The two mystery birds this time were identified by my own personal bird-watcher, Sandy Evans. Thanks Sandy for all your knowledge.
The St. Johns River is navigable for 172 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to Sanford, Florida. Best described as “old Florida” with fish camps and stretches of water that reminds you of the Amazon. Over the next month we traveled these remote waters seeing thousands of birds, hundreds of Manatees and some of the largest alligators we had ever seen. Our first stop after Lambs Marina in Jacksonville was Mulberry Cove which is the home of the NAS Jax Marina. We spent two days visiting with friends and seeing all the new construction since we lived in Orange Park 14 years ago.
Andy and Jeanne Snowdon picked us up and took us to their beautiful home in Ponte Vedra for the Super Bowl. My Peyton lost, but the fellowship with fantastic.
Our next stop was at a “dock and dine” located at 6 mile creek called the Outback Crab Shack. A “dock and dine” is a facility that allows us to tie up for free for the price of a dinner. Two of our favorite things to do! The Outback Crab Shack is located up a deep creek with 1800 ft of floating dock. We were the only boat there but in season we hear it stays full. We had a great lunch of shrimp po’ boys.
The following morning good friends Vern and Linda McCarver arrived to cruise with us to Palatka, about 40 miles away.
Unfortunately, we were in fog most of the way and operated under radar. The fog cleared about 5 miles from Palatka. We had a great visit with a nice lunch underway. In Palatka, we located a modern aluminum free dock with about 14 ft of water. It is located in a beautiful city park.
Bob Davis and his wife visited and took us shopping at Wal-Mart for groceries. There are not many places to shop as we continue south. Bob suggested we eat lunch at Corky Bells which was located across the Palatka Bridge.
Lunch was great and we discovered they provided a free dock if you dine there. We would return here in a few weeks while heading north. A friend and former neighbor, Bruce Strube, also visited us in Palatka. We had a great time talking about old times in Keystone Heights where we once owned a vacation cottage.
We cruised from Palatka to the small town of Welatka about 30 miles south. The town has modern free docks but with very short finger piers. A lovely park with tennis court and clean bathrooms. The weather turned bad so we stayed 3 days reading and watching old movies.
From Welatka we cruised down to the Georgetown Marina located on the north shore of Lake George. The marina epitomizes “old Florida” with alligators hanging from the walls. Lake George is a large lake but very shallow. Luckily the weather was calm as we crossed and anchored at Blue Springs State Park. Blue Springs is a clear spring with a constant temperature of 73. It is home to hundreds of manatee . Within 10 miles of our approach were seeing groups of manatee heading north.
They would come down the center of the channel without concern for “Journey”. We would disengage the prop as they swam just feet away from the boat. Some of the manatee were bigger than our dinghy! What a cool sight. Blue Springs State Park was beautiful. We anchored right off the park and dinghyed in to walk the grounds and view all the manatees in the spring.
While going into shore we met a couple who once owned a Monk 36 like ours. While talking we realized we had mutual friends from Norfolk and Chattanooga. Small world! From Blue Springs we continued on to Sanford which is very close to Orlando. We stopped in at a very nice marina and explored the town for a few days. We ate at a wonderful German restaurant and shopped for groceries. We spent 3 days in Sanford with the third day being a weather day.
We had spent 2 weeks on the St Johns River and were having a blast. From Sanford we headed north to Hontoon State Park for 2 days.
On the way we saw a number of very large alligators. We stopped the boat for a photo session. The alligators posed on the banks in the sun. We felt like we were in the Amazon Jungle. So beautiful!
Of course it goes without saying that during this entire time on the St. Johns we were seeing hundreds of rare birds including dozens of bald eagles.
From Hontoon we decided to try out another “dock in dine” in Astor, Fl. The Blackwater Inn had very nice fixed docks with electricity and offered both casual and fine dining. We, of course, choose casual dining and had a wonderful fried fish dinner.
A local charter captain graciously asked if we needed to provision so we caught a ride to a small grocery store to resupply. You meet the nicest people on the water. From Astor we returned to the Georgetown Marina to take on water. From Georgetown Marina we returned to the free docks at Welatka. We just love free docks! We met up with “gold loopers” Galen and Becky onboard “Mooring Dove” and another couple on a CapeDory. After meeting we all walked up to the “Shrimp R Us” restaurant (yes, that really is the name) for a fantastic shrimp lunch. We all exchanged stories and had a wonderful time together.
From Welatka we cruised to another “dock in dine” at Corky Bells Restaurant in Welatka. The docks were modern floating docks in deep water. The food was outstanding. Our friend Bob Davis met us for lunch.
During lunch Tom mentioned that he needed to find a dentist and had been in pain for months. Bob got Tom the phone number for Mindy Quick, married to another good NCIS friend, Tim Quick, who lives on Fleming Island. Mindy works at Island Dentistry. A phone call got Tom a 2PM appointment. Bob graciously offered a ride. The dentist said Tom needed a root canal and arranged for a 4PM root canal from a local specialist. Bob again volunteered to take him. After the root canal Bob brought him back to the boat. Bob spent 7 hours driving around and waiting for him. A test of a true friend. Tom’s crown was scheduled for the following week. We cruised from Corky Bells to the Green Cove Springs city docks. Green Cove Springs is a quaint village with everything within walking distance. We rented movies at Red Box and enjoyed a relaxing couple of days before heading back to the NAS Jax Marina. We spent 5 days at NAS Jax while we took care of laundry cleaning the boat and getting Tom’s crown put on. Vern McCarver planned a fish fry at his beautiful home and invited a number of NCIS friends both active and retired. Vern is a serious fisherman and had gone offshore to catch his limit. What a delicious meal we had and the fellowship was wonderful.
Vern gave us the keys to a car for our stay at Jax. We had a wonderful time driving around Jacksonville and going back to the dentist. Val Thompson, NCIS retired and family got together for dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant. Val had been stationed with us in Jacksonville and Iceland and is a wonderful person. Granny Taylor repaired a broken boat part in his machine shop for us. I can always count on Granny to take care of us. I am hoping to get Granny and Susan to come back to Swansboro for a visit. We departed the St Johns River on the 28th of Feb for Fernandina Beach and our final stretch home. We spent a full month exploring the St. Johns River. The River was all we could have hoped for. Remote, secluded, rugged and full of Mother Nature’s best. Exploring the St Johns River should be on everyone’s bucket list.