Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
Trailering... St. Augustine, Florida
It's called America's "oldest city." For anyone with a boat, though, there's always something new. It's always been that way in St. Augustine.
Forty two years before Jamestown was settled and fifty five years before the Pilgrims found what was to be called Plymouth Rock, the city of St. Augustine was taking shape.
It was 1565. More than half a century earlier, Ponce de Leon had sailed into what is now the St. Augustine Inlet and claimed the protected harbor for the King of Spain. It wasn't "Bimini," the fabled Fountain of Youth he had been seeking, but it was Spain's first step into the new world. And they knew it was going to be challenged.
A wooden fort was built to defend the territory. In 1586, Sir Francis Drake entered the inlet and burned the structure to the ground in an ill-fated attempt to claim the area for Great Britain. The Spanish occupants rebuilt the fort but, this time, used stone. Shortly after the new fort was constructed, the British returned and spent almost two months trying to repeat history. The stone repelled the cannon fire and the fort, named Castille de San Marcos, is now the centerpiece of any St. Augustine tour.
Tourism has always been a part of St. Augustine. In the late 1800's, business tycoon Henry Flagler envisioned the city being a winter playground for the wealthy. He called it "the Newport of the South," after the Rhode Island community that was home to America's most financially successful families (Newport attracts tourists not just because of it's proximity to the water but also because of it's mansions, many of which are open for tours). Flagler built three hotels as a way to bring in the big spenders. They came, they spent and then they found other Florida communities where they could build their own mansions. The hotels still stand today but only one remains in use as originally intended. The other two are a museum (The Lightner Museum and also the St. Augustine City Hall) and what was the Ponce de Leon Hotel has become Flagler College. Though now a center for students rather than a center for the well-to-do, the Ponce de Leon has retained it's stained glass windows designed by Louis C. Tiffany (yes, that Louis C. Tiffany).
St. Augustine has 85 separate historic sites including 36 original buildings from the colonial era. Since the early 1930's, city officials have devoted time and money toward keeping the many historic buildings in good condition, thus ensuring future tourists the chance to see this old city's charms.
And then there are the tourists who arrive with a boat in tow.
There are well maintained ramps throughout the St. Augustine area, providing access to the naturally protected waters. Although the city operates it's own marina just south of the Bridge of Lions (A1A) on the Intracoastal Waterway (mile marker 778.5), no boat ramps are located there. Still, trailer boaters use the municipal marina's full service facilities (restaurants, pump outs, fuel dock) on a daily basis. The marina services larger boats that are traversing the Intracoastal as well as using the Inlet for access to and from the Atlantic Ocean less than five miles away. In the opposite direction is the historic center of St. Augustine where the Flager hotels, castillo de san Marcos and the Plaza de la Constitution are located.
The most popular launch facility in the St. Augustine area is located in nearby Jacksonville on the St. John's River just north of the city. This is the Mayport Boat Ramp with 6 lanes, 4 floating docks and a parking for 75 trailers and tow vehicles. The ramps provide immediate access to the ocean or to some prime fishing grounds along the St. Johns.
Closer to St. Augustine is the Vilano Boat Ramp located on the western shore of the of the Inlet. Plans are underway to add 50 more parking spots for tow vehicles and trailers. This should occur within the next year. The reason for the expansion is obvious: as trailer boating grows in popularity and as tourism continues to increase in this northeastern sector of Florida, boat ramps are in demand. Despite budget issues at both the county and state level, boat ramp improvement has become a goal in order to maintain satisfied tourists as well as residents.
Local boaters have this advice for the newcomer to Matanza Bay (the waters just inside the St. Augustine Inlet): be careful when the wind and tide are opposite because the resulting waves will have the capacity to swamp a boat with low freeboard. In addition, if the wind is blowing strong from the east, most small boat operators should find something else to do for the day.
On the south side of the Inlet is Anastasia State Park with more than four miles of beaches and 1700 acres of trails including a bird sanctuary. Just across the narrow expanse of water called Salt Run is the St. Augustine Lighthouse, just a short walk from the site of Florida's first lighthouse which was built in 1824 (the current one continues to operate and has been doing so since 1874. It is open to the public). Across the Inlet on the Atlantic is Vilano Beach, a sandy expanse of hard sand that is a popular destination for those wanting to drive their cars along the shoreline.
St. Augustine has just concluded the annual Nights of Lights event (November 23 through January 31), where 2 million lights are strung from balconies in the old town, across the Bridge of Lions, through palm trees and, of course, on many boats. This year-end celebration includes outdoor concerts, street theater, harbor tours and historic reenactments.
When one looks at the city called St. Augustine from the perspective of 2003, it is easy to see what attracted the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon almost five hundred years earlier. And while he eventually gave up his quest for a Fountain of Youth, visitors to St. Augustine will tell you Ponce found it and just wasn't aware what he had come across.
Boat RampsBoating Club Road Ramp
Off of A1A North
Frank Butler Park
West on Intracoastal Waterway
Green Road Ramp
Off of A1A South Guana State Park
Palmetto Road Ramp
Off of A1A South
Palmo Boat Ramp
St. John's River
St. Augustine South Park
Vilano Boat Basin
from Indianapolis 925 miles
from Boston 1200 miles
from Houston 909 miles
from Key West 478 miles
from San Diego 2383 miles