After leaving St Augustine, we continued up the ICW towards the St Johns River and Jacksonville, to where we intended to divert and visit Jack, Denise and Beatriz on their new 65’ De Fever, LAPUS LAZULLI. As we move further north, the tides are getting higher and the currents stronger…but, as the water isn’t getting any deeper in the waterways, we are having to be more mindful of when we travel and where we anchor. As we approached the St Johns River the waterfront residences became more numerous and the banks of the ICW were lined with houses, most of which had private jetties (docks). There were many miles of “no wake” zones which, along with counter-currents made for quite slow travelling.
We stopped at a small marina on the ICW named Palm Cove, at Jacksonville Beach about 22 road miles from downtown Jacksonville, and planned to go the additional 21 sea miles the next day to visit Jack. The weather, however, had different ideas and the next day was YUK. Thunderstorms and rain made it easy to redo the math and figure out it was safer and more economical to hire a rental car and drive to Jacksonville than to take Loopy Kiwi. So we did – had a great visit with our Brazilian friends before returning home. Before I left New Zealand, Carolyn instructed me that I must give Beatriz Loopy Kiwi’s mascot that Beatriz played with whenever she visited, and had named it (wait for it….) KIWI.
The next day we dropped off the rental and went to depart, but Stan’s start batteries had finally had enough and wouldn’t even turn him over. We put them on charge, but also went to the marina office to see if we could locate some replacements. Unfortunately, as it was a Saturday, the office was closed, as was the adjacent service company. We tried the nearby fizzboat store, but they only had small batteries for outboard motors. The sales guy told us that there was a West Marine down the street and when we told him we were on foot and 2 diesel start batteries may be a bit heavy to lug that far, he tossed us the keys to his Silverado and told us to go get them with it. Gratefully we did so and were even more delighted to find the necessary batteries were on special and had been reduced by $40 each! On our return, we plonked them into the boat where Stan gratefully responded with an immediate start.
The next stop was another anchorage at Bells River, adjacent to Fernandina. We had come across Nassau Sound at low tide and the water in the channels got as low as 4.5ft at times, which made for interesting, but tense, navigation. A note to our kiwi navigators here… the charts in the USA show soundings at Medium Low Water (MLW) not the Spring Lows that we are used to on our charts. Accordingly the tidal range can run into negative territory at low tide so you have to keep that in mind when you are transiting through skinny water or anchoring, as a 5ft sounding can mean you only have 4ft at low tide. Fortunately, the Navionics app we use on the iPad has a “tides and weather” function which gives up to date data continuously – but you need to be on your toes over here!
However, in Bells River there was 20ft plus of water and it seemed to be a popular anchorage, with 3 sailboats and 2 other motor yachts on the hook. After dark, Charlie dropped a line over the side and within a few minutes hooked up a small (around 2ft) shark. This was followed by a very small stingray, which we released and then another shark of the same size. Finally he brought up a fish that we couldn’t identify that looked edible, so they all got skinned and boned (not that a shark has any bones) and put in the fridge for the next days brekkie. It turned out when we searched the internet later, that the mystery fish was a Gulf Kingfish, aka Whiting and when we ate it, it tasted like flounder. So much so that Charlie, who doesn’t like the taste of flounder, left it all for me to eat. Still – the shark was pretty good as well.
After breakfast, we travelled the mile or so to Fernandina Marina and found another delightful wee town, full of tourists and associated shops. We also unloaded the bikes and went for a ride to the real shops (Walmart of course), but didn’t actually buy anything…as true as I sit here!! Fernandina is right on the border of Florida and Georgia, so I made the last call to CBP Florida’s check in number (yes….I HAD been religiously calling in at every stop, although CBP Florida are the only ones who make it easy). Shortly after, there was a knock on the window and a lady stopped by for a chat about New Zealand. It seemed she and her husband are going to visit NZ in September and, as the conversation progressed and began to sound very familiar, we realized that she had already contacted me on the subject back in January and had no idea I was back in the States, and I had no idea that she was in Florida (in fact she lives by one of the marinas we stopped at last week). Howzat for yet another coincidence.
The next day we moved on and passed inside Cumberland Island, once owned by the Carnegies as a vacation getaway and now a State Park with bands of wild horses running around on it. Coming up the inside, we traversed Cumberland Sound, where the water was very deep and the channel lead up to Kings Bay Submarine Support Base. This was the first place where we saw the ICW markers overridden by the standard buoyaging system of “red, right, returning” ie where yellow triangle ICW marks were on green square buoys and markers, and yellow squares were on red triangles. As we passed the base, we noticed a submarine docked with high vis netting surrounding it. We were also “guided” towards the ICW by a couple of navy escorts and once we were back in it, escorted by another until we left the security zone.
Another anchorage the following night in the Umbrella Creek. Arrived at low tide, but at high tide the “island” we were sheltering behind had all but disappeared and the wind had strengthened, so we opted to pull up and go to the lee of nearby Jekyll island and anchor, although we were only half a mile or so from a marina. We took on some fuel there the next day so didn’t feel quite so bad about not partaking of their hospitality.
Reluctantly we left Hidden Harbor this morning, but urge all our boating readers who may be coming this way, to give them a try. We have travelled 40 miles today to what will probably be our last anchorage in the USA, in the Wahoo River. I am writing this on Word, but won’t be able to post it until we reach wifi, which will probably be at, or near, Savannah. And while the lines look fairly straight, the ICW in Georgia winds around like the Heartland rivers, so you can travel a lot of water miles to travel a few as the crow flies.