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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Seventeen

Upon arrival in the Cape Canaveral area, we decided not to stop and instead pushed on to St. Augustine. After all, it was Memorial Day weekend, a record high temperature of 97 degrees was reported and the traffic in and out of the port was considerable. We decided it was much cooler and much more comfortable sailing offshore. We will visit the cape this fall and hopefully time our arrival with a shuttle launch. However, merely sailing past the launch facilities is an experience. One can only imagine what a launch must look like from the sea. The launch gantries are huge by any standard and the vehicle assembly building is awesome it is so monstrous. At five knots, it took us over three hours to sail past, so we got a good look at everything through binoculars. Because of safety restricted areas marked by buoys in the sea and lines on the chart, we could only get within four miles of shore, but that was close enough to appreciate this impressive facility. By coincidence, the shuttle Atlantis landed just before dawn the next day, but by that time, we were well North of the cape and even though it was a clear evening we could not see the shuttle.

After two days and nights offshore, we arrived at St. Augustine at 1600 local on a rising tide, which was fortunate timing because the inlet is narrow and can be rough if wind and tide are moving in opposite directions. By 1800 we were ensconced at the City Marina and were unexpectedly greeted by friends we had met in Marathon back in March. They had been enjoying St. Augustine for three weeks and were leaving the next day. It was a short visit with them, but they too were heading North, so we will probably see them again.

St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied city in North America. Ponce de Leon first set foot on those shores in 1513 and a permanent settlement was founded by Don Pedro Menendez in 1565. Fort San Marcos, just a few blocks from the marina, was built by the Spanish in 1590 and is quite an impressive tourist attraction. Although the confederate army appropriated its original cannons, replacements were indirectly provided by General Pershing, who confiscated all Mexican weapons during his occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico during the Spanish American War. The city also boasts Flagler College, which was originally Ponce de Leon Hotel, built by Henry Flagler in 1888. It is a magnificent building and must have been a real show place frequented by the rich and famous of the time. It was one of the first buildings in Florida designed to use electric lights. The electric power plant and all lighting was designed by Thomas Edison himself. Flagler had a great influence on the economy in Florida, having built several hotels and a railroad that ran all the way to Key West. The major East/West boulevard in Miami is named for him. He made his original millions selling grain to the union army during the civil war and after the war became partners with John D. Rockefeller in several ventures. There are also several other interesting sites to see in St. Augustine. One is the Lightner Museum, which is housed in the old Alcazar hotel, which was also built by Flagler. The museum has one outstanding section called the music room. We were fortunate to tour the museum when the daily demonstration of the various music contrivances are demonstrated. The two most interesting included a large machine that combined a player piano with a device that actually played a real violin. It was electrically powered and was built in 1909. The other machine was also built in the early 1900s and could have been the forerunner of the modern jukebox. It housed 12 large 27 inch diameter metal disks that had little raised dots all over them that keyed tuned rods when it the disk was rotated. The machine automatically retrieved and played one disk at a time and then returned the played disk to its storage area. A mechanical marvel for its time.

We spent several days in St. Augustine touring the sites while waiting for our mail to be delivered. We departed at 1300 local on June 3rd and headed North on the Intracoastal waterway. We stopped for the night along the waterway about halfway between St. Augustine and Jacksonville in an oxbow lake created when the waterway was dredged straight instead of following the meander of the natural channel. The next day we continued our way North. The scenery on this part of the waterway is dominated by saltgrass marshes. They are very pretty with uniform heights of about three feet and a beautiful healthy green. From a distance some of them look like manicured golf fairways or lawns. At high tide the green grass and the water meet. At low tide muddy banks were exposed that were usually covered with oysters and wading birds. We saw our first pink spoonbill. A beautiful large bird with outlandish bright pink plumage and of course, a large flat "spoon" shaped bill, which it swept back and forth just under the water while walking forward searching for edibles to spoon up. noon, we reached St. Johns River as it flows West to East into the Atlantic. It is a wide deep river running more than 50 feet deep in places and at least a half mile wide. Jacksonville could be seen to the West as we crossed the river, dodging the many boats headed in and out of Jacksonville. We passed a shipyard which had a large U.S. Navy cutter in dry dock. It is quite a sight to see such a large ship out of the water. Once across the river, we continued North to Fernandina Beach, where we anchored for the night. We had charts, but no guide-books to tell us about the sights to see in Georgia and South Carolina, so we went ashore the next day to find one. Neither marina had one, so we just walked around town for a while and then headed back to Sojourner. Like many towns along the waterway, Fernandina Beach is revitalizing itself to attract boaters and other tourists. The wharf area had obviously recently undergone serious renovation and was quite attractive. We had been told by friends to be sure and visit the Palace Saloon and observe the carved wooden nubile maidens behind the bar. We had to view the famous woodwork through the window as the bar was not yet open for the day. We'll visit on our way back South this winter.

Leaving Fernandina Beach, we motor-sailed North across Cumberland Sound, St. Mary's River and on into Georgia. Just inside the Georgia line and on the West side of the waterway is a very impressive Navy installation called the Kings Bay Submarine Support Base. There were several huge buildings that were certainly large enough to house a submarine and lots of wharfs and gantries, but I had a hard time visualizing a submarine of any size entering this area. Some of the depths were less than 20 feet. But the facility was obviously in operation so something was going on. Some additional research will have to be conducted. Cumberland Island is by and large a wildlife refuge and National Seashore Park, so there is no modern development. There are even wild horses on the island, two of which we observed from the waterway. The island came by its name in a rather interested manner. Before the American revolution, the island was named Missoe or "Sassafras" by the local Indians. James Oglethorpe, the English Governor persuaded the local chief and his son to visit England. While they were there, the chief's son, Toonhowie, became good friends with William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. Upon their return to Georgia, the chief renamed the island Cumberland.

At St. Andrew Sound, which separates Cumberland Island from Jekyll Island, we saw an approaching thunderstorm. We had been concerned about thunderstorms during this phase of our journey because if we got caught in a storm while traversing some of the more narrow areas of the waterway, especially if we were close to a barge that might be underway, we were afraid of running aground or colliding with another vessel. Fortunately, we were well within the sound when the storm overtook us. Having had the good fortune to see it coming for some time, we had taken in the sails and stowed all loose gear. This was a large convection thunderstorm that is so common on the coast in the summer time. If they grow large enough, they can be quite dangerous with hail and high winds. There was no way to judge the size of this one other than to say it was big in that it covered the entire horizon and the wall of rain rushing toward us looked like a gray/black curtain. There were two shrimp boats about a half-mile to our Northwest that caused us some concern because we knew when the rain hit us our visibility would be severely compromised. In our favor, we were just approaching a floating day marker that marked the channel. Jan was at the helm and we agreed that she would keep the channel marker in sight as a reference and bring Sojourner into the wind. My job was to watch for the shrimp boats and do whatever else was necessary. The wind and rain hit us simultaneously with a deluge of water that reduced visibility to almost zero. Sojourner took it all in stride and barely pitched or rolled. Jan did a great job of holding her into the wind and adjusting the throttles to hold us in position. We were no more than 30 yards from the channel marker, but it kept disappearing and reappearing through the rain. Our radar was totally useless in all the rain. We had the shrimp boats identified before the rain but when the water was really coming down it just overwhelmed the radar and all we got was a white screen. At the power setting we had, we would normally have been moving at 7 knots, but we were stationary against the wind and waves for about 15 minutes, which seemed much longer. Almost as quick as it started, the rain and wind diminished and we could see again. The shrimpers were in the same position as before the storm and they promptly began shrimping again. We motored on into Jekyll Island Marina and spent the night. Stay tuned.

Dates: ,
Locations: St. Augustine, FL; Jekyll Island, GA

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.