Favorite Marinas: Camachee Cove in St. Augustine Florida
By Tom Neale, 11/3/2005
TOM NEALE ON BOATS HAS MOVED!
Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.
It takes a lot for a marina to be one of our favorites. We’ve been traveling by boat around three to five thousand miles a year, for over 20 years, and we started visiting different marinas back in the 50’s when you could often tie up overnight for free if you bought fuel (at around $0.25 a gallon). I told you a few months ago that occasionally I’d talk about marinas that really turn us on. Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor in St. Augustine Florida has been a top choice for us for years. Here’s why.
For starters, it’s close to the ocean and I love the ocean. From its docks you can see out St. Augustine Inlet, and ocean beaches. But you don’t have to deal with any opening bridges to get to the ocean. And the marina is land-locked with new floating docks and pilings so that when a storm rolls through, you can feel safe about where you are. Around the marina are marshes, creeks, and two rivers, as well as the inlet. It’s a great place to explore by dinghy or kayak. It’s also great for walking. Our favorite walks are along the road out to the end of Camachee Island (yes, it’s an island) into the marshes to the north, and over the Vilano Beach Bridge to Route A1A and the beach. From the crest of the bridge you can see far offshore. On the other side you can take a nature walk along a raised wooden path in the marsh or walk along the miles and miles of ocean beach. At Camachee Cove you don’t feel at all like you’re hemmed in by civilization, but nearby you have just about everything that civilization offers for your boat and for you. Actually, you’re in one of the cradles of civilization on this continent. More on that later.
Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor (904 829 5676 or 800 345 9269 www.camacheeisland.com) is just north of the Vilano Beach Bridge on the western shore of the Tolomato River. It has, within the past few years, been through a program of significant upgrades. These have included dredging and new floating docks arranged to accommodate yachts up to 125 feet long, with electricity available up to two 100 amp cables, or four 50 amp cables per boat. But this marina also welcomes and is very user friendly to smaller cruising boats. Some of the transient slips allow the convenience of fueling at the slip. The slips and hookups are modern with cable and Beacon WiFi. A pool is available to transients. A few weeks before Christmas they have a marina Christmas party that’s one of the tops on the coast. All the shops and services have an open house. You just walk around and have fun and gorge, on fabulous food and, yes, liquid refreshments. Then the finale: dessert and after dinner drinks at the marina headquarters.
Often when a marina is enclosed in a basin the showers and lounge are a very long walk if you happen to be docked on the other side of the basin. They’ve taken care of that here. There are 3 sets of nice air-conditioned and heated showers with laundry facilities and two lounges with computers, TV, phones, complimentary coffee and newspapers and other amenities. Unlike some other new marinas, apparently designed by people who design parking garages at high rise malls, the docking layout at Camachee Cove gives a lot of room for maneuvering, even for very large boats. It’s land locked, but the well-marked entrance is straight in from the Tolomoto River, with a range if you need it.
On the premises (just up the ramp from some of the transient docks), the new Kingfish Grill, (with a nice classy bar, part of which is outside) overlooks the Tolomato River. It has casual waterside dining for lunch and dinner, serving fresh fish daily, home cooked lunch specials, and it even has a handy package store. Around the basin are a hotel, tasteful condos, and helpful businesses like a bait and tackle shop, grocery, deli which serves lunches, “First Mate Yacht Services and Ships Store” (a chandlery with very competitive prices and many services ranging from diving to electronics, 904 829 0184), Jacksonville Yacht Sales (904 824 2202), the headquarters of the popular X-Change-R oil changing system (800 922 4804) and a TowBoatUS (904 829 5585). Camachee Yacht Yard (904 823 3641) is conveniently located in one corner of the marina. It’s full service with a 50-ton lift, performing work ranging from bottom painting to full rebuilding. But despite its capacity for work, you hardly know it’s there from within the transient section of the docks. The marina is also the home of the St. Augustine Yacht Club, and the Northeast Florida Marlin Association.
You might not want to leave the marina, there’s so much there. But there is plenty to see in the surrounding area and the marina makes access to the surrounding attractions easy. Transients are welcome to use either of the two complimentary courtesy cars, area taxis are relatively inexpensive, and there’s a sight seeing trolley, with tour guides, which will send a van to pick you up for tours.
St. Augustine is the oldest permanent European settlement on our continent. History from the 1500’s surrounds you in architecture, art, shops, and experience. There are 144 blocks of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, 45 annual festivals and events, and more than 150 restaurants, of all types and categories. In addition to the trolley mentioned earlier, there are also horse drawn carriage tours with drivers who tell you about what's around, as well as answer questions.
There’s room to mention only a few of the things to see and do. The Castillo de San Marcos is one of my favorites. You’ll see it as you come into the inlet or pass down the ICW. On its high parapets and along its dark passages, authentically costumed guides assist, and you can push buttons to get recordings at your leisure as you move through different areas of the fort. When Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded the settlement of Saint Augustine In 1565, he began building Fort Castillo de San Marcos to withstand attacks that came from pirates, French, and English, including Sir Francis Drake. Today this fort stands near the western foot of the Bridge of Lions and is known well by seamen who travel the waterway or come through the nearby ocean inlet. The walls, built of coquina in the 1600's, were tough enough to withstand the shock of cannon bombardment from attacking ships. Walking about the fort brings you to those times of pirates and cruel battles between Spanish, British, and French. One of the rooms has “graffiti” on its walls. But a close look reveals finely drawn lines of tall ships. Look closer still, and you’ll realize that you are gazing upon drawings done by young soldiers garrisoned here around 300 years ago. Their hands to these walls bring their experience to you over the years, and you to feel a chill from the shared memories. Near the fort, a huge cross, visible from the inlet, marks the spot where the first Roman Catholic Mass is believed to have been conducted here.
As you’d imagine, there are many colorful festivals throughout the year, often reflecting the Spanish and maritime heritage. Our favorite time is Christmas with its costume parades, a “Festival of Lights,” decorated horse drawn carriages, candlelight carols, tours of ancient churches, and period musical performances.
This is a city of restaurants and watering holes, and you can find whatever you want. There are also several other marinas in the area. Ask at your marina for information about restaurants and things to see and do. For more information, the number for the local Chamber of Commerce is 904-829-5681. The Visitor Information Center is located at 10 Castillo Drive.
St. Augustine is at mile 778 on the ICW. Many also arrive from the Atlantic through its inlet. Large commercial seafood boats, often drawing as much as 8 feet, use the inlet daily, as do numerous pleasure boats. But it is relatively shallow with oft changing shoals. Avoid it in heavy easterly weather or waves, and use safe inlet running seamanship techniques. It has recently been dredged, but can change with any storm. Just inside, the inlet channel converges with the ICW channel, and this is confusing to some. Carefully study the charts and markers. Hard sand bars lurk just outside the marked route.
Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale