Hello mates and fellow adventurers!
Eric here reporting on the travels of Still Waters II and crew on their south bound journey up the St Johns River. Yes, you read that right, up river. The St Johns River is a rare north flowing river. The river starts in central Florida near Vero Beach and runs north 310 miles to the Atlantic Ocean. It is a slow moving river because there is only a 30 foot elevation drop over the 310 mile journey to the Atlantic.
The river was first named by the Spanish in the early 1500’s as Rio de Corrientes, River of Current. Seems to be a silly name since it is a ‘lazy’ river with little current.
In 1562, the French established the first outpost on the river at Fort Caroline. The French named the river La Riviere du Mai, because they arrived there on May 1. The Spanish were non to happy about the French fort, so the Spanish marched north from St Augustine and captured the fort.
The Spanish renamed the river San Mateo to honor a saint whose feast followed the day of the capture. The Spanish renamed the river once again to Rio de San Juan after a mission near the river’s mouth. After the English took control of Florida in 1763, they anglicized the name to the St Johns River.
The history of the river has a strange connection to our skipper. Seems a Mrs. W.F. Fuller who lived along the river in the 1880’s, travelled to New Orleans in 1884. She attended the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition and obtained a South American plant, hyacinth, as a gift from the Japanese. When she returned home she planted the hyacinth along the shore of her river home. Within 10 years the plant covered an estimated 50 million acres of the river. Oooopppps.
In 1998, President Clinton designated the river an American Heritage River.
The navigable part of the river is made up of three distinct areas: Lower – Atlantic to Jacksonville, Middle – Jacksonville to Palatka, and Upper – Palatka to Sanford.
The crew left Ortega Landing Marina after partaking of a fine breakfast at the Metro Diner. The crew shoved off about 1015 and cruised 65 miles on Tuesday, March 29. After passing under the Palatka Bridge it was visibly obvious that the river had changed. The river narrowed from 1 – 2 miles wide to only hundreds of yards wide. The crew found a spot in Murphy Creek to drop anchor for the evening.
On Wednesday, March 30 the crew put in another 60 mile day and made it all the way to Hontoon Island State Park. The river continued to narrow the further south the crew travelled. The crew also crossed Lake George which is Florida’s second largest lake. The crew spotted four gators along the shore before arriving at the park. The park has two piers with about 20 slips available for boaters. However, it is first come, first serve. Still Waters II needed to be out on the T-dock and the crew was hopeful that nobody else was already tied up in the spot. The skipper was caught a bit off guard when he approached a bend in the river and realized that the State Park was just around the bend. The skipper had to tell the Admiral to hang up the phone and prepare for docking because the Admiral was engaged in a lengthy conversation catching up on grandkid stories from the Easter weekend. Luckily, as they rounded the bend, the crew could see that the T-dock was available so they made way for the spot and got tied up at 1730. Nothing like last minute preps to get ready to dock.
Shore Excursions Hontoon Island State Park – The park is an island with no vehicle access. The park service runs a small 6 passenger ferry boat named ‘Island Bridge’ from the main park entrance to a parking lot across the river. Folks come park their car and then take the 150 yard ferry crossing to the park. The last ferry runs at 1830, so after that the crew pretty much had the island all to themselves.
This changed on Friday however. There were a steady stream of campers coming to the island for the weekend. The campers load their stuff in park provided wheel barrows. Then load up on the ferry. Once on the island they push the wheel barrows to one of three vans. They get one trip to the camp ground using the van. The campgrounds are about a mile from the ferry landing. On Sunday, this ritual reversed as people were moving their gear back to the parking lot. At one point Sunday afternoon, a long line of campers and their gear were patiently waiting on the ferry. It was about 1930 before the park service got everyone back off the island.
Thursday, March 31, the crew launched the dinghy and took a two hour ride on the back side of the island. The crew saw lots of birds and turtles but no gators. That evening though the gators came out to play around the boat and were putting on a good show as they were feeding on fish in the river.
Friday, April 1, the skipper got up early and kayaked around for about two hours. The skipper saw three more gators in the water. After returning to the boat, the crew borrowed a motorized dinghy to make the 10 mile loop around the island and visit Blue Springs State Park. The loop took them down Hontoon Dead River to Snake Creek. Snake Creek wound around and eventually came out on the St Johns River.
Heading north the crew went to Blue Springs State Park and enjoyed a swim in the 72 degree spring waters. The springs are the winter habitat for about 200 manatees, but they were already gone so the crew did not see any manatees. After floating down the springs and cooling off, the crew made their way back to Hontoon Island to complete the loop. After returning the dinghy, the crew went to dinner with Greg and Leslie. The couple took them to a local restaurant, Shady Oaks, where the skipper finally saw a manatee swim by.
Saturday, April 2, the crew took a two hour hike around the island and visited an ancient Indian mound. On the way to the mound, the crew took some time to find seven geocaches. One cache was a little more exciting than it should have been. A snake was guarding the path to the cache. With a little persistence the crew finally made the “find” and escaped unharmed from the snake.
Sunday, April 3, Greg and Leslie invited the crew to the Deland Art Festival. The crew spent Sunday afternoon walking around the Deland Park admiring the art work and listening to good music. One musician was named Jack. He was strumming his guitar and singing old country tunes. When his set was up he sang “Hit the Road Jack” as his last song and then exited the stage. How appropriate.
On Monday the crew will prepare for the next leg of the journey and prep the boat for cruising. The crew will leave Tuesday and head south to Sanford. Plan to eat lunch, then head back north and anchor out. Wednesday they hope to visit Silver Springs and then anchor out in Murphy Creek. Thursday they should arrive back at Ortega Landing to re-provision. They plan to leave on Monday, and start their journey up the AICW to Norfolk.