Friday, October 2, 2009

Southbound part III: Fernandina to St. Augustine

Thursday, October 1 - Saturday, October 3, 2009
After leaving Fernandina early Thursday morning, we have an uneventful day through the ICW. The instruments are working perfectly, and we realize just how much we've missed them. Rene keeps kissing the chartplotter screen! :-) We only have one soft grounding south of the St. John's river, but Rene is able to get us out of there without a Tow Boat US call. We anchor a few miles north of Jacksonville Beach, about half-way between Fernandina Beach and St. Augustine.

Friday morning, we leave our anchorage at 7am to make the 35-mile trip to St. Augustine. We have a few 65' bridges to get through this morning, and want to take advantage of the two hours remaining before high tide. We get to our first bridge by 7:30am, and get a major reminder of just how much an almost-full moon can impact tides. This bridge is supposed to have 65' of vertical clearance at high tide, but clearance is already down to 63' 90 minutes before high tide. Noooo! Our official mast height is 62.5', but we soon learn that the instruments on the mast put us over the 63' mark: we can actually hear our VHF antenna hitting the bridge. Ugh...we can't begin to express what an awful sound that is! Imagine hearing an awful "twang" as your antenna scrapes across 3-4 cross-beams underneath the bridge, knowing that your mast is maybe 6 inches below that. We vow to wait for lower water at the next bridge if the clearance board shows anything less than 64'! (As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for...)

We get to the next bridge about 3o minutes later; we knew that the bascule bridge there had been replaced by a 65' fixed bridge, but we didn't realize that work was still underway to demolish the old bascule bridge. As we approach the bridge, binoculars in hand to find the clearance board, we realize that a massive barge is parked against the bridge. We can't get through the bridge! (Talk about a "you've GOT to be kidding" moment.) A motor cruiser ahead of us has stopped and turned back; apparently they've radioed the barge operator, and they yell to us that the bridge should re-open at noon. we have to kill four hours. At least we won't have to worry about high tide! We turn around and anchor a mile upstream from the bridge. Stacy spends some time working on the blog (I don't think I've ever done such "real-time" blogging before), and Rene calls around to local engine shops to figure out what's causing the white smoke he saw coming from the engine earlier today. (The verdict: it's likely sediment or condensation from our backup fuel in the jerry cans. The smoke is gone later in the afternoon.) Other than that, we'll hang out until the bridge re-opens. We certainly aren't the only ones to be surprised by the closure; there are at least 6-8 other cruisers parked in the ICW before the bridge waiting for it to open.

The barges finally move to reopen the bridge for traffic around 12:15pm. Currents under the bridge are 4kts, and the water "boils" around the pilings. We're going against the current; even with revving the engine to 3000 RPM (1000 RPM higher than our typical cruising speed), our boat speed drops to 2kts as we go under the bridge. Scary! The current is against us for the next few hours, and we rarely get above 3kts. It soon becomes evident that we're not making it to St. Augustine today! Time to look for alternate anchorages... Hmmm...Pine Island at Mile 765. That's about 12 miles north of St. Augustine, and we can probably get there well before dark. Sounds like a plan! In the meantime, we keep a close eye on the depth gauge. We're going through Palm Valley Cut, which has 7-8' depths in places (not to mention some funky boathouses - see picture). Rene does a fantastic job keeping us from grounding, but we're ready to call it a day. We arrive at the anchorage at 5pm, and are pleasantly surprised - what a gorgeous spot! Our cruising guide warned that the anchorage has shoaled to the point where it can hardly be recommended, but we have 8' depths down the center of the creek an hour after low tide. We're sharing the anchorage with two motor cruisers, and soon find ourselves experiencing the kindness of strangers again. Our neighbors stop by in the dink soon after we anchor to invite us over for drinks. The two boats are cruising together, and we meet David & Zoe on Misstress and Paul & Barbara on Bigwig. Drinks lead to dinner, and we have a fantastic time getting to know our hosts and touring their boats. After a fun evening, we join them again on Saturday morning for breakfast before saying goodbye to our new friends. We can't thank them enough for their hospitality, and promise to keep in touch. Who knows...maybe we'll meet up again in the Bahamas!

Thank goodness it's a short trip to St. Augustine...we're still a bit fragile from last night. We're thrilled to be cruising with the current this time - 5kts is a heck of a lot better than 2kts! The trip is pretty easy until we're within 2 miles of the city. All of a sudden, the ICW shoals to under 7', and that's on the magenta (ICW) line. Not fun. Next up, we arrive at the intersection of the ICW and the St. Augustine inlet to a traffic jam: first we get a fly-by from the pirate ship (aka party boat), and then a 50' fishing boat decides he's going the wrong way and does a 180-degree turn right in front of us. He's maybe a boat-length away from us (just enough room for a smaller speedboat to come flying between us and the fishing boat), but fortunately has plenty of power and maneuverability. Gotta love being on the water with the crazies on the weekends! We arrive in St. Augustine at 3:30pm and anchor off the fort. We're in 20' of water with plenty of swing room. There's an historical reenactment happening at the fort, with "soldiers" in period uniforms firing off cannons. What a fantastic spot! We're ready for a quiet evening on the boat tonight, but tomorrow we'll go into town for shopping, sightseeing, and dinner at The Tasting Room. We had such a great meal at the tapas restaurant when we were here in June that we promised ourselves we'd go again on this trip. Cheers!

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