St. John's River Cruise
After comments made by several friends
who had run the length of the St. Johns River and reading
the book “River of Lakes” by Bill Belleville,
I was determined to make the same trip one day. Right
after the 2005 SENTOA Nordic Tug Rendezvous, Jack Nostrand
and I were kicking around the idea of getting together
with a few other tuggers who might like to join us for
an informal rendezvous on the river. Jack put the word
out on the SENTOA List and we had enthusiastic response
from three other NT owners for a total of five various
size Nordic Tugs. The group consisted of Jack Nostrand,
his sister, Jean, and her friend, George aboard NT32 Tranquil
Tug, with my wife, Louise, and myself aboard NT26
Chip Ahoy. Next to join us was Dan Adams from
Aquia Harbor, VA on NT26 Snug. A little further
down the river we met up with Bill and Diane Keltner who
are transplants from Ohio and now live on Black Creek
just off the river. They provided us with a lot of local
knowledge about the river. They have NT37 named Tugnacious.
In Palatka, we were joined by Bob and Emily Wiggins from
Seneca, SC. They had brought their tug NT26 Tugaloo
in on a trailer and off loaded it there in Palatka and
joined us for the rest of the trip.
In 1765, William Bartman writes of the
St Johns River,
“Blessed land where the gods
have amassed into one heap all the flowering plants,
birds, fish and other wildlife of two continents in
order to turn the rushing streams, the silent lake shores
and the awe abiding woodlands of this mysterious land
into a true Garden of Eden. Regardless of its popularity,
the river offers a sense of solitude that is not easily
paralleled. The land is lined with towering palms, cypress
trees, and large live oaks covered with Spanish moss.
Behind the tree line bobcats, panthers, deer and black
bears roam. The landscape goes on unspoiled for miles
in every direction.”
Is it no wonder the mystique of the
St. Johns bring out the desire to take a step back in
history to visit an area that still remains one of an
earlier time. The river has a very historical background.
In years past it was the home of the Timucua Indian. Their
shell mounds can still be seen in the surrounding areas.
Both the French and the Spanish occupied this area. Their
diseases just about wiped out the Timcua tribes. The river
was the primary source of transportation in the early
history of Florida. Paddle steamboats plied the river
in the early 1800’s bringing supplies and tourist
to the area. After Flagler brought rail transportation
to Florida, the paddleboats gradually phased out.
Some interesting facts about the St
Johns River: It is about 310 miles long from the swamp
lands to the south to its outlet at the ocean in Jacksonville.
A little over 200 miles is still navigatable by boats
with less than three feet in draft. The river is one of
few that flow from south to north. The elevation drops
less than 30’ from its beginning to its outlet at
the ocean. It is fed by over forty springs and hundreds
of large and small tributaries. The navigational aids
continue to be well maintained by the Coast Guard. For
cruising guides we used the “Boating and Cruising
Guide to the St Johns River” by Tom Kranz, and "Cruising
Guide to Eastern Florida" by Clairborne S. Young.
The following information was gleaned
from the journal kept by Louise Worster:
18 Jan. 2006. At first
light Louise and Chip Worster leave our dock in Satellite
Beach Florida aboard our 26’ Nordic Tug Chip Ahoy.
As planned, we meet up with Jack Nostrand who lives just
up the canal from us on his 32’ Nordic Tug, Tranquil
Tug. His crew consists of his sister, Jean, and her friend
George. As we approach Mathers Bridge, we stop a few minutes
to chat with the owner of “Northstar” a 32’
Nordic Tug from Dumont NJ. He says his destination is
the Bahamas. He had just spent time on the St. Johns River
and gave us a few suggestions. We continue north on the
ICW to an anchorage just south of New Smyrna Beach, east
of ICW marker 47. We dingy over to Tranquil Tug for happy
hour and to meet Jean & George. During the evening
we see lots of birds and dolphin. Great anchorage.
19 Jan. 2006. Up early
for a 7:30 departure for an uneventful cruise up the ICW.
We had planned to stay at the Palm Coast Marina to check
it out as a possible venue for a Nordic Tug Rendezvous
in 2007. What a surprise when we pulled into the Marina.
All the buildings, restaurant, swimming pool, and other
facilities were torn down. They were in the process of
a major redevelopment and would not be fully operational
for another few years. We did spend the night but were
20 Jan. 2006. We continue
up the ICW to where we finally turn west into the St.
Johns River. It is not long before the peace and tranquilty
is changed to the bustling activities associated with
the Port of Jacksonville. We go as far as Blount Island
just south of marker 43 and drop the hook for the night.
We are anchored just to the east of the gigantic new suspension
bridge that crosses the St Johns River. It is supposed
to be the largest suspension bridge in the US. It looks
very graceful when it is lit up at night. We enjoy watching
the big ships and commercial tugs as they come and go
into the port. I must say the huge freighters are functional
but are not a thing of beauty. Later that night we realize
we anchored too close to the channel. The winds and tide
keep our beam towards the wakes created by ships passing
all night. At one point Louise said she thought we had
just experienced a full tsunami. This could be a good
anchorage if one went a bit further south away from the
21 Jan. 2006. Today
we are delayed by heavy fog. Visibility zero. It provides
an unusual view of the suspension bridge with the morning
sun shining on the top half of the towers. We proceed
west to Jacksonville Landing located in the heart of the
city. There are a lot of shops, restaurants and boutiques
for visitors. The city puts on a lot of activities on
the weekends. You are allowed to tie up your boat for
the night. As we approached, we could see two Coast Guard
inflatable hard-bottom dinghies with 50 caliber machine
guns mounted and manned. We got the point. This is where
we met up with Dan Adams. Dan is from Aquia Harbor, VA
and is Captain of Snug, a 26’ red Nordic Tug. He
was a pilot for numerous corporations and still has his
license. Dan is an easy-going guy and was the first to
join our group. Our destination for the day is Ortega
Yacht Club, a short distance up the Ortega River. Here
we meet up with Doug and Leslie Folkerth. Their 32’
Nordic Tug is named Happy Clamz. This is their homeport.
Doug has volunteered to solicit door prizes for the 2006
Nordic Tug Rendezvous. Over happy hour on his boat he
brings us up to date on his solicitations. Good job Doug.
Jack noted his bow thruster no longer functions. When
he checks the forward locker he finds out why. He has
about 50 gallons of salt water in his forward locker.
Doug makes arrangements with a near-by marina to have
“Tranquil Tug” hauled to see if we can find
the problem. After a close inspection we cannot find an
obvious problem so the boat is put back in the water with
a bit of apprehension. Later Jack discovers that when
the engine is run at about 1,400 RPM water pours into
the forward locker drain hole. Doug has made arrangements
to take us to a local fish house called Trents. The food
was great and we had some time to socialize and tell tall
tales. Doug and Leslie had planned to cruise with us for
a while, but work commitments forced them back to the
Jan. 2006. Another morning and we are socked
in with fog. We take advantage of the time and walked
to Panera Bread for breakfast. Back on the river, we planned
our rendezvous with Bill and Diane Keltner. Bill and Diane
are recent transplants from Ohio. They have a lovely home
on Black Creek that is just a few miles off the St Johns
River. Their Nordic Tug is a red 37’ tug named Tugnacious.
Although Bill has lived on the river for only a short
time, he has made numerous cruises and proved to be an
excellent guide for our group. Just south of Black Creek,
Bill took us to a mostly abandoned Second World War naval
facility. There were several large ships in various stages
of repair. Bill then recommended we visit the Outback
Crab Shack for dinner. It proved to be an excellent choice.
It is located several miles up Six Mile Creek. It was
a backwoods fish camp and the food selection and service
was fantastic. It was so remote we were unable to use
our cell phones. The manager did let Jack use their regular
phone free. As remote as it was they did have facilities
for Wi Fi and Dan was delighted to crank up his laptop
and stay in touch with the outside world. Another feature
was a new state of the art 1,500-foot floating dock right
next to a huge swamp. We saw lots of wild life and numerous
alligators and large croaking frogs. We spent the afternoon
watching football and getting to know our group better.
If you have a meal here you are allowed to spend the night
tied to their dock, so naturally we took advantage of
23 Jan. 2006. Our next
scheduled stop is the city docks at Palatka. Here we meet
up with our 5th red Nordic tug. They are Bob and Emily
Wiggins from Seneca, SC on their 26’ tug named Tugaloo.
Bob and Emily are unique in their tugging ventures in
that they haul their tug on a trailer to whatever destination
they desire to cruise. Bob can load or off-load his tug
faster than the local bass fishermen. The highlight in
Palatka is the oldest rail diner in the world. We all
tried their famous old-fashioned milk shakes. We leave
Palatka with five red Nordic Tugs led by the Keltners.
Bill says he knows of a good anchorage behind Murphys
Island. On the way we make a side trip up Dunn Creek where
we see many alligators and turtles. We finally drop the
anchor on the lee side of Murphys Island. This location
is far from any city lights and the utter darkness gives
us the opportunity to get a fantastic view of the starlit
24 Jan. 2006. We get
off to a fairly early start and head for Silver Glen Springs.
The springs are located about midway on Lake George on
the west bank. We arrive by midday and find the water
level to be a bit below normal. We finally find a way
in that has minimal depth. Tranquil Tug, Chip Ahoy, Snug,
and Tugaloo can make it into the Springs but Tugnacious,
with it’s deeper draft, cannot find the water to
make it in, and anchors outside. The rest of us follow
Tugaloo and simply beach our tugs on the edge of the springs.
We throw out bow lines to available palm trees and set
out to enjoy Silver Glen Springs. The weather is relatively
warm for February and we all enjoy swimming in the spring
with its year round water temp a steady 72 degrees. Some
of us even dive to the bottom to the entrance of the spring.
The spring has a discharge rate greater than 100 cubic
feet per second or 64.6 million gallons a day. Dan decided
to take his tug and join Bill and Diane outside on Lake
George. The rest of us settle in for a relaxing night
tucked in on the sandy beach.
25 Jan. 2006. We leave
Silver Glen Springs and again meet up with Tugnacious
and Snug. They reported a rough night on the lake with
swells coming on their beam creating a bit of rock and
roll. Our destination today is Hontoon State Park. The
park is accessible only boat, but they do run a small
electrically driven ferry back and forth. The five red
Nordic Tugs take over the majority of the limited slips.
The park is a very pleasant surprise with 30 amp hookups,
water, clean rest rooms and a small store. The dockage
fees are the best I have ever seen. Since we are Florida
senior citizens the daily fees are a remarkable $6.75.
Bill & Diane had to pay all of $13.50 for their 37
footer because they did not qualify as senior citizens.
Louise had an old high school friend that lived in nearby
Paisley. She called her and Pat and Bernard Clement drove
over to meet us. They drove us to the Sunrise Restaurant
for lunch. It turned out to be a very friendly fish camp
with a lot of local atmosphere. In the afternoon several
of the girls went for a hike on one of the trails. The
guys just hung out and talked about past cruises and the
usual tug stuff. Diane had previously called Roger Jones
and Peggy Hartos who live in Port Orange and own a 32’
tug called “Seren Clare”. Roger was not able
to make it, but Peggy was able to drive over to meet us
for dinner. Again we have transportation to a local restaurant.
Since the ferry terminated service at 5PM we had to leave
a few of the dinghies on the mainland so we would have
transportation back to the Island. Peggy and Bernard were
able to shuffle us all to the Shack for another first
class meal and lots of camaraderie.
Jan. 2006. Today Jack changes out his crew. Jean
and George were replaced by Jack’s son, Rick. We
had enjoyed the company of them both for eight days. After
contacting Sanford to check on facilities for tomorrow
night and learning they have limited service for all five
boats, we decide to spend another night at Hontoon State
Park. We have a brief planning session and decide to take
a side trip to Blue Springs Park. Bob and Emily volunteer
to use Tugaloo as our transportation for the day, so we
all pile in and head south to the park. Blue Springs is
known as the winter home of many manatees that seek the
warm 72-degree water of the springs. The springs are designated
a manatee refuge area. The West Indian manatee is protected
by the endangered species act of 1972. At cold times during
the winter, over 100 manatees have been sited at the spring.
We return to Hontoon State Park and decide to give the
girls a break and take Tugaloo back to the Wharf for lunch.
By now Bob is getting pretty good as a tour guide and
volunteers his Tugaloo for another side trip on the Dead
River. The river name is a misnomer because we spot many
alligators, turtles, bald eagles and a wide variety of
birds. It was a great photo op for all of us. Thanks Bob
and Emily for a special day.
27 Jan. 2006. It’s
time to leave our favorite marina at Hontoon Park and
start our return trip up the river. Some of realize we
have not had time to visit the museum at the park. The
ranger comes back to his office about a half hour early
and agrees to open the museum early so we can have a tour
before leaving. It was definitely worth seeing. For a
small museum it had some very informative displays. It
was a good ending for our stay at the park. We head back
through the town with several locals waving as we give
a toot on our air whistle. As we enter Lake George we
encounter a north wind of about 18 knots. With its shallow
depth it kicks up a chop that causes lumpy conditions
for the 12-mile crossing. Bill suggests we make another
side trip around Six Sister Island. Another great venture
off the river. We discover the usual wildlife and also
a small village that one would not see from the main river.
Our anchorage for the night is again on the lee side of
Murphy’s Island. I get a chance to do a little bass
fishing during the sunset. I said fishing not catching.
It was another quiet night at anchor enjoying the solitude.
Jan. 2006. Hauled the anchor and underway with
an early start back on the river. As we pass Palatka,
Bill and Emily take Tugaloo back to the city dock to be
placed back on their trailer. They plan to drive over
and meet us later at the Outback Crab Shack for lunch.
The rest of us proceed up Six Mile Creek to the Shack
and find plenty of space to tie up to their floating dock.
We are lucky and have the same friendly waitress we had
before. The weather is better this time and we decide
to dine outside. Dan uses the opportunity to use the Wi
Fi to bring in his email. After lunch the plans are to
proceed to the home of Bill and Diane on Black Creek just
off the St. Johns River. On the way Bill takes us on another
off the beaten path trip up Peter’s Creek. This
is another area that is teeming with wild life. You can
almost touch the tree branches in some locations. We find
a wide spot and turn to return back to Black Creek. Bill
and Diane’s home is a beautiful old Florida style
and located overlooking Black Creek. Bill proceeds into
his dock and radios us to wait till he clears the dock
to accommodate our boats. The three other boats are hovering
outside when all of a sudden a small ten-foot replica
of a bright red Nordic Tug comes flying out of their canal.
What a delightful sight to see this mini Nordic Tug come
zipping around us. Bill had seen a similar one earlier
and asked the guy to custom build him a replica of his
tug. He has used it in a few boat parades to the delight
of all. We have requested he bring it to our next SENTOA
Rendezvous. After we are all tied up at their dock, Bill
takes me for a ride in the mini tug. What a hoot. After
they have Tugaloo loaded on their trailer, Bob and Emily
drive over to rejoin us. Bill and Jack head to town to
order pizza for us all. The evening is topped off with
a lively discussion of the highlights of our trip. Everyone
agreed it was fantastic and they would all send me their
summary of the trip.
29 Jan. 2006. Got up
for a 7:00 breakfast that Bill and Diane prepared for
us; eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, muffins, jellies,
cheese juices, and coffee. And I gotta say, this transplant
from Ohio knows how to cook grits southern style. Better
hang on to her Bill. Reluctantly we said our good byes
and were off and heading north again. Bill did bring out
his mini Nordic Tug to give us a last toot and a final
good bye. We are now down to just three red tugs and are
about to loose Dan aboard Snug. Dan decides to drop off
at Jacksonville Landing, the same location we met him
over a week ago. We will miss Dan’s sense of humor
and great attitude. We later learned Dan spent some more
leisure time in the area and got back in touch with Bill
and Diane. As we continue east from Jacksonville we just
happen to come across Doug and Leslie aboard Happy Clamz
heading west back to their homeport at the Ortega Yacht
Club. We exchange greetings and a brief rundown on our
St Johns River venture and continue on. We soon approach
the intersection of the river and the ICW and head south.
About dusk, we decide to anchor for the night on the lee
side of Pine Island. This was a remote location and turned
out to be a very quiet and secluded location.
30 Jan. 2006. We are
now into the busy typical boat traffic of the ICW. Our
next stop is the municipal Marina in St Augustine for
our final fuel stop. We discuss the options available
to us with the dockmaster about using their facilities
for a future venue for our SENTOA Rendezvous. It definitely
has possibilities. The forecast weather for the night
was the passage of a cold front with strong north winds.
One of Jack’s favorite marinas in this area is Caribbean
Jack’s. He radios ahead and they do have space for
both of us right in front of their restaurant. We contact
Roger Jones (32 NT Seren Clare) and invite him to join
us for dinner, which he was able to do this time. After
dinner we tuck in for the night. Around midnight the winds
peak out at over 28 knots from the north. We are glad
we are on the lee side of the restaurant.
31 Jan. 2006. The winds
have tapered off and it’s a cool brisk morning.
After another hardy breakfast, we are again off and heading
south on the ICW. Louise & I have traveled this part
of the ICW many times and we both agree it does not compare
with the peace and solitude of the St. Johns River. As
we pass Oak Hill, Jack decides he is close enough to make
it back to his dock by sunset. He puts the hammer down
and is soon out of sight. We know we won’t be able
to make it so we settle down to a leisure cruising speed.
We decide to anchor just off Cocoa Village. We call some
old sailing friends that live near by and agree to have
dinner together in the Village. We dingy back to Chip
Ahoy and settle in for our last night on the boat for
31 Jan. 2006. The last
day of our trip as we head for our homeport we recall
the great scenery and wildlife we encountered on the St.
Johns River. It was amazing how the new friends we met
just seemed to enjoy each other to the maximum. They all
contributed something to make the whole trip an unforgettable
In summary, to see and experience the
beauty of the St. Johns River, you must be willing to
step outside the box. By that I mean you must leave the
confines of the narrow path as directed by navigational
aids. You have to take the path less traveled and explore
the many small creeks, springs, and tributaries. We barely
scratched the surface. We’ll be back.
I had asked all the tuggers that joined
us to give me their interpretation of the trip. The following
were their replies:
“The entire trip was beautiful!
Bill and I especially enjoyed the cruise on Hontoon Dead
River following a day trip to Blue Springs (hosted by
Bob And Emily Wiggins of Tugaloo). Thanks."
“What a trip! Five red Nordic
Tugs: Tugnacious, Chip Ahoy, Tranquil Tug, Tugaloo and
Snug. We did the St Johns River from end to end in January
2006. Such fine cruising. The St. Johns is one of the
best kept secrets, and to cruise this river in such good
company was a special treat. Some of us knew of special
places on the river, and shared them with us all, and
we found some new ones, also. Great anchorages, deep and
scenic creeks, eagles, gators, clear skies, clear water,
springs, vivid rainbows, and even the elusive manatee.
We saw them all. And every time the “Red Fleet”
rounded a bend, we made people smile, sit up and take
notice. A special thanks to Jack for getting us together
through the resources of the SENTOA List, and to Bill
and Diane for extending the hospitality of their port.”
"When the weather is fair, the
scenery is outstanding and the fellow boaters enjoy each
others company, all the ingredients of a good cruise are
fulfilled. Swimming in Silver Glen Springs in mid January,
watching the eagles, osprey, gators and manatees were
pleasant experiences but memories that will always bring
a smile to my face."