St. John’s River Cruise after 2007 Rendezvous

By Chip Worster


Following our 2007 SENTOA rendezvous in St. Augustine, eight tugs headed north to Jacksonville. Folks joined us and dropped off as we headed to our final destination of Hontoon State Park up the St. John River.

First to leave our convoy were Bob Cross and Mary Mervin on Proud Mary to continue north on the ICW to the Chesapeake Bay Area. They were followed by Terry and Karen Johnson on Greenbean as they were putting their boat in a marina and flying home for a while. Greenbean was in the middle of doing the Loop and thus was able to make the SENTOA rendezvous.

First night’s destination was anchorage behind Exchange Island in Jacksonville for Omega and Happy Clamz and the free floating docks at Jacksonville Landing for Chip Ahoy, Saren Clare and Tugaloo. Since Lady Diane II is docked in Jacksonville, we said goodbye to Jerry Talbot. Next day we were joined by Bill and Diane Keltner aboard Tugnacious, whose home is on Black Water Creek off the St. John. Bill was designated our official guide for the cruise and came up with some spectacular sites and great overnight layovers. For example, our next location was the infamous Outback Crab Shack, where they have a 1500 foot floating dock that is a free overnight stay to those who patronize the restaurant. Great stop and good food! Sunday morning several of us attended church services at the Crab Shack. Attending church in a bar was a first for all of us!

Back on the Tugs, we headed for Palatka where we use the Town’s free docks and go to see the oldest diner in Florida for their famous sundaes and milk shakes. While in Palatka, Bob Wiggins got to be a Good Samaritan and helped some tourists on a house boat to secure their boat to the dock for the night out of the rough waters and high winds.

Next morning we headed up Dunn’s Creek to Crescent Lake. We learn that during the Civil War, Dunn’s Creek was the site of the deliberate sinking of one of the most famous yachts in the world, the America, as Confederate sailors tried to keep the boat out of the hands of Union troops who were about to enter Jacksonville. The boat was built in New York in 1851 and was a schooner yacht. She was the first vessel ever to cross an ocean for international competition and upon entering an open regatta in England, she easily won and received the Royal Yacht Squadron 100 Guineas Cup, later renamed the America’s Cup. After several owners bought the boat, she was renamed the Memphis and was in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy. As the Union troops were entering Jacksonville, the Confederates took the Memphis into Dunn’s Creek and sank her. The Union Army found her, renamed her America, and she became part of the Union blockade. It was an eye opener for us to learn how much the St. Johns River and many of its residents played a part in the Civil War.

We headed into Crescent Lake and found a delightful Jimmy Buffet type restaurant setting named the Three Bananas. It sits under a huge cypress tree, reportedly the oldest living one in Florida. There are lots of cottages along Dunn’s Creek, which also is home to many fish, birds, and of course, alligators.

Our next destination was a small town called Welaka. Bill had called ahead and made arrangements for us to use the town’s new floating docks and have a tour of their maritime museum. The museum is the fantastic collection of a Mr. Richard Speas, a self taught maritime craftsman with a unique capability of taking an idea and actually creating his thoughts in wooden works of art. He has designed and built wooden boats that range from radical racing boats to sail boats to slow cruising river boats powered by steam. He also creates brass steam and air whistles. When Mr. Speas demonstrated some of his creations, all us tuggers started out bidding each other to buy one of his whistles. Four of us did in fact purchase one of his creations. Chip was able to change out his old whistle on the spot with the new one and the sound was great.

From Welacka we journeyed to Astor for another fine meal at a restaurant that also provided dockage for a small fee for three of us and the other two anchored out. Next morning we bid adieu to Happy Clamz, who headed back down the River to their slip on the Ortega River. Doug and Leslie have just spent a year on their tug completing the Great Loop and had to face reality and get back to work.

That left five tugs to travel on to Hontoon State Park. This is our final overnight destination on our journey south. If you are a Florida resident and a senior citizen, the overnight rate is less than $7.00, which included 30 amp hook up and water, plus a small museum, ships store and several trails to view nature and Indian mounds. We spend two nights there relaxing and took a side trip further south to Blue Springs on Bob and Emily’s Tugaloo. The Wiggins are from South Carolina and trailer their tug all over the Southeast.

On our trip back up the River, we stopped at several of the same locations we used going south except we were also invited to spend a night at Bill and Diane’s great home on Black Water Creek. Diane fixed us all a scrumptious feast for dinner that night. Bill and Diane are excellent hosts and Bill certainly enhanced our cruise with his local knowledge of the River. This is where Bob and Emily pick up their trailer and load Tugaloo for their trip to the Keys. We were very fortunate this year to see so many sightings of alligators, eagles, manatees and other wild life and fauna. The St. Johns is really Old Florida.

The remainder of our cruise on the St. Johns and ICW was uneventful except for the very heavy smoke from the fires in Georgia as we approached Jacksonville. In Daytona Roger Jones and Peggy Haretos on Seren Clare invited Chip Ahoy and Omega to be their guests at the new Halifax Yacht Club. That is their home port and we say our good bys and continue south on the ICW with Omega. After an overnight in Titusville anchoring out, we head for our homeport in Satellite Beach. Alan and Annette spent a night at our dock and we called Jack Nostrand to join us at the local ribs joint to reminisce about the rendezvous and our extended cruise. Because of the low water in Lake Okeechobee, Omega will have to take the long way home through the Keys to get to homeport in the Tampa area.

This is the second St. John’s cruise for Chip and Louise aboard Chip Ahoy and this time we had our Jack Russell “Tugger” with us. She enjoyed her daily romps with “Brandy” aboard Seren Clare.

Next year initial plans are for our 2008 rendezvous to be on the West Coast of Florida. It would be great if we could include a similar follow-on cruise. It is a wonderful way to make new friends and see new parts of Florida. Things always look different from the water.


Copyright © 2008 SENTOA • Last Update October 2, 2008 • Questions? Contact the SENTOA Officers.