St. John's River Cruise

By Chip & Louise Worster Aboard Chip Ahoy


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 disappointed.

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 traffic.

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 old grind.

22 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 it.

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 night.

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.

26 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.

28 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 this trip.

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 memory.

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:

Bill and Diane Keltner aboard Tugnacious

“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."

Dan Adams aboard Snug

“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.”

Jack Nostrand and Crew aboard Tranquil Tug

"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."


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