Let the “Loop” Begin!! Heading up north with a side trip to the St. John River, and leaving Florida after 4 glorious months! March 11 – 25, 2019

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Yes, we’re continuing our journey north and will be leaving Florida shortly, after a wonderful 4 month run!  But before we go, we spent a week at Harbortown Marina in Fort Pierce to have some basic maintenance done on Misty, enjoy a lovely visit with my past client/lovely friend Anne O’Brien and her husband Greg, and grab another visit with Mike and Lori McKean. Mike and Lori came and spent the night with us on the Friday before our departure.  We enjoyed a lovely dinner on board Misty, one last trip to the fabulous Ft. Pierce Flea Market (crab cakes, donuts and oranges were enjoyed by all), and a great lunch at Harbor Cove Restaurant.  We ate there in the fall, and were not impressed, but they have redeemed themselves!  We had two great lunches there, with wonderful service and delicious food (check out their tacos!).

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Enjoying lunch at Harbor Cove Restaurant with Mike and Lori

A visit to Fort Pierce wouldn’t be complete with a stop to see the peacocks, so we took Mike and Lori to see them on our way to the Farmers Market, and we got quite a show!

Fort Pierce peacocks

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This is what an oil change looks like!

We’ve had the oil changed, got the dinghy problem taken care of and a few other basic maintenance issues with the efficient and talented team at Harbotown Marina, so we can now continue north with peace of mind.  

After Mike and Lori left, we straightened up, took the dinghy for a quick ride to make sure it was indeed running before we depart in the morning, and enjoyed a spectacular sunset over the marina.

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Sunset over Harbortown Marina, Ft. Pierce

On March 10, we set off for an anchorage in Palm Shores.  It was a 57 mile run, but with an early start, we were setting our anchor at 1:50 pm for a relaxing afternoon on the boat.

Palm Shores anchorage

It was a beautiful day on the water in the morning, with warm sunny weather and virtually no wind, but as the day went on, the winds kicked up to 20 mph.

Our plan was to spend the night on the hook on the 11th, but with the increasing winds,  we decided to tuck into the New Smyrna Beach City Marina.  It was conveniently located right in town, which is adorable, and the marina staff was great.  We also had a pretty constant dolphin show, and enjoyed watching them as they were swimming around the marina entrance. Nancy particularly loved watching them out the window from our shower!

Across the street from the marina is the Old Fort Park Archeological Site.  Historians are not quite sure what the Turnbull Ruins in the park are, and who built them.  Some think that New Smyrna was originally the site of St. Augustine, known as the nation’s oldest city.  Those that believe this say that it could be even 500 years older than St Augustine.  Some historians say the ruins are the remains of a fort, others say it’s the ruins of a small settlement.  According to local legend the ruins are haunted by the “shadow people” that creep among the trees and ruins at dusk.  We didn’t see any!

Turnbull Ruins

Scenes around New Smyrna Beach

New Smyrna Beach is a very artsy town, with numerous cute shops, galleries, lovely homes, and some leftover sidewalk chalk drawings from an earlier street festival.

We left New Smyrna Beach early (at 7:15 am), as we wanted to make the long run to St. Augustine which is just over 68 miles. It was a beautiful, slightly breezy morning, and we were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise.

20190312_07445120190312_074522As we’ve said before, there is a major problem with abandoned and sunken boats in Florida.  Sometimes, the abandoned boats are in such ridiculous spots that you can’t believe it as you pass.  Some are smack in the middle or edge of a channel, or just as you pass under a bridge.  

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Here’s a sunken sailboat right on the edge of the channel AND close to the bridge

As we have previously posted, we were in St. Augustine over Thanksgiving weekend, and it was nuts, as it was their Holiday Lights kick off, and their busiest and most crowded time of year.  It didn’t leave us with the best impression, but coming here again just worked out with our trip “planning”. We were thrilled that we went back, as we got a completely different impression of this lovely city, without the crowds for their holiday celebrations.  The city offers a beautiful skyline when approaching, and the city marina is wonderful…it’s centrally located, the staff is friendly and efficient, and the baths and laundry are clean!

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The beautiful St. Augustine Skyline

Flagler College in St. Augusine is an architectural wonder, as the main building on campus is the former Hotel Ponce de Leon.  The hotel dining room houses the worlds largest privately held, in use collection of original Tiffany glass windows.  Today, that formal dining room is the college cafeteria, and it also features amazing murals painted by George W. Maynard, who also worked on the Jefferson Building and Library of Congress Building in Washington D.C. The impressive Flagler Room features Tiffany Austrian Crystal Chandeliers, and a large onyx Thomas Edison Clock.  His murals are also in the amazing rotunda in the entry to the building. Tours are offered daily, but when we were here in November, they were suspended due to the holiday break.   So this was a priority for this visit, and it is not to be missed!!

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Beautiful Flagler College, the old Ponce de Leon Hotel

As we waited for the tour to begin, we had the luxury of spending time to admire the spectacular rotunda, with it’s exquisite George Maynard murals, tiled floors and beautifully carved woodwork. This is the original hotels reception area, and was purposely designed to offer a spectacular welcome to the arriving guests.

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Once the tour begins, they waste no time in bringing you into the spectacular dining hall, where students were gathered around tables enjoying late morning snacks, studying and chatting before lunch.

The tile work, chandeliers, beautifully carved wooden dining chairs,  murals and oh yeah…those windows!

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Can you imagine eating your college meals in this dining room??  And, according to our student tour guide, the food is pretty good, too!

The interioir of the building is amazing, but so is the courtyard.

As you enter the courtyard you will see a large fountain in the center. The paths to the fountain form a Celtic Cross, and the center of the fountain shows the hilt of a sword. Not just any sword; it symbolizes Ponce de León’s sword. The frogs and turtles around the fountain form parts of a sundial. The frogs show the twelve hours of the day and the turtles show the season.

Overall, the campus is impressive, and deserves wandering to experience it.  We were intrigued by Flagler, so we went to see the Memorial Presbyterian Church that Henry built and where he is buried.

Memorial Presbyterian Church, St. Augustine, and Henry Flagler’s burial place

It was such a pleasure to wander the streets of St. Augustine without the crowds and pouring rain we experienced in November!  The city is filled with historic homes and buildings, tons of restaurants, parks and shops.

Beautiful, historic St. Augustine

We had a great lunch at the famed Columbia Restaurant, family owned and operated for 5 generations, that is the largest Spanish restaurant in the world!  It was incredible!  The restaurant itself is beautiful, the service was outstanding, and the food was delicious.  Their signature “1905 Salad” has been since replicated and served on Misty!

Columbia Restaurant

On our last night we wandered the lovely streets enjoying the lights of the city, and of course, some ice cream!

St. Augustine by night

We left St. Augustine early on the morning of March 12, and did a quick pass of the city shoreline before continuing our journey north.

A last glance at St. Augustine and the harbor

We headed up the ICW to Ortega Landing Marina in Jacksonville to provision before heading up the St. John’s River for a week.  The marina is past downtown Jacksonville on the St. John’s River, and is conveniently located a short walk or bike ride from a Publix Supermarket, West Marine and Chamblins Bookmine, a huge used book store that is amazing!  And, our friends Candy and Rod, who we met last March at Trawlerfest, live in nearby, and we had plans to have dinner with them during our stay.

Downtown Jacksonville

Beautiful Ortega Landing Marina

The wild and fabulous Chamblins Bookmine

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A fun and delicious dinner with Candy and Rod at Biscottis

We spent two days at Ortega Landing, and began heading up the St. John’s River on a rainy St. Patrick’s Day morning.

Departing Ortega Landing, and back in tannin filled water!

The St. John’s River is wide, and not particularly scenic until you pass Palatka.  We debated about staying at their free city dock, but opted instead to head a bit further south to anchor out in Murphy’s Creek…only appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day! This was an anchorage we had read about that said it captured the essence of the river.  It did!  

Just past Palatka, we passed through an open railroad bridge, and spotted the bird nest laden channel markers leading our way to Murphy’s Creek. 

On the way in, we saw an old ferry anchored with buses and campers on board, and was clearly inhabited.  It looked a bit like a commune, and we could hear the banjos from Deliverance in our heads.  

We continued along the oxbow of the creek, the goal being soliditude, and distance from the ferry!  It wasn’t hard to find!

Beautiful Murphy’s Creek

Despite what we had heard about alligators, there were none to be found in Murphy’s Creek.  Our next anchorage at River Forest Loop, was a completely different story!  The wildlife of the river became abundantly clear to us here.  We saw a group of manatees hanging in the water near the shore, alligators hiding in the grasses along the shore, and swimming across the creek, and turtles resting on logs along the shore.  Along the way, we had a glimpse of what the St. John’s is all about. While there are beautiful homes, it truly is all about Old Florida…fishing, fishing, fishing.  There are numerous fish camps along the way, truly basic camps with boat ramps and cabins, and small boats floating in every nook and cranny of the river.

Continuing our trip up the St. John’s River

Beautiful River Forest Loop, lots of alligators!

We took a beautiful, and somewhat creepy/scary dinghy ride through the creeks along the river.  We saw a ton of turtles (who jump into the water when they hear you coming), and alligators nestled in the grasses along the shore.  In the morning, we took our flashlight and shone it along the shore, and saw the alligator eyes glowing in the dark!  Oh, and the sounds of the load croaking of the frogs and manatees swimming by the boat were amazing!

Cruising the creeks along the St. John’s River

Our next stop was the city of Sanford and the Monroe Harbor Marina.  We were disappointed overall with the marina and the town.  The marina is run down, but the staff is friendly.  The town has a few highlights, but overall not worth the long trip up the river.

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Monroe Harbor Marina, Sanford, Florida 

Sanford, Florida

The best part of Sanford is that there were a couple of very good restaurants:  The Corner Cafe and Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe.  The Corner Cafe offers incredibly friendly and efficient service for lunch, led by owner and chef Mike.  The food is delicious and fresh, featuring soups, salads and sandwiches.  A highlight is their onion soup served in a bread bowl…it’s wonderful! If you clean your plate, you’re given a complimentary dessert cup that is, well, amazing!

The Corner Cafe

For dinner, we went to the popular Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe, a family run German restaurant, with a menu that looks like a small local newspaper.  We enjoyed a delicious pretzel with yummy dipping sauces, sauerbraten, Weiner Schnitzel, cabbage, dumplings and more.  For the record, while the sauerbraten and dumplings were good…Rob’s family recipe he prepares every Christmas is far better!

A German meal at Hollerach’s Willow Tree Cafe

We had a leisurely start to our run down to Hontoon State Park, where we would stay for two days to explore this park and the beautiful manatee refuge at Blue Spring State Park, a short dinghy ride up the river.  

Hontoon State Park

The park has a camp ground and numerous hiking and biking paths throughout.  So, when we docked and got settled, we took a bike ride to Bear Tree Lading, where you can see one of the largest oak trees on the island.

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Biking through Hontoon State Park

The oak tree at Bear Tree Landing, and the turtle we found nestled in the leaves

We then explored a path along the shore of the island, but headed back after seeing the cautionary alligator signs along the path by the water.

While the sunset was hidden by the trees, we still enjoyed the beautiful light at dusk over the water.

In the morning, we took the dinghy up the river about three miles to the manatee refuge of Blue Spring State Park.  The natural spring that feeds this small creek is a short hike from the river.  For some reason, the alligators don’t generally go into the creek, but just to be sure, there are constant patrols of the crystal clear waters of the spring, both by kayaks and by foot along the shore.  There is a swimming area, but you couldn’t pay me enough money to get in those waters, as we saw numerous alligators on the shore on our trip up the river to the park.  There were numerous manatees lounging in the beautiful waters of the spring, and there is a boardwalk along the water so you can see them.

Blue Spring State Park

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The entrance to Blue Spring State Park from the St. John’s River

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The Thursby Plantation home, dating from the height of the steamboat trade along the river in the 1880’s

We saw numerous alligators, but they’re hard to capture, as they largely lay in the tall grasses or swim with their heads barely above water, and sink below water when you approach.  There were a few big ones that splashed into the water as we approached, so we kept going!  As we got back to Hontoon, there was a small alligator lounging on the dock across the river from the marina.

The St. John’s is a very busy river, with pleasure craft, tour boats and a ton of rowers practicing up and down the water.

We left Hontoon State Park for an anchorage at Seven Sisters Island, and had a beautiful, misty sunset for out departure.

We had read that the Seven Sisters area of the river is like being on a jungle cruise.  We were all alone, tucked into an intersection of several creeks, and were greeted by a bald eagle perked in the branches of a nearby tree.  The dinghy ride we took was amazing, cruising through the prolific water hyacinths that were in full bud, getting ready to bloom in a burst of yellow profusion.

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Water Hyacinths ready to bloom

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As we motored around the islands and the creeks between them, we saw many birds and turtles. The turtles are usually pretty elusive, but we saw a couple who stayed put as we approached.  You truly do feel as if you are on a jungle cruise!

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It was a peaceful spot to spend the night, as we watched the sun go down, and alligators glide across the water!

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We got an early start on a cold and misty morning, as we had a 65 mile run back to Ortega Landing.  

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There were quite a few bass boats racing up the river…hmmm, must have been a tournament that day! We slowly approached the railroad bridge south of Palatka, blowing our horn to warn of our approach (and Misty has quite the horn), because these guys were truly RACING!

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Passing through the railroad bridge

Despite the crazy fisherman and cold morning, we enjoyed a lovely sunrise on the way.

It was great to be back at the lovely Ortega Landing, where we provisioned, cleaned and cooked.  There were a lot of fellow Loopers there, and we enjoyed a lovely evening of docktails before we left on the 25th.

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Dana (PharmLife), Barbara (AKA Balahula), me and Joe (Balahula) enjoying a beautiful evening of docktails at Ortega Landing.

Goodnight, Ortega Landing, thanks for another great stay!

We left the next morning in calm and partly cloudy weather, but it was warm and the sunrise was beautiful!

So long, Florida, it’s been a great 4 months, but we’re super excited to continue our Loop!!

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