July 1, 2013
When The Water Calls ... We Follow


June 20, 2013
New Adventures


May 31, 2013
Storing Our Shiny Red Tug


May 13, 2013
Viva La Difference


May 6, 2013
Swinging Free & Easy


April 15, 2013
In The Middle


March 29, 2013
On The Hook


March 18, 2013
Tinker Time


February 28, 2013
Jumping Into the Mix


February 15, 2013
Time Travel


February 6, 2013
Charlevoix - A Small Town With A World-Class Reputation


January 15, 2013
The Perfect Ending


January 1, 2013
Magical Weather & Mysterious Ports


December 15, 2012
Collins Inlet, Killarney, & Little Current


December 1, 2012
New Neighbors


November 16, 2012
What Makes a Perfect Anchorage?


November 1, 2012
Are We There Yet?


October 15, 2012
CHANGE OF LATITUDE


October 1, 2012
Womens Roundtable


September 15, 2012
Freedom to Discover a Southern Gem


September 1, 2012
Promises


August 15, 2012
Nice to Have Options


August 1, 2012
Go West!


July 15, 2012
The Perfect Boating Vacation Destination


July 1, 2012
Propane


June 15, 2012
Flagler’s Folly


June 1, 2012
Everglades Detour


May 15, 2012
Making New Friends


May 1, 2012
Something Old and Something New


April 15, 2012
Florida’s Wide Open West Coast


April 1, 2012
Life On the Water in a Trailerable Trawler


March 15, 2012
Becoming Second Nature


March 1, 2012
Last Dance


February 15, 2012
Call it Romance or Mystique


February 1, 2012
Natural Wonders Abound


January 15, 2012
Hardly a Care in the World


January 1, 2012
Wide-Eyed Anticipation


December 15, 2011
Winding Our Way to Lake Powell


December 1, 2011
On to New Cruising Grounds


November 15, 2011
Sharing the Love


November 1, 2011
On the Water Again


October 14, 2011
First Impressions


October 3, 2011
Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Fun


September 15, 2011
Getting the Show on the Road


September 1, 2011
Lets Dance!


August 15, 2011
Getting Our Ducks in a Row


August 1, 2011
Summer Without a Boat


July 15, 2011
The Water and The Boater Home


July 1, 2011
One Step Closer


June 15, 2011
Time Keeps on slippin’ Into the Future


June 1, 2011
Made in the USA


May 15, 2011
Making the Right Truck Choice


May 1, 2011
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder


April 15, 2011
What Goes Around Comes Around


April 1, 2011
Wishing Star Interlude


March 15, 2011
Helping Hands


March 1, 2011
THE PERFECT BOAT!


February 15, 2011
Weighing the Options


February 1, 2011
Making a List, Checking it Twice!


January 14, 2011
The Science of Towing


December 30, 2010
The Upside of Downsizing


December 15, 2010
The New Plan!


December 1, 2010
Homeward Bound-The Final Leg


November 15, 2010
Somethings In The Water


November 1, 2010
Our Turn to Relax & Smile


October 15, 2010
Gem in the Rough


October 1, 2010
Whats Your Favorite Place on the Loop?


September 15, 2010
Reflecting Pool


September 1, 2010
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder


August 15, 2010
Canadian Wonderland


August 1, 2010
"Low Bridge, Everybody Down"


July 15, 2010
One Day At A Time


July 1, 2010
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!


June 15, 2010
Lets All Do the Rendezvous


June 1, 2010
On the Hard


May 15, 2010
Falling in Love With Key West


May 1, 2010
Helping Women Get On Board


April 15, 2010
Key West - A Repeat Performance


April 1, 2010
Unexpected Pleasures


March 15, 2010
Mom Cruise


March 1, 2010
Okeechobee Bound


February 15, 2010
Chance Encounters


February 1, 2010
Three Nights in Paradise


January 15, 2010
New Frontiers


January 1, 2010
First Time Experiences


December 15, 2009
A Friend In Every Port


December 1, 2009
Dealing With A Temperamental Lady


November 18, 2009
You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello


November 13, 2009
A Cult Following


October 15, 2009
Somewhere in Time


October 1, 2009
Unlocking Our Minds Eye


September 18, 2009
Its In My Nature


August 15, 2009
The RBS Antidote


August 1, 2009
Crab Crazy


July 15, 2009
Sights And Sounds Of The Bay


July 15, 2009
Sights And Sounds Of The Bay


June 15, 2009
Our Last Leg North


June 1, 2009
Northern Migration


May 15, 2009
Priceless


May 1, 2009
Hello Goodbye


April 15, 2009
Let The Sun Shine In!


April 1, 2009
Dont Worry, Be Happy


March 15, 2009
Bahama Bound


March 1, 2009
What Do You Do All Day?


February 15, 2009
Slow Motion


February 1, 2009
On The Hook With A Million-Dollar View


January 15, 2009
High Anxiety


January 1, 2009
A String Of One-Night Stands


December 15, 2008
Pushing Into New Tennessee River, Upstream To Adventure


December 1, 2008
All Together Now


November 15, 2008
Kismet in the Aftermath of Hurricane Ike


October 31, 2008
Our Love Affair With The River


October 16, 2008
Big City Lights


October 1, 2008
The Adventure Begins


September 15, 2008
Prepping For The Loop


September 1, 2008
The Space Ship


August 15, 2008
Jumping Aboard In Seattle


August 1, 2008
If We Knew Then What We Know Now!


July 10, 2008
The Second Time Around


July 1, 2008
Our Turn For The Great American Loop

   

New Frontiers
By Kismet, Friday, January 15, 2010

Cruising Florida’s St. Johns River and its tributaries for the first time certainly cannot be compared to some of the world’s great firsts, such as the walk on the moon, climbing Mt Everest, or the discovery of the New World. However, for us the St. Johns represented a new frontier, one that we had not yet explored, one that has all the characteristics for a great adventure. It has abundant wildlife, remote creeks with scenic surroundings for anchoring out, crystal clear springs and the occasional small “Old Florida” town or village with unique “laid back” restaurants and friendly people. Our adventure started at Ortega Landing Marina in Jacksonville and then we headed south up river. You read that correctly, the St. Johns is one of the few Rivers in the United States that runs south to north.

Notice how black and calm the Six Mile Creek water is. We saw our first gator just to the right of the dock.

Sanford, Florida was our end destination on the St. Johns, before we retraced our path back north (upstream) with different stops than on our trip south. Our friend Louis, on Bella Luna, spent a great deal of time researching where the best stops were and based on this we decided our first destination would be Six Mile Creek. Let the fun begin!

Just another day in paradise playing tug of war with our boat.

Six Mile Creek is off the St. Johns River and only 25 miles south of Jacksonville and it was here we saw our first alligator; actually, Louis and Diane spotted it. The glut of wildlife really doesn’t become evident until after you get into the narrow part of the river south of Palatka so our first sighting was an early surprise. In our research, we had discovered that the Outback Crab Shack, up Six Mile Creek, had a quarter-mile long floating dock where we could stay overnight for free as long as we ate at the restaurant. All the reports were that the crab, gator and enormous seafood and grilled platters were well worth the stop, so we gave it a try and we were not disappointed. Lisa said we’d be stopping on our return trip.

Palatka was our next stop, before we entered the real frontier part of our exploration, where we ran into friends Roy and Ellen on Our Turn. We first met them in Charlevoix, Michigan in the summer of 2008, and have bumped into them several times since with our last visit being in Palm Coast, Florida in April 2009. It’s always good to have local knowledge so we felt fortunate when they agreed to come to our boat for dinner and share first hand experience of the St. Johns.

Murphy’s Creek is only eight miles further south and is where we anchored for the night. After both Kismet and Bella Luna were tied up together securely, we lowered our dinghy into the almost black water and proceeded up Dunn Creek. Once past a few homes and cottages the creek started to take on the feel of a Jurassic Park movie set without the dinosaurs. As we rounded a tight bend in the narrow part of the river we saw our first alligator of the day (he was a big one), lounging on a log next to shore sunning himself, and this was just the first of many we saw on this five-mile nature wonderland exploration. Even though we were in a soft bottom inflatable dinghy we felt reasonably safe due to prior research of the area. Our findings informed us alligators are not as active in the winter months and that they mostly feed at night. With that said we still stayed towards the center of the creek and didn’t take up Louis’ suggestion of towing a cooked chicken behind the dinghy. The gators were easy enough to spot without drawing that kind of attention and besides Louis was just joking around, at least I think he was!

We made our next stop at Georgetown Landing Marina for two days because of expected thunderstorms and wind, feeling more secure at dock. We did this because the area from Georgetown (mile 105) to just south of Blue Spring (mile 143) are considered the best of what nature has to offer on the St. Johns and we wanted to enjoy our visit through there under good weather conditions. We made good use of the time in Georgetown when the owners of the marina let us borrow their truck for a couple of short road trips.

Words and pictures only scratch the surface of how beautiful the Welaka Museum was, here you’re seeing just a few of the 2 dozen boats they have on display.

Welaka is a small river town seven miles down river and home to one of the finest one-of-a-kind boat museums you’ll ever visit. All four of us piled into the truck, excited like kids on Christmas morning about our road trip to the Welaka Maritime Museum (www.welakamaritimemuseum.com). The beauty of Richard Speas hand-crafted boats is best appreciated in person but if you cannot go you should at least visit the website. As a lover of all types and styles of boats I’d have to say that Mr. Speas captured a uniqueness in each of his creations, whether steam or gas powered each have their own sensual characteristics that make them truly one-of-a-kind.

We had a private tour given by Rand Speas, son to the deceased builder, and a master craftsman in his own right. Rand explained to us how he convinced his father to keep the collection together by setting up the museum and moving all the boats to Welaka, Florida from New York. Interesting side trips like these can sure help amuse a boater waiting for bad weather to clear. We’re glad we made the trip and had a chance to meet Rand and see his father’s creations.

We were probably only 20 feet from this eagle before he took flight.

We left Georgetown and after we crossed the ten-mile long Lake George (more in the next log about Silver Glen Springs off Lake George) Kismet and Bella Luna entered arguably the most Jurassic-part-like-piece of this water wonderland. In this 30-mile stretch, we saw so many alligators, bald eagles, and white ibis’ (even one roseate spoonbill), we just simply stopped counting. The gators were all different sizes, from two-footers all the way up to about 11 feet long. We had fun calling each other on the VHF stating we had just spotted an even larger gator than the last one or being advised that one of us missed spotting a bald eagle that was on a marker post only 10 feet from our boat.

The crystal clear water at Blue Spring enhanced our ability to see this manatee family swim gracefully by us.

Our destination was Blue Spring State Park. Blue Spring, as its name implies, is a spring whose head is up off of the St. Johns about one-mile. It’s not just any old State Park; it’s a very special one. At the head of the spring there’s an in-water cavern that goes down over 130 feet where 101 million gallons of fresh water feed out into the St. Johns River each and every day. The Blue Spring water is crystal clear and has a year round constant temperature of 72 degrees. Because of this, the spring is a natural migration destination for manatee as they seek warmer waters in the winter months.

Here’s one happy alligator! He looks full and relaxed without a care in the world, at least that’s what the turtle sitting in front of him on the log is hoping.

After anchoring, we dropped our dinghies into the water and beached them a short ride away at the park so we could walk the boardwalk back to the head of the spring. A short distance after we started our walk we came to the first platform hanging out over the creek and there they were! Four manatees swimming in unison, completely visible in the pristine waters, surprised us as they swam majestically and playfully together among the turtles and fish, with no visible concern for our presence. As we all worked our way back to the head of the spring, we continued to see more manatees enjoying the protected comforts of the spring. There were well over twenty of these magnificent creatures, gracefully moving around the shallow clear water. When we returned to the dinghies, on our way back to our anchored boats, we spotted a couple more manatees frolicking in a lagoon behind the visible protection of a Lily-pad field. Nature at it’s best!

With both Bella Luna’s and Kismet’s anchors set and tied port to port we never moved in the narrow Snake Creek, just up from Blue Spring.

After a comfortable night on the hook we made our way to the Monroe Harbor Marina in Sanford, our southern most destination on the St. Johns. Our trip up this river provided us a host of pleasant surprises; we found out that Sanford, Florida has a rich history in the American orange and celery industry, railroads and tourism. The revitalized downtown district, within walking distance from the marina, has some unique restaurants, art stores and museums. I took a walk in the rain for a self-guided tour, spending an hour in the Sanford Museum learning about this town and how this area of Florida used to be the largest shipper of oranges in the world as well as being nicknamed “Celery City” when it was the world’s largest producer of celery.

The four of us walked downtown to dine at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café, just recently voted the second best German Restaurant in the United States. Our tasty and authentic German meal was topped off by rounds of German beer and freshly baked German chocolate cake and just when we thought the evening couldn’t get any better, it did. Just as we finished dinner, a two-man band playing an accordion and singing German music (in German) entertained the crowd with their lively act. We couldn’t understand a thing they sang but, as they say, music is universal and it was a blast. When was the last time you saw an accordion being played?

He taught me about hunting, fishing, work ethics and so much more - that’s my Grandpa.

My Grandfather and his wife Donna winter in Mt. Dora, only 30 miles away, so Sanford was a convenient place for a little family get together. After a short tour of our boat we went out for lunch, but the best part, for me, was hearing my grandfather’s boating and fishing stories. One, that I remember the best was, when vacationing together with family in northern Michigan, he snuck up on my uncle and me (ages 8 and 9) while we were showering and took all of our clothes. When we finished showering we were completely surprised when we couldn’t find our clothes so my uncle and I had to run back to the cottage with just a scrap of newspaper as our cover. It was nice to see my Grandfather and Donna again; we had fun creating new memories and savoring old ones.

There’s so much to see and do on the St. Johns River, we’ll share the balance of our return trip “downriver” and more New Frontier explorations in the next log, stay tuned.