit and then some.  We prepared to leave this oasis and continue on with an early morning departure.

This is a GREAT place to stop for a while and with a little luck the tides will be in your favor.  With every new encounter we are gaining experience and skills that we did not have before.  The simplest things become accomplishments and tense anticipation eases with every one.  Tomorrow, we continue on along the winding ICW to find even more dramatic tide ranges, and we wonder what ELSE tomorrow will bring...