Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #48 Americana Up Close and Personal

Well, we were able to get away from Cocoa a day earlier than we expected, so we motored on up to Titusville. We thought about going further, given that we had the time, but we couldn’t find on the chart another suitable anchorage farther north. We spent the night behind another bridge, wedged behind some crab traps, and quite comfortable. It certainly wasn’t a picturesque anchorage, but we did get a long-distance view of the NASA rocket launch pads over on Cape Canaveral. It would have been more interesting with a rocket ready for launch, but we can’t have everything. We thought about lowering the dinghy to go find the propane company that’s supposed to be nearby, but we decided to wait until we get to St. Augustine. We’re not desperate for propane yet. (It’s what powers our stove.)

NASA Rocket Launch Pad
NASA Rocket Launch Pad

This morning we left early and continued on up the Indian River. We finally saw the end of the river when we reached New Smyrna Beach. The Indian River extends some 140 miles from St. Lucie Inlet to Ponce Inlet, and the ICW takes in almost all of it. We found it mostly uninteresting, because it’s so wide that most of the time we couldn’t see anything on shore. Also, we’ve been disappointed in the minimal wildlife we’ve seen along the route. Compared to the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic Coast has appeared to be a wildlife wasteland. Until today, that is. When we found the northern reaches of the Indian River at Haulover Canal and Mosquito Lagoon, the animal life seemed to explode. We think we saw more birds and dolphins on today’s passage than we’ve seen in the whole distance since leaving the Keys. We even passed a rookery island sporting at least half a dozen roseate spoonbills. What a treat!

We’re presently anchored in Rockhouse Creek just north of New Smyrna Beach. It’s a lovely anchorage surrounded by nature, and the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse is clearly visible watching over the inlet. Several dolphins have visited, and egrets and herons fish from the sidelines. We’re enjoying our short stay in this relaxing cove nestled alongside the ICW.

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse
Ponce De Leon Lighthouse from Rockhouse Creek

We’re not ones to re-invent the wheel, so we use cruising guides and recommendations from friends to decide where to stop in our travels. Marty and Mike on Sandpiper had recommended that we stay in a marina for our visit to St. Augustine, and our first choice was the St. Augustine Municipal Marina for its proximity to the historic downtown area. However, when we called there after leaving Rockhouse Creek this morning to get a reservation for tomorrow night, we were informed that they had no room for us over the weekend. First we considered returning to Rockhouse Creek to wait until next week to make the trip up to St. Augustine, but we really didn’t want to sit out the next front over the weekend there. So we continued on, aiming for what sounded like a very questionable anchorage in the guide books, but one that was recommended by some other friends. Upon seeing it we concluded that their recommendation was based either on old information or the fact that their boat is slightly smaller than ours. We decided that the anchoring space—encroached on by new homes with docks—was too limited for us. However, no other anchorage within a reasonable distance was evident, so we made arrangements to go into a marina. The dollar signs didn’t really agree with us, but we didn’t readily see another alternative. Enter Robby, the dockmaster at Oyster Creek Marina in St. Augustine. Because the Municipal Marina was closed to us, I had called Oyster Creek as a second choice, and quickly learned that the price was right, and that they could probably accommodate us. However, I had to wait for Robby, the dockmaster, to return and talk directly with him. So when I called Robby back I was delighted to learn that, yes indeed, they could accommodate us for the four nights we plan to stay in St. Augustine. When I mentioned that we had difficulty finding a suitable anchorage for tonight, he quickly told me of an anchorage at Matanzas Inlet that’s not accurately depicted on the chart. The guide books are all equally discouraging regarding this location, citing shoaling as a constant problem, so we were uncertain about what we would find. But, with Robby’s help, here we sit, surrounded once more by nature in plenty of water, not much current, and only a couple of other boats as neighbors. We have a good view of what’s left of Ft. Matanzas, built over 300 years ago by the Spanish, and the protection from wind and fetch appears good in just about every direction. We’ll definitely put this gem on our list of must-stops for the future.

Incidentally, the trip today, although long, was quite enjoyable. Most of today’s passage was on the Halifax River, with its extensive marshlands and light development. Many of the homes looked quite modest but very attractive, and much of the land bounding the ICW is in an old-Florida natural state.

One more thing. Because there’s not much civilization close to this anchorage (other than the bridge across the inlet), it’s very quiet. Except for the denizens of the deep, that is. We’re not sure what makes the noises, but through the hull it sounds like a symphony of shellfish. Or maybe all kinds of fish. They tap, purr, buzz, and click in some sort of synchronized concert, apparently conducted by the Creator. Perhaps it’s nothing more than the sounds of a variety of fish breathing, eating, or resting on the bottom, but it certainly is attention-getting.

Tempting though it was to remain another restful day at Matanzas Inlet, we upped anchor and motored the last 12 miles to St. Augustine on the curvy Matanzas River. Upon arriving at Oyster Creek Marina on San Sebastian River (just to the west of downtown St. Augustine), we got no response on the radio or cell phone, and the pump-out dock looked too tight for our boat. We putzed in the channel for a few minutes trying to raise a response and considering moving on. Someone finally answered, reassured us that there was plenty of room to get into the pump-out dock, and that they did have fuel (none was in evidence to us). Jim masterfully maneuvered the boat into the dock, but the dead low tide kept us from getting all the way to it. The guy on the dock (not Robby, the dockmaster, but one of the marina owners) tied us off and said we could just wait until the tide rose and drifted us in. That took about an hour. Meanwhile, Robby appeared and informed us that fuel was not in the offing, since it gets trucked in and requires a 50-gallon minimum. Fortunately we weren’t desperate for fuel, so we just made use of the pump-out. We had to wait again for Robby to return from some errand before we dared to try getting into the slip we were assigned. At least we had more space, but low water was again a concern. All went well, and we’re safely tucked into this no-frills but very affordable and friendly marina. Robby was quick to inform us of a weekly Saturday night theme party for all boaters in the marina. It sounds like fun. Because the price is right, the showers are very neat and clean, and there seems to be so much to see in St. Augustine, we’ve decided to stay for a week.

Our first look at the city was a bike ride through Old Town with a tour of the Oldest House in Florida. The site has been documented to have been inhabited since the early 1600s, and the present house was first built in the early 1700s. It was occupied by a Spanish militiaman and his family for at least 40 years. At that time it had only one floor. Its second occupant was an English woman who went through three husbands (including a ne’er-do-well half her age!) in the time she lived there. She was there from approximately 1770 to 1790, and during that time the second floor was added. After that, another Spaniard moved in and he and his descendants lived in the house for almost 100 years. Around the turn of the century an American occupant made some further additions that have since been removed. The house became the property of the St. Augustine Historical Society in 1918, and has been open to the public since then. There is still a lot of history yet to see in this the oldest city in the U.S, first settled in 1565.

St. Aug Oldest House
Oldest House in Florida

Rain and wind kept us on board yesterday. Today the sky was clear, but the wind was again chilly. These cold fronts are really annoying at this point.

Last evening we went to a pot-luck gathering here at the marina, and had another small-world experience. Another couple on a boat here, Stacy and Peggy on s/v Charade, is from Brownsburg, IN. As we talked with them we quickly realized that we had once been acquainted at Fourwinds Marina on Lake Monroe. Back then they had a Grampian 23 and a Hunter 34 on the same dock on which we had our Catalina 25. Stacy and Peggy are presently on an Endeavor 42. They have been cruising for the last 8 years, but they still have their home in Brownsburg. We so enjoyed our visit together last night that today we all went to church at Memorial Presbyterian (so named by builder Henry Flagler in memory of his daughter), then had lunch and toured downtown. We were really glad we went to church there, as the service was quite enjoyable with an uplifting message from the guest preacher. Jim discovered that one of the his retired seminary professors was listed in the Order of Service as a minister of visitation. Unfortunately, he was out of town. We had a great lunch, did some fun shopping, and generally whiled away a splendid Sunday afternoon with great company.

A short walk this morning toting the empty propane tank in our pull-cart took us to an efficient place to get it filled. So that chore is taken care of for the moment.

This afternoon we took a bike ride across the Bridge of Lions to the St. Augustine Lighthouse. The Bridge of Lions is named for the lion sculptures that normally grace its buttresses. I say “normally”, because the lions are presently on hiatus while the bridge is being restored. This is a 5-year project that involves building a new bridge, reconstructing the old one, then dismantling the new one. A strange concept, it seems, but apparently one that the powers-that-be in the city deem appropriate to the bridge’s history. The St. Augustine Lighthouse restoration, on the other hand, is a testament to the dedication and tenacity of the Junior Service League in the city. In this the oldest city in the U.S., it’s fitting that the lighthouse here was the first one built in this country. Built in 1824, the Spanish Watchtower succumbed to erosion, but the present lighthouse was erected in 1871-1874, and is still a dependable marker—by day and by night—for mariners. When the lighthouse became automated in 1955, its keeper’s house fell into disuse and disrepair, eventually being almost completely destroyed by fire in 1970. The restoration of the keeper’s house is still on-going, but the lighthouse itself is in full working order, with total availability to anyone wanting to climb its 219 steps. We got a magnificent view from the top.

St. Aug Lighthouse
St. Augustine Lighthouse

By the way, Happy 93rd Birthday to Mom!

Today we got an early start to see as much of the historic city as possible. Our first stop was for breakfast at the Bunnery Café—not exactly historic but quite yummy. We then wandered through some of the shopping district that also includes buildings and houses dating from the 18th century. Some of the shops were interesting to us only for their historic architecture. Most of the afternoon we spent exploring the Castillo de San Marcos, a Spanish fort built over 300 years ago. Made of coquina—a very resilient natural shell-based stone—the fort was never vanquished in battle. It only changed hands—from Spanish to English to Spanish to American—by treaty. One of the most interesting aspects of the fort’s history was its use as a prison for American Indians in the 19th century. Seminoles were incarcerated in 1837 at what was then known as Ft. Marion, plains Indians were imprisoned there from 1875-1878, and Apaches were held for several months in 1886. Sadly, it appears that the real intent in each case was to suppress the Native American cultures, rather than to merely punish recalcitrant warriors. In our exploration we were able to walk through the rooms where Spanish and English soldiers stood guard, as well as stroll on the gundecks where cannons still aim across the Matanzas River. With this fort’s extensive chronicle, we’re glad that the National Parks Service has dominion over such a historic treasure. The rangers seem to be doing a fine job of making sure it lasts another 300 years. As part of our admission, for $10 Jim purchased a Golden Age Passport, which will give us lifetime admission to all National Parks & Caves, as well as half price fees for camping. What a deal!

After an exhausting day yesterday of laundry, grocery shopping, and preparing the boat for travel, we left St. Augustine this morning. There’s much of the city that we haven’t yet seen, but a week has gone by so it was time to move on. We hope to continue our St. Augustine tour when we return south next fall. Today we’ve traveled another 40+ miles north, and are now anchored in the Fort George River just north of the St. John’s River. This appears to be a delightful anchorage, and we can see the Kingsley Plantation house from the cockpit. We hope to explore this other piece of history tomorrow.

Incidentally, after traveling more than 200 miles through several rivers—Indian River, Halifax River, Matanzas River, Tolomato River, and Pablo Creek—we’re cognizant of what a tremendous advantage the river system must have been to the native Americans in the southern U.S. They certainly would have had an advanced trade society by the time Ponce de Leon “discovered” the lands. Such a loss to us today that those societies were buried so long ago by European contact.

This morning we launched the dinghy for the first time in almost two weeks to go ashore at the Kingsley Plantation. This was another fascinating walk back in time to the 18th and 19th centuries. Originally acquired and built in 1798 by John McQueen, the plantation’s best-known owner, Zephaniah Kingsley, is credited as its primary developer in the years between 1814 and 1839. Kingsley was known as a somewhat progressive slave owner in that he actually married a slave from Africa, freed her and their children some years later, and allowed her to manage the plantation. He also was a proponent of what was called the “task system”, whereby slaves were required to perform only certain tasks (rather than toil all day) and then could spend time on their own endeavors. The plantation passed through several more owners, eventually becoming the property of John Rollins, who in the late 1800s planted some orange groves, expanded the main house, and developed the area into something of a winter retreat for wealthy northerners. Presently, most of the buildings are undergoing major restoration and are closed to the public. We hope to view the interiors of the main house and the kitchen house on a future sojourn in this area. The slave quarters, however, are fully open to the public. Of the original 32 cabins built of tabby (shells mixed with lime, sand, and water), the remains of 23 can still be seen. They seem to have been very substantial structures that housed about 50 or 60 slaves during the plantation’s cotton-growing years. So substantial, in fact, that freed blacks in later years continued to live there to farm their own small tracts. Once more, we pay tribute to ancestors who knew oppression and hardship.

Kingsley Plantation
Kingsley Plantation House

Kingsley Slave Quarters
Kingsley Plantation Slave Quarters

We’re sitting out another front at the Ft. George River in front of the Kingsley Plantation, but we plan to head up to Cumberland Island tomorrow. That will mark our departure from Florida waters—a strange sensation after almost two years.

Fair winds and a faithful wake until next time,
Alice & Jim Rutherford
s/v Caloosa Spirit

P. S. Don’t forget to look up Alice’s book, Reaching a Far Horizon, at www.lulu.com!

Posted Sunday May 1, 2005

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  1. Sounds as though you had a great visit to St. Augustine..great place. Fernandina is also wonderful. Our boat is at Brunswick Landing Marina where there is transient space available, unfortunately we are in Atlanta. Heading north do not go thru Jekyll at LOW tide. Enjoy, keep us posted. Love your site.
    Gypsy Common    05/01/2005 07:22 AM    #
  2. Alice & Jim,

    Enjoyed rafting with you in Vero. We are in Charleston and have free WiFi here at Ashley Marina. Catching up on email, etc. Enjoyed cruising your web site—very well done! We are now seriously heading north and hope to be home by the end of the month. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us when you reach the Chesapeake and especially if you plan to make Solomons a stop-over. Have a safe trip!

    Rita & Frank
    — Frank & Rita    05/10/2005 05:57 PM    #
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