Satsuma to Palm Coast

Departure day came cold, dreary and overcast. Waiting a few hours for things to clear up proved to be fruitless, so the power cords were disconnected, the docks lines released, everything safely stowed and at 10:00 a.m. the next adventure began. Every hour and every mile northbound on the St. Johns River we hoped that the clouds would burn off. It's always nice to have a good start on the first day underway. At least Beach House was underway and we were still excited to begin a new cruise. There were a few details that needed to be tended to, but not right away. Our destination was only about 50 miles north so a delay of a few hours was not a concern. The river was a little choppy from the 10+ knots of north wind right on the nose. Still nothing of concern. We cruised past the Palatka town docks and said goodbye to the town for the last time. The rest of the day stayed pretty much the same so the inside helm station was the most comfortable spot for navigating. At the lower helm, the laptop is our primary navigation tool. There are several charting programs to choose from and the most current NOAA charts had been downloaded the day before. The presentation on the laptop is much better than the chartplotter on the flybridge, but the computer screen is not good in direct sunlight and the computer doesn't like moisture.

Just before 4:00 p.m., we turned off the river and into Six Mile Creek. The creek entrance can be shallow, 5 to 6 feet under normal conditions, but the river levels had been very high for days, giving us an extra couple of feet. Once inside Six Mile Creek, the depths drop to 18 feet or more. Just before the highway bridge is a restaurant called the Outback Crab Shack. Along the river is a 1/4-mile-long floating dock that is a free tie up for restaurant customers. As we pulled in, there was only one other small boat tied to the entire dock. With Beach House secure, it was time to sample the cuisine. Most of the reviews were very positive and the crew was pretty hungry. To add to the atmosphere, the sun came out, the temps were up and all was good with the world. The menu is primarily seafood, specializing in crab dishes. There is also beef and chicken offered. The portions were large, the food tasty, the beer cold, the service excellent and the prices fairly modest. What more could anyone ask for and free dockage, too. After dinner we enjoyed some time relaxing in the flybridge, walking the docks and checking out the wildlife, including a local gator.

This was a great experience and a very peaceful night. The next morning it was time to finish up that last minute chore that needed to be done - haul out the boat, have the bottom power washed, check out the bottom and the prop, and change any zincs that had deteriorated. Since the boat has been sitting at the dock for a long time and we have about another 3,000 or so miles to travel, it was a must to take care of this now. A clean bottom and prop means better speed and fuel economy. It took about an hour from the dock to the haul-out pit at Green Cove Springs Marina. The marina was not quite ready for us when we arrived and we waited about an hour to get hauled. When the time came, all went well, and once the bottom was power washed, it showed to be in good condition. There were only a few spots where the paint was missing, including the bottom of the keel where we grounded in Browns Inlet. The zincs were okay, but had some metal loss, so all were replaced. There is no better time to do that than when the boat is out of the water. We have had divers replace them for us in the past, but we never know if they are done properly. If we do them ourselves, we know it's done right. The boat hung in the slings while the yard crew went to lunch. As soon as they were back, we splashed and once again got underway.

The plan for the next evening was to stay at the city docks in downtown Jacksonville. Boating on the St. Johns River is really relaxing, and most of the time Beach House was the only boat on the water. As we got closer to Jacksonville, river traffic picked up and we started to see some commercial traffic. Just as we arrived at the FEC Railroad Bridge, the bridge closed and the bridge tender announced that a train was coming. We waited and waited until the train finally showed up and started across the bridge at a pace just a bit faster than most people can walk. It couldn't have moved much slower without going backwards. Also, it was very, very, long. We wasted time cruising around the basin checking out the local docks and sightseeing until the train finally cleared the bridge and it opened. This is the only bridge we needed to have open. The clearance when closed is 7 feet, and the city docks are between the railroad bridge and Main Street Bridge.

The city docks are long, floating docks that run the length of the waterfront. Along the waterfront are several large restaurants and a promenade that stretches for over a mile. There were only a few small boats tied up at a section reserved for the water taxi. We chose a spot in front of Chicago Pizza. The other restaurants included Hooters, The American Grill, Cinco De Mayo, Fionn MacCool's Irish Restaurant and Pub, and Benny's Steak and Seafood. The docks are a great place to people watch, and the people had fun watching us, too. It was quite a culture shock to go from the peace and solitude of Six Mile Creek the night before to the hustle and bustle of a busy downtown location. The boat traffic can make the docks bouncy, and the coming and going of the water taxis also adds to the mix. It can get really bad when some boaters ignore the "no-wake" sign. But those signs are only for those that can read, anyway. There's also a very strong current in the river that can make docking exciting. Fortunately, the current wasn't very strong when we arrived. Even with all of the restaurants just outside the boat, we had dinner aboard. A long walk on the promenade and sundowners on the flybridge topped off an enjoyable day. We expected a lot of traffic that evening, but it was quiet. Perhaps the fact that this was a weekday made a difference. 

The night went well and the journey continued early the next morning. The current was light as we left the dock and transited under the Main Street Bridge. Soon it picked up and gave us a nice boost on the way back to the ICW once again. We passed the shipyards and container ports, loading and offloading cargo. There is no doubt that this section of the river is almost all commercial. In a little more than an hour, we exited the St. Johns River and entered the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway heading south. It was at this point some 4.5 months ago that we left the ICW and headed upriver. How time flies when you're having fun (or working on boat projects and books). We still had one more stop to make and that was for fuel. The tanks had not been filled since our stop at Osprey Marina in South Carolina. The fuel gauge showed about an eighth of a tank, still plenty to get us to the next fuel dock. At noon we turned off the ICW into the channel for Palm Cove Marina. After making some phone calls we determined that Palm Cove's price for diesel was the best around. At the time we stopped it was $3.89 a gallon including tax. The entrance channel to the marina is a bit shallow and we arrived at dead low tide. One spot in the channel dropped to 5.5 feet just before entering the marina basin. After we filled the tanks and came back out the channel, our depth sounder showed 5.1 feet with the tanks full.

Just a little before 4:00 p.m., our anchor was down behind Pine Island just off the ICW. This is one of our regular spots if we don't plan to stop in St. Augustine. It positions us to get to Palm Coast the next day as a short run. We also like it here because the oxbow allows the boat to get far enough off the ICW to avoid boat wakes, and the scenery is beautiful. There is a strong current throughout the entire area and anchoring requires both a good set and an anchor that is capable of resetting in reversing currents. Another perfect day was logged into the log book and we shared the anchorage with two other trawlers and a sailboat. They anchored near the ICW and we anchored farther back in the oxbow. The water depths at the entrance can be as shallow as 6-7 feet, but inside the oxbow it can range from 10 to 15 feet. We chose a spot wide enough for us to swing completely around and still be in deep water. These spectacular sunsets and peaceful evenings are why we do what we do.

The next morning the current was running out toward the St. Augustine Inlet. This meant that from our location to St. Augustine we would have a fast trip. Running the engine at lower RPMs and taking advantage of the currents made for speeds of close to 10 MPH while burning very little fuel. Passing through Vilano Beach and heading toward the Inlet in St. Augustine requires some careful navigation. Besides the strong currents, there are several very shallow bars to negotiate around just at the inlet. There is red buoy "60" that must be rounded when heading south. It appears that you are going out the inlet until you make the turn to starboard. Cutting the corner puts the boat on a sandbar with very little water over it. Sea Tow and TowboatUS both do a good business on this bar. Many times they can be seen just hanging out. After making this transit about 20 times, we pretty much have it figured out. With a big boost from the current getting to the inlet, the counter current once you make the turn at red "60" can be a shock. The speed drops almost immediately from 10 to 7 to 5 to 4, and you get the feeling that you are running uphill.

The rest of the day had the currents against us, making for a long, slow ride. The worst is before the Bridge of Lions, but even far from the inlet, a good 2 to 3 knots of current slows the boat all day. We hoped that things would change as we approached Matanzas Inlet, but that was not to be. Matanzas is one of those places where the channel is constantly changing and also constantly shoaling. The red and green buoys at the inlet are always being moved to show the best water. We have been through the inlet when it was only navigable at high tide. Fortunately, there has been recent dredging so this time was fairly easy. The only area we saw that was a bit shallow was near green "31" where we found depths to be about 7 feet. The rest of the inlet was 12 to 16 feet deep. 

By 2:30 in the afternoon, Beach House and crew reached the destination for the day. It was a little early for a marina stop, but we tied to the docks at Palm Coast Marina. We needed to ship out some books and give the boat a good bath. Palm Coast Marina is also one of our retail partners for The Great Book Of Anchorages and we wanted to restock their inventory. The weather has been absolutely fantastic and it feels really, really good to be on the water again. Even though it's only been a few days, we're back in cruising mode again. Look for some video on this section of the waterway soon and be sure to visit our Facebook page for lots of photos and cruising news.

1 comment:

  1. 16.05.22
    Chuck and Susan,

    I just had to "cruise with you' vicariously this Sunday morning.




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