Sunday, May 22, 2016

Time to go Home

It's been much too hot and rainy in Florida lately- a sure sign of summer. And summer means Mississippi River boating. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

We and our boating buddies on Short Vacation left Jacksonville two days ago and cruised to Fernandina Beach. 
This ship is hauling boats. 

On the way we were rammed by a maniac in a kayak! We slowed down to idle speed so as not to wake him when he decided to aim for us. Apparently he thought that riding our wake would be like white water kayaking. He actually ran into our swim platform and then yelled "Sorry!" Who does this- challenge a 42'  40,000 pound motor vessel in a kayak??

We arrived in Fernandina Beach without further incident. We have stayed here before- this is a hopping place on the weekend. Huge yachts, lots of tourists, live music nearby, and a historic downtown with trendy shops. 

We washed, put away and packed practically everything on Mara Beel in preparation for leaving her for the summer. Saturday morning Mark and John took MB a few miles north to St. Mary's, GA, where she will spend the next few months. Our sweet boat was immediately pulled out of the water. 

Meanwhile Pam and I drove our rented mini van back to JAX to pick up her mini van. We then drove both vehicles to St. Mary's. We did a lot of work on the boat with plenty of help from John. For example:
Lubricated the through hulls
Flushed the engines with antifreeze
Flushed the gen set
Drained the water heater
Drained the water tanks
Hung shade screen in the bridge
Removed the drinking water filter
Cleaned the bilges

We have been sleeping on Short Vacation while working on our boat, which has been wonderful. Pam and John have made the last few months of cruising delightful- so great to have like-minded cruising buddies!

Heading home is exciting-- can't wait to spend time with our 3 grandkids and to welcome a new grandson in August--even though we will miss Mara Beel and all of our boating friends during the next few months. In fact, we expect several of our friends to visit us on the river while we're home. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Back to Jax

We pulled our anchor and left Morrison Island Monday morning and headed down the river. We anchored briefly in Lake George (a very wide section of the river) and dinghied in to Silver Glen Springs. Several boats were anchored near the spring in beautiful clear water. Unlike Blue Springs, this area did not offer easy access by dinghy so we looked around a bit and then headed back to our mother ships.

Getting the camera ready
Then... I got sick. 'Nuf said.  When I don't have any interest in reading, eating, or photography, it's serious. I regained consciousness a couple days later, having slept most of that time. By then we had anchored near Palatka one night, and then pulled into nearby Boathouse marina the next morning. 

We walked around town a little bit in the evening and admired some of the numerous murals on downtown buildings. You can see the complete collection here.  We learned that Billy Graham was baptized in Palatka, which is commemorated in one of the murals. Dinner was at Florida's oldest diner,  Angel's Dining Car, parked in Palatka since 1932. I wasn't up for the huge burgers, unfortunately.

Yesterday we covered the remaining miles to Ortega Landing marina. Exploring the St. Johns was a wonderful experience- much different than anything else we've seen in Florida. We will be here at Ortega a few more days. Tomorrow we will fly back home and then drive to Alton, IL on Saturday for the Great River Photo Shootout event. Then back to the Quad Cities on Sunday for our grandson's 2nd birthday and family time. We will be back here on Monday to cruise a few more days, taking Mara Beel to her summer home.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Heading North Again

Today we turned around, leaving Hontoon Island and starting the trip back to Jacksonville. We had an easy cruise of about 22 miles and anchored off Morrison Island. The hot weather has returned with a vengeance, and wildlife is still plentiful along the river.

Wood Stork nest

Heron trying to cool off??

A homemade, derelict boat
Definitely not homemade, nor derelict.

Feeding time for baby herons

After anchoring we all went out in Short Vacation's dinghy. It being Sunday afternoon, there was a lot of boat traffic. We all reminisced about our weekends on the Mississippi and how sad we were to have to leave on Sunday evening to go back to the real world. Not any more! It's Sunday night and we are still on our boats enjoying the water!

Back off!


We have been taking turns making dinner during this river exploration. Tonight John grilled hamburgers for us while Pam fixed potatoes and corn. I don't know if gators are attracted to the smell of meat cooking, but as dusk fell we spotted 2 gators swimming in the direction of our boats. There are undoubtedly many more lurking nearby. John was wondering about the possibility of waking up tomorrow and finding a gator on his swim platform. Now THAT would be exciting!

Saturday, May 7, 2016


The four of us- John and Pam included- set off for a dinghy ride this morning to tour the surrounding river. We left early, so there was not much activity, at least where we went. There was a little fog rising off the water, due to the cool overnight temperature.

Intrepid explorers Pam and John

Us leading the way through the narrowing channel

Early bird looking for a worm


Green Heron

Reddish Egret

Black Vulture

We turned off the main waterway.
We chose to follow Snake Creek- while I fervently hoped it was named for its twisting course rather than for any reptiles that might live therein. For the next 3-4 miles we wound around the creek as it grew more and more narrow. We did not seen any gators, probably because it was too cool for them to appear.

Huge tree with Spanish moss

Our way is blocked by vegetation.
Finally our path was nearly impassable due to the abundance of hyacinth plants in the water. Our GPS showed we were very close to joining the main river, so we pushed on through the water plants to get to open water. So happy we did not have to turn around and retrace our circuitous route!

Our next stop was at Blue SpringsState Park.

Swimmer in the crystal clear water
At Blue Springs the water is 73 degrees year round, making it a popular manatee refuge in the winter months. In the summer it is a popular destination for locals and tourists who swim, snorkel, and dive in these beautiful waters.

We plan to be here at Hontoon Island State Park another night and then slowly make our way back north to Jacksonville.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Jacksonville to Hontoon State Park

We have left the coastal waters for a little while and are exploring Florida's St. Johns River, which connects with the ICW at Jacksonville. It is one of a few American rivers that flows northward. So we are traveling upriver, and yet south.

Yesterday we had a long day as we went from Ortega Landing to Acosta Creek Marina. The route was mainly wide open water at this point, and not terribly scenic.

Today the scenery improved greatly as we traveled from Acosta to Hontoon Island State Park. After a 12-mile stretch of wide Lake George, the waterway narrowed and twisted and turned. We were almost reminded of our own Mississippi River, and are enjoying river boating for a few days. Fresh water and no tides! As we have been told, this is "old Florida," meaning this area has not been developed with condos and resorts. The marinas are few and far between, and are intended for boats much smaller than ours. Nevertheless, the wildlife is plentiful, the pace is slow, and we are loving it.

This slip didn't work for us!

We took a short dinghy ride this afternoon along with John and Pam from Short Vacation

We are sharing dinners this week since we do not have access to grocery stores or restaurants. We are planning more adventures in the next few days!

An airboat on Lake George

Our view along the way

Calm water

Interesting boat lift

Quite the house

Old home

Welcoming committee

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

St. Augustine to Jacksonville

Yesterday (May 2) we said "hasta la vista" to the beautiful old city of St. Augustine. We thoroughly enjoyed our week in America's oldest city, but it was time to move on. We will visit again in the fall- can't get enough of the history, the architecture, the restaurants, the wildlife and the beaches of this beautiful area. There are more photos waiting to be captured!!

The 150-foot copper dome of the amazing Memorial Presbyterian Church- we worshipped there on Sunday.

Memorial Presbyterian Church was built by Henry Flagler in 1889 in memory of his daughter Jennie Louise, who died shortly after giving birth to a daughter  (Marjorie) who did not survive. Henry, his first wife, Jennie Louise, and her baby are interred in a a marble mausoleum within the church. This incredible structure was built in just 361 days!

Castillo de San Marcos
Built in 1695, the Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the U.S. and the only standing 17th century military construction. It is also one of two forts built of coquina, a soft limestone composed of broken shells.  Coquina walls will absorb cannon balls, much like styrofoam will absorb a BB. The other coquina fort is Fort Matanzas, just south of here.

"Short Vacation" leaving St. Augustine

The Great Cross was erected in 1965 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city of St. Augustine. The Cross weighs approximately 70 tons and consists of 200 stainless steel panels in various sizes.  


It was a long, hot cruise to Jacksonville. We fought the tide most of the day, which slowed us down considerably. It was hot and humid, with almost no breeze- ugh!  We covered 65 miles in 9 hours, proving that one hour by car equals one day by boat. Jacksonville is around 25 miles off the Intercostal Waterway, up the St. Johns River. It is a seaport, so we saw container ships unloading, but thankfully we did not encounter any of these fast-moving behemoths on the water. Here in Jax Mark and I looked at, and rejected the first boat in our 4-year, 14-state search for the perfect-for-us boat. That was in 2007, and we are very glad we took our time choosing.

The "Glorious Leader" carried Toyotas of all models.

Unloading- the vehicles just kept driving off the ship.

 Everbank Stadium, home of the Jax Jaguars
Jax Skyline
We finally arrived at the Marina at Ortega Landing at 5 pm, well ahead of the thunderstorm that hit around 8:00. Mark and Pam had already moved the Shorts' van (not to be confused with a short bus)  here on Sunday, so we have transportation while we are here. Pam and I made a quick run to Publix (which I love almost as much as Hy-Vee) and picked up dinner. Publix offers a seafood bag which allows one to choose a seafood (mahi, grouper, shrimp, scallops, or lobster) and a sauce (Mango, Dijon, and others). The selections are placed in a bag, which we take back to the boat and bake for 15 minutes. Voila- a delicious seafood dinner that couldn't be easier!' 

We are doing a split week at Ortega- 2 nights now and more nights later after we explore the St. Johns River. It is great to be traveling with good friends!