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Posts Tagged ‘Jacksonville FL’

OK, so it’s been a pause of epic proportions… more than 4 months in duration if I’m being honest.  In the last few days, I’ve had two different friends/readers check in to see if we are OK, having not seen a post in a great while.  Mike would tell you I’ve been talking about needing to get caught up, and indeed, there is a lot to catch up on.  I’m considering myself nudged.  Note that I’ll be backdating posts to come to maintain some sense of chronology.

Since I left off blogging in early February in St Augustine, we’ve been…

… south to the Vero Beach area where we hung out on a mooring for awhile, caught up with some cruising friends and met some new folks, as well as hooked up with some long-time friends from Ohio, several of whom were camping in the Kissimmee area for a stretch.  How fun it was to compare our boat life with those who’ve recently taken up camping with tow-behind campers…

… then back to St Augustine for another couple of months where I celebrated another birthday as did some friends, made a return visit to both the bird rookery at the Alligator Farm and the Gamble Rogers Music Festival among other things…

…during which time we also rented a car for a month-long road trip from north Florida to Los Angeles and back with many fun stops along the way…

… and we helped some friends move their 51′ Morgan Out Island from St Augustine to Ft Lauderdale, my (Lori’s) first real adventure on a monohull except for occasional day sails, about a 3 1/2 day offshore adventure.

Just ahead of the beginning of June, which is also the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, we moved our Cheshire up to a marina off of the St John’s River, not too far from downtown Jacksonville where we’ll hang out through the summer-into-fall.  We’ve been here a couple of times before, but for shorter stays.  This time through, we plan to dig a little deeper.  It’s a comfy protected marina with great amenities including a pool and free laundry, both of which will be handy as we move further into the summer.  I’ve found a local yoga studio and we’ve sorted out the JTA  (Jax’s public transportation system) for when our folding bikes aren’t up for the distance.  We’ve got a running list of places we want to explore and Mike of course has a long list of restaurants he wants to check out.  As always, there will be some routine boat chores/projects, but as of this writing, nothing too heavy duty, and definitely to be scheduled in the early and late parts of the day… it’s already quite warm here.  My mid-day plan is to hide out in the air-conditioning and blog.

Time flies…

Today happens to be the 6-year anniversary of our moving aboard our Cheshire.  Just for fun, I re-read an early post (the text of which I actually sent via e-mail lists before I had this blog up and running)… find it here if you too are interested in the flashback.

We’ve also just sent our passports off to be renewed, reminiscing a bit about the places we’ve been in recent years and options for the years to come… and picked up some “alternate” passports to keep us occupied in the meantime.

LS_20170612_103859

Stay tuned, and thanks for checking in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dependent on our feet, our folding bicycles and occasionally a decent public transportation system to get around when attached to land, we are sometimes disappointed at not being able to visit some of the farther flung places we read about.  Not often, but sometimes.  So, on the rare occasions that we have a rental car, we try to maximize our use of it.  Upon learning that I was off the hook from my jury summons, and with a few more days left on our week-long car rental, we decided to explore metro Jacksonville’s park system. The Timucuan Trail Parks system is the largest urban park system in the United States, and is a network of a fair number of bits of land as well as water scattered about the greater Jacksonville area.  It also includes the  Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve, an extensive coastal wetlands area managed by the National Park Service.  We started our exploring at Fort Caroline, a recreated-from-sketches fort overlooking the St John’s River that commemorates the French presence in north Florida, before they were driven out by the Spanish.  The nearby Ribault Monument, also a recreation, commemorates the landing of Jean Ribeault in north Florida; it also has a nice view of the St John’s. With our fill of history, we headed for the hiking trails.  Our next stop was Spanish Pond, which apparently has a bit of history as well, having served as a Spanish encampment leading up to an attack on Fort Caroline.  Hard to imagine now as its a magnificent marsh, full of nesting wading birds at our visit, beautiful, but hardly a place I’d be inclined to pitch a tent.  A lot of the birds were on nests that were out of view (smart birds!), but we could see a few of them flying about, though at some distance, with bits of nest building material.  Mostly it was an amazing concert of sounds.  Some attempts at photos follow; I’d have loved to have captured the soundtrack however.

Adjacent to Spanish Pond is an area with a not-so-creative name, but a great story, the Theodore Roosevelt Area.  This 600-acre bit of woods is available for exploration thanks to the foresight and generosity of one Wille H Browne.  Willie was apparently a bit of an eccentric,  lived on this bit of property almost his whole life, and despite offers of millions of dollars from various developers, refused to sell, believing in his words that “money cannot by happiness and this place makes me happy”.  Wise words, Willie, wise words.  In the late 60’s not long before he died, Willie gifted his land to the Nature Conservancy with the stipulation that it not be developed and that it be named for his hero, Teddy Roosevelt.  I’ve written before of more famous folk who have done much for the preservation/conservation of wild spaces.  On this day though, Willie, who I’m afraid is little known today to folks outside of Jacksonville,  was my hero.  For those so inclined, read the details of his story here;  it’s a touching, well written piece.

Willie Browne

Willie Browne, photo from NPS sign

Famished from our exploration, we decided to check out a place in historic Mayport.  Mayport turned out to be not so impressive, but we had a delicious lunch at a place of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives fame called Singleton’s Seafood Shack . The following day we headed out again, this time to some spots on the north side of the St John’s.  Cedar Point, unlike the Cedar Point of Ohio fame, was a peaceful spot to start our day.  The morning view of the marsh had me vowing to further research a paddle trail I’d read about that leads here.  A solitary rooster welcomed us at the parking lot, perhaps looking for handouts?  A nearby stand of live oaks was full of Red-bellied Woodpeckers.  We did a bit of a hike at nearby Betz Tiger Point Preserve, which is a relatively new preserve, and in my humble opinion, is a bit overused by equestrians.  Perhaps it was the rain we’d had in the preceding days, but the trails were not in good shape, completely washed out in places.  Back in the parking lot, we found a Yellow-throated Warbler had become quite attached to  our rental car, particularly one of the side mirrors.  Weird.  Finally, we attempted another hike at nearby Cedar Point Preserve and had to abandon our plan when we came upon a bit of trail that looked more like a pond.  Still, a good day in the woods.

Not unlike the Metro Park system of central Ohio, our former home, Jacksonville has a lot to offer for natural spots.  On my list for another visit: Ft George Island, the Kingsley Plantation and some paddling in the Timucuan Preserve.

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When Mike and I learned in early-to-mid April that I’d once again been called for jury duty, we decided to  make a plan for a bit of a pause in north Florida where we could also make arrangements to rent a car for a week.  We were also due for some more dockside time to work on ongoing boat maintenance, things that are just more easily done when attached to a dock with unlimited water, access to marine supply and hardware stores.  I proposed we return to a favorite marina of ours from earlier in our travels, the Marina at Ortega Landing; the Captain agreed.  It’s a bit of a splurge for us, more pricey than most of the marinas we visit for any length of time, but they have great facilities including a pool which would be a nice treat after days of boat chores, and most of the necessities of life (groceries, etc) are within walking distance.  For further flung needs, we’d have the luxury of a rental car for a brief stretch.

As usual, I’ll spare you all the minute details of our ongoing projects, except to say that we were pretty busy. We were pleased to find that a nearby but not-very useful marine supply place  was bought out by Sailors Exchange, the original St Augustine location being a favorite of ours, and is much improved.  Mike scored some teak bits for a cooler-top cockpit table thingy (that we also stand on at the helm to operate tank-commander style as Mike likes to describe it), along with some material for a stern shade… keeps the cockpit much more comfortable when we’re staying put for a bit, and minimizes our need to fire up the air-conditioning.  Our fresh water system needed some TCL, which is always a bit of a project.   I’ve come to believe that my compounding/polishing/waxing all of the topsides gelcoat is going to take me the rest of my life, but I did get a nice compliment from the guys who were detailing a neighboring Gemini during our stay.  There were other misc projects as well, but those are the highlights.

We also revamped some storage, ditching a couple of carry-on sized rolling suitcases we moved aboard with because we had them.  It became a bit of an issue when the zipper on one corroded to the point of being non-functional.  Not kidding.  Mike had to take a knife to it to free the contents.  We swapped them for a couple of much more boat-appropriate Eagle Creek duffles that store much smaller, tolerate boat conditions better, and have already tested well.  Love, love, love Eagle Creek.

The duffles came in handy on our trip to Gainesville.  As long as I had to go anyway for jury duty, we decided we’d go ahead and knock out our annual medical appointments as well.  Clean bills of health for both, yea!  I’d also done a bit of research and learned that the Alachua County (Gainesville) library system has developed a fairly extensive collection of e-books, so we scouted a local branch and picked up library cards.  Can’t believe I was without one for three years, as I was quite the patron of our library system in Ohio.  E-books won’t completely replace paperbacks aboard Cheshire, but we were able to move a ton of books off the boat,which made the Captain very happy.  Since our time in Gainesville also coincided with my birthday, it was nice to celebrate with dinner out with friends/landlords Marcy and Tim.  And, as it turns out, my jury duty was cancelled… which they very helpfully posted via website a couple of days in advance, so I didn’t even have to show up.

In addition to boat chores, and with some time back and “bonus” rental car days in lieu of jury duty, we did our share of playing as well.  Some exploring was via bicycle, including a couple of visits to the Riverside Arts Market (which is about half Farmers’ Market really), and some pedaling along the Jacksonville Riverwalk, a kind of work in progress, which boasts some cool public art.  By car, we checked out some of the metropolitan park network in the Jax area… but I’ll save that for another post.

Food highlights this stop:  We made return visits to Harpoon Louie’s (for the Captain’s wings fix!) and Trent’s Seafood.  New to us this visit and all well worth returning to were Metro Diner (also of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives fame) and Puerto Plata (yummy Latin food), both walking distance from the marina, as well as Pinegrove Market & Deli, Moon River Pizza and Intuition Ale Works all a reasonable pedal away.

As much as we enjoy Jacksonville, it’s time to be heading north.  So, north we go…

 

 

 

 

 

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We’ve jumped a bit further north since my last post.  After returning east-bound through the Okeechobee Waterway, we came through the St Lucie River to rejoin the Atlantic ICW and turned left.  Still a bit early in the season to be heading too far north, especially given continuing reports of cold and nasty weather, we decided to spend a bit of time in north Florida before continuing on to the Carolinas for the summer.

Our trip back north has been fairly uneventful to date.  From the Stuart area, we took a couple of days to get to Vero Beach, a favorite stop for us.  We picked up a mooring ball and stayed for a couple of days, long enough to re-provision (a nice  Publix with a bonus stop at Fresh Market), and did some trading of paperback books at one of our favorite bookstores along the East Coast, The Paperback Place.  We might have gotten stuck in Vero (aka Velcro Beach) except for the news that I’d once again been called for jury duty.  Guess they weren’t kidding about the “postponed” part.  North Florida, here we come.

Four more days on the water put us in St Augustine, after an overnight at nearby Ft Matanzas, another of our favorite stops.  We took a slip at Rivers Edge Marina up the San Sebastian River… I think I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve stopped here.  It had been awhile since we’d been at a dock, so we took advantage of access to marine supplies (including Sailors Exchange) and unlimited fresh water and knocked out some boat chores during our stay… a bit of spring cleaning if you will.  Of course it was St Augustine, so we did some playing as well.  We caught up with some cruising friends, including one of the monthly cruisers’ Happy Hour gatherings.  As our visit to the city included a weekend, we of course had to visit the Old City Farmers Market.  Our stay in this very artful city also coincided with yet another art festival where we picked up a painting by Hua-Yao Tung, a Taiwanese artist who lives/paints/and shows his work locally.  It’s a fun piece titled “Blue Heron with Sandpipers”.  Happy Birthday to me.  Of course, a visit to St Augustine wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Hyppo where every visit I try a new flavor;  Chipotle  Peach did not disappoint.  El Galeon has also arrived in town since our last pass through, and certainly adds a bit to the already picturesque waterfront.

Two more days on the water would put us in Jacksonville, FL where we’d reserved a slip for a month long stay at the Marina at Ortega Landing.  We spent one night on the hook mid-way in a spot just off the St Johns River, just before the bridges of downtown Jacksonville.  (See my previous post on this stretch from our last visit a couple of years ago.)  The Reed Island anchorage was within view of a major container ship dock, where I was quite entertained watching tug boats spin huge container ships around end-for-end dockside.  The even larger Carnival Facination motored by as well, bound for somewhere in the Bahamas I believe.

Remember, you can click on any of the photos for a closer look.  Can you find the tiny human near the stern of the container ship?

shades of grey

shades of grey

The challenge on our final stretch was timing the Main Street Bridge, a restricted lift bridge that generally opens on request, but because of some repairs in process, was requiring a two hour notice to open, which is more than a bit difficult to time given the strong tides/currents on the St Johns River.  Not to mention some wicked storms that were brewing during our stretch through the bridges of downtown Jax.  Currents, bridges and limited visibility are not issues you want to deal with simultaneously.  Thankfully the rains held off until we were at the marina backing into our slip… a different kind of challenge.

Our stay at Ortega Landing will be a bit of a splurge.  It’s one of the nicer marinas we’ve stayed at, complete with clubhouse/pool/hot tub/free laundry.  We hope to get some more boat projects done, in addition to doing some exploring.  We’ll have a car for a week for a run to Gainesville for some routine/annual medical appointments as well as my jury duty.  In the meantime though, we tuck in to wait out the rains.  Good thing we have a stash of paperbacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So, continuing to be flexible…

Our original plan after returning from London was to be back aboard Cheshire for about a week, then head out of Florida northbound.  We’ve been back for a bit more than two weeks now.  But as we’ve learned, most of our plans are really just ideas.  Not much we do happens exactly according to plan.  First there was the car…  we debate about the car often.  We had it in Oriental, NC in the beginning, stored it for a few months, had it again in St Augustine for a couple of months over the winter, then left it with a friend in Gainesville while we headed south.  We managed fairly well without it for several months, and would have been fine to leave things as they were… except that the friend who was keeping it for us just sold her home and is moving to California.  Good for her, but now what to do with the car.  As we have a couple of road trips planned this summer, visiting friends and family, we again decided that instead of multiple rentals, we’d just shuttle the Fit north for a few months.  So, we extended our stay in Jacksonville for a week to allow for a few days to run it up north.  Then how to get back.  We learned that 1-way rentals can be pricey unless you can do an airport-to-airport run, and that a couple of companies specialize in 1-way rentals.  So we drove to the Chesapeake, picked up a rental at the Richmond, VA airport en route, spent a day in the Solomons, MD area where we left the Fit and returned the rental to the Jacksonville airport a day or  so later.  Oops, but then we’re at the Jax airport.  We’d learned from our trip to London that cab fare to/from the airport is $50, about a 30 minute trip from the marina.  We decided that this time  it was an excuse to figure out the Jacksonville bus system.  I’d done a little detective work ahead of time; $3 each, one transfer and two hours later (they run everywhere, just not often) we were back at the marina.

That was last Thursday.  The plan at that point was to take a couple of days to finish up some last-minute boat chores, re-provision, etc and start north on Sunday.  That would be today.  Except we’re not moving yet.  And we won’t be moving tomorrow either.  Enter the start of another hurricane season (already?)… which by the way doesn’t officially start on the East coast until June 1st.  Apparently no one told Tropical Storms Alberto and Beryl that.  Alberto wasn’t much of an issue, but Beryl is another story.  Upgraded to a Tropical Storm earlier today, she’s promising some rain and winds for our area. Predictions were that she would make landfall near the Georgia/Florida border about exactly when we’d be dropping anchor there.  So, we’ve decided to hang out in Jacksonville for another couple of days.  Which gave me a chance to watch the Indianapolis 500 earlier today on the TV in the marina’s lounge… go Dario.  And to get another CatTales post out.

I’d forgotten that in the midst of getting Cheshire tucked in for our trip to London, that I’d failed to post on our arrival in Jacksonville.   Flashback about a month if you will.  It had been awhile (Charleston, SC on our trip down) since we’d found ourselves in the vicinity of a major shipping port.  We’d spent the previous night at anchor  on Sisters Creek, very near where the ICW crosses the St Johns River.  That put us in good position for the following morning.  With an early start, we’d have the tides in our favor, which worked very nicely, and also made for a beautiful early morning cruise up the St Johns, past downtown Jacksonville on our way to the marina on the Ortega River where we’d booked a slip for the coming month.

Jacksonville is known for its bridges, which for the most part are really really really high(ranging from 169 to 75 ft vertical clearance) to allow for container ships, which are also really really really high.  There are seven bridges across the river in the vicinity of downtown, and we passed under six of them.  The St Johns is actually navigable for quite some distance south into central FL, but alas, for most sailboats, is only doable to near Green Cove Springs before you start running into fixed bridges too low for clearance.  For our stretch on the St Johns, we had only one bridge that would require an opening;  the Main Street Lift Bridge has a 40-foot closed vertical clearance, and opens on request, only  a small bit (sufficient for our 46′ height) or higher depending on the vessel.   Cheshire felt like a small fish in a big pond amongst the high bridges and shipping activity, but it was a beautiful morning.

In fact the most challenging part of the day came as we turned off the St Johns into the Ortega River.  Twenty-one miles up the St Johns  from where we exited the ICW, the tides and currents are a bit less severe.  Consequently, there are a multitude of marinas in the area.  Welcome to the Ortega River.  We had to clear one more bridge, the Old Ortega Bridge, before arriving at our home for the next month (+), the Marina at Ortega Landing.  (Check out this Metro Jacksonville article about the Old Ortega Historic District… the first marina photo is “our” marina.)  It turns out that the Old Ortega Bridge, aka the Grand Ave Bridge, is quite the historic bit.  And a tired bridge she is.  Double whammy it seems… a 1920’s vintage classic drawbridge with only 9′ clearance in an area of high marine traffic, it’s the most frequently opened drawbridge in the state of Florida, with about 15,000 openings a year.  Count us in for twice.  At our arrival she was in the midst of some surgery and rehab.  When we radioed to request an opening, a very nice bridge tender advised that the road crew would open at their convenience, but would only open one of the two sides…  which according to the bridge tender would give us about 25’… which seems like a lot, but frankly looked very small after the monster bridges of earlier in the morning.  With Mike at the helm, and yours truly standing by with a boat hook, as if that would be helpful, we threaded the needle without incident, and were tucked in at Ortega Landing shortly thereafter.

… which has been a treat in itself.  This Marina at Ortega Landing is one of the nicest we’ve seen in our adventure to date.  Originally planned as a marina/condo community, construction stalled out after only one of three planned condo buildings was complete (and it’s barely occupied), but the marina, pool and clubhouse were completed and are very nice.  Floating docks, nice pool and facilities (including free  laundry!), some great folks including a few live-a-boards but it seems mostly long week-enders, and easy walking/biking distance from most everything we need.  Check out the photos on the website, linked above.  Cheshire was in good hands while we were away, and we’ve all felt pampered a bit.  Cheshire even had her bottom done by a couple of good-looking ex-Navy Seals (Blissfulbottoms, Inc.).  I’m pretty sure while living on dirt that we didn’t hire any contractors for house projects with such an interesting name.  But then I didn’t have an i-phone app called “Drag Queen” either.  Welcome to Wonderland.

So, when Beryl is done toying with us, we are headed north, really we are, really.  We’ll take several weeks to work our way pretty steadily (it’s getting hot down here!) up to the Chesapeake Bay where we’ll spend the summer, and actually do some sailing and some exploring.  From what I’ve read, it’s a great area for gunk-holing, but more on that later.

In the meantime, the bridges of Jax…

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