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...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Arthur And America's Oldest City

St. Augustine Municipal Marina
We could have gladly stayed on at Fort Matanzas, but when we began to receive emails from friends about a possible storm brewing in the Atlantic... we made haste to get to a safe place.  We were expecting a visit from my Mother and her friend Joan in a few days, but with the threat of uncertain weather, we moved up our arrival to America's Oldest City, St. Augustine, FL.

While the first tropical depression of the season was working itself into a frenzy, Bruce and I were busy settling in and enjoying the delights of this very touristy spot.

Checking the mooring tackle
The moorings here are reasonably priced and seem to be in good shape.  There has been a lot of controversy about mooring fields.  Many people would rather trust their own ground tackle over the mass moorings provided by a number of cities in Florida.  While we enjoy the peace and tranquility of anchoring out, we also like the convenience and benefits that come along with moorings.  Being welcome at the docks for water fills, pump outs and long hot showers has a certain allure that we find irresistible.  And we don't have to worry about the cats taking the boat for a spin while we're away...

One possible downside to moorings, is that they may be inspected less often than we would hope.  During our stay in St. Augustine, we heard of an incident involving failure of a mooring in the nearby Salt Run mooring field, which I believe is also maintained by the City of St. Augustine.  This prompted a city wide inspection of the moorings in both fields.  With the threat of possible storm conditions looming, I felt comforted by this attention, which in the end, was unnecessary.  Anchors fail.  Ground tackle fails.  Moorings fail.  It happens from time to time.  You make your choices and take your chances in life.  For us, we are appreciative of the facilities that moorings provide.

Castillo de San Marcos  Looks kind of small doesn't it?
We had a couple of days to scope out the city before our guests arrived... and before the weather fell apart.  We've had thunderstorms every day for weeks as we've moved up the Florida coast.  Ironically, with the newly christened Tropical Storm Arthur making up his mind offshore about 130 miles East... we enjoyed a couple of rain free days.

We purchased three day passes on the Red Train.  They are a fun way of getting around town as you can jump on or off at any of the nearly 30 stops they make throughout the city.  Our first stop was just down the street... the Castillo de San Marcos.

The dry moat.
Much of the structure is unseen as you walk up the pathway.  It's thick Coquina stone walls hide a much larger space, much of which is buried in the hillside.

Whenever the city was threatened by attack, the people of St. Augustine would gather their animals and belongings and disappear within these uniquely shaped walls.  The animals occupied the dry moat which was never filled with water.

The primary reason for a moat is to keep the enemy from trying to tunnel beneath the walls to gain entry.  The shallow water table, sandy makeup of the land and proximity to the Atlantic ocean, make it impossible to tunnel deep enough to get in.  Therefore, the moat was a convenient place to keep the livestock safe and close so that the besieged citizens could keep their food source fresh enough to last several months.

Cross the drawbridge with us and go back in time... The walls of the Castillo were made from Coquina mined from nearby Anastasia Island, and just like their "back door" guardian, Fort Matanzas, they provided secure protection for the life of the fort.  It, like Matanzas was never taken by force.  Though it changed hands through the ages, it was only by treaty or peaceful means.

We watched a musket loading demonstration.
But that doesn't mean that there weren't battles and soldiers here.  The constant preparation and drilling that made up the lives of the enlisted men and officers stationed here, was another reason that the fort never fell.  They would perform drills repeatedly while on duty, so that the use of their muskets and cannons became second nature.

The St. Augustine Inlet lies on the horizon to the right.

We climbed the ancient stone steps to the top of the castle walls where we could look out over the Matanzas river and out through the St. Augustine Inlet.  It looks benign today but the shifting shoals can be treacherous.  From this vantage point, the inhabitants of the Castillo could fire cannonballs between 1 and three miles to discourage advancement of the enemy if the shoals failed to do so.

We watched a re-enactment of the firing of a cannon.  There are 72 steps to it and after each of the commands was called out and performed, the satisfying BOOM!!!! was the reward.  If any of these steps were skipped, it could result in a misfire which could be bad for anyone standing nearby.  I asked about the lengthy process taking so much time in the frenzy of battle.  

Evidently the distance these babies could fire, allowed for the orderly leisure required to go through the process.  And the constant drilling honed the soldier's skills so that they can run through them in less than five minutes.  With 40-50 cannons available along the wall, they could belt them out fast enough to discourage the incoming ships well enough.

After the presentation, Bruce continued with the questions, prompting the soldiers to show us how they aimed and positioned the cannons so that they could come pretty close to their target almost every time.

City Gates
We left the fort and hopped back on the Red Train to be whisked to our next location.  We passed by the only remaining portion of the wall that once surrounded the city.

St. George Street
We were looking for lunch along St. George Street.  It is a narrow cobbled street lined with shops and restaurants.  We found what we were looking for at the Columbia.

Bruce and I were disappointed when we visited St. Petersburg earlier this year, that the Columbia that was once on The Pier, was no longer there.

We had fond memories of dining there while boat shopping, back before all of this began...  Our mouths began to water as we watched them serve the Cuban Bread that comes with every meal.

We splurged and had an exquisite lunch with sangria made right at our table.  We were reluctant to leave the cool and tranquil spot by the fountain to go back outside into the sweltering streets... but eventually we did.

Next, a walk down Aviles Street, the Oldest Street in America.  It amazes me that time seems to have stopped here in St. Augustine.  They have preserved so much of the old streets and buildings.  Many of them aren't even money makers.  It's interesting to see and I wonder why my home town seems to find it impossible to do this in our old downtown area.  What a shame it is.

The afternoon was growing warm and we made our way back to the boat to relax.  The tides here continue to amaze me as we approached the dock to see all of the water gone...

Next day we walked across the Bridge of Lions to Anastasia Island.  The view from the bridge was worth the hike even if there wasn't an opening while we were up there.

Anastasia Island on foot seemed almost deserted.  We walked all the way (after stoping off for a quick lunch) to the St. Augustine Lighthouse.  We could have taken the Red Train shuttle, but we needed to stop over at a physician's office for a quick visit, so we figured we would catch it back as it runs every hour.

This is undoubtedly the "Nicest" lighthouse we've visited to date.  It is substantially built with thick walls and very secure staircases.  There are lovely landings every 20-30 steps to allow for recovery, which makes the climb of 217 steps seem to be much fewer.

The view is as awesome as you might expect.  The inlet is of particular interest as we could find ourselves attempting to navigate it at some point in the future.  We could see vast shoals that stretched very far out to sea.


The breeze was brisk, but here, I didn't feel nervous.  This house is solid.  I still had to take the "looking down picture" because I couldn't really do it myself... but I'm working on that.

Normally, the journey back down is the most nerve wracking to me.  But these steps, with their intermittent landings, hid the treacherous fall from my eyes and thus comforted my soul...

It's BIG!
The light keepers quarters were luxurious compared to those we've seen before.  This is a NICE house!

The house doubles as a museum of history and there are several items on display in the very impressive basement of this house.  There is a lot of information about the people who once lived in the area, Indians, Slaves and the many others who have passed through over the decades.

Just so that you know... if you don't buy your tickets for the lighthouse through the Red Train people, they don't know they're supposed to come back and pick you up.  This is not clearly stated when they tell you "sure, the shuttle runs on the hour!". So, we had to call them and waited for over an hour.  But they were nice enough to come get us so that we didn't have to walk our tired bodies back to the boat.

Memorial Presbyterian Church
The next day we toured some of the other side of the city.  Henry Flagler, of whom I've written before as we have visited some of the other towns that have benefited from his influence... has a huge presence here in St. Augustine.  How much money did that man HAVE!???  He is responsible for several of the more lavish buildings and churches in the Historical District.

I was awed by the opulence of the Memorial Presbyterian Church, built in less than 365 days in honor of Henry Flagler's daughter and to commemorate her death.  Henry, his daughter and grandchild are actually buried here.

The amazing and intricately wrought Ponce de Leon Hotel, also built by Flagler, was a marvel in its time and continues to be so today, although it is now used to house Flagler College.

I LOVE intricate tile work... LOVE IT!

This huge complex boasted of having electricity three years before the Whitehouse did, and it still houses the largest single collection of Tiffany Stained Glass windows in the world.

The hotel only opened from mid January to mid March each year, and if you wished to stay, you must book the entire three months in advance.  The cost was an exorbitant $5 to $100 per night.

There were two other large hotels built in the area, one is now the only four star hotel in town, the Casa Monica.  Very nice.  It was built by a man who tried to compete with Henry Flagler... who later went bankrupt and ended up selling to Flagler for pennies on the dollar.

The third hotel was also built by Flagler as an alternative to the pricey Ponce.  The Alcazar could be booked for one day at a time at a cost of $2 per night.  This included dinner and various spa treatments, a swimming pool and bicycling lessons of all things...  It is now the Lightner Museum and it houses a collection of some of the most precious objects left over from the Gilded Age.

Vast tiny tiled floor.

A clock.
Our Red Train whisks us quickly from marvels of the Gilded Age back to life among the more humble people as we move from Henry Flagler's neighborhood to Lincolnville.

This part of town contains hundreds of homes listed in the National Historical Register.  Although many have been demolished in the name of progress... I was amazed at how unchanged this area has remained.

Lincolnville was populated by freedmen in the mid-1800s.  Many of the residents worked for Henry Flagler in his many hotels and other businesses.  The area became a base for activist activities during the Civil Rights Movement and it is said that Martin Luther King slept in many of these homes, having to move around night after night to keep from being discovered.

There are many beautiful and well kept homes here, but there are also quite a few that have fallen to disrepair.  I am sure that is the reason that the City of St. Augustine would be interested in claiming Historical Lincolnville for future development.  There is still a thriving black community living in these homes although it is no longer segregated of course.  I wondered how it felt for the people walking the sidewalks and sitting on porches when our Red Trains came through telling the story over and over and over again...

Wine ages in whiskey barrels.
Tucked in along the Western perimeter of Lincolnville, near the banks of the San Sebastian River, is the building that houses the San Sebastian Winery.  Of course we visited the winery!  They offer free tours and tastings and, even more importantly... education!  And who doesn't want to know more about wine?

The tour began with a well produced video describing an overview of the entire operation.  The Muscadines and bunch-grape varieties used are grown in other areas of Florida and are naturally disease and pest resistant, thus eliminating the need for pesticides and other chemicals.

Although we didn't get to mush grapes with our feet, and the winery was quiet today... we did get to walk on the catwalk overhead and peer down at the surprisingly small operations.

The winery is small but is gaining an impressive number of accolades proving that wine doesn't have to come from far off places.

We ended our tour with a sampling of six of the company's wines ranging from dry to (sickly) sweet.

We were given a listing and pencils to make our notes as we were taken through the process of what to look for in a wine...

And we tasted!  And tasted and tasted.  We started with the dry wines, both red and white.  We moved on to the wines described as "sweeter", although I thought these Muscadines must produce all sweeter wines, as even the dry wines seemed somewhat sweet to me.

We learned many things but two very important bits of information were: first, most of the wines we drink (read: can afford) are not meant to be aged.  It is best to drink them within six months or so of purchase.  The second important fact is that wine can't handle heat.  Now I knew this, but I asked the question: How much heat?  I was surprised to learn that you shouldn't even leave wine in the car where it will be hot for any more than half an hour... so when you're out running those pre-dinner party errands and stopping by the liquor store for the wine... do that last!

One more interesting tidbit that provides food for thought.  Evidently there is a movement afoot to dispel the age old premise that a good wine must be corked.  Some wineries, and even the big names are considering going to the screw on cap as they seem to provide better protection for the wine than corks...  Hmmm...

St. Augustine Lighthouse is hard at work...
There are just so many things to do in the Nation's Oldest City...  Bruce and I had a whirlwind three days being tourists, followed by a couple of days of cleaning house and rearranging things to accommodate our guests due in on the 3rd.  We very much enjoyed our action packed time here as well as the accommodations at the marina.

Arthur, courtesy of NOAA
Oh, and what about hurricane Arthur you ask???  Well, we dodged this one totally.  The storm remained over 100 miles off our coast and once it developed from storm to hurricane, it moved Northeast and touched the coast of North Carolina... where our insurance WANTED us to be!!!