Wednesday, March 15, 2017


       We are awaken early (6:30+) on Saturday morning to SummerTime rocking against the floating dock of Corky Bells. Unusual as there is no weather to speak of on this part of the river. We get going and in just a few minutes we make the detour into Murphy's Creek. It was part of the sight seeing info we got from our new Looper friends this past Wednesday at "docktales". It is a lovely, scenic creek with no habitation as we wander on it back to where it loops back into the St. John River.
Fisherman are all we see as there are no houses on this creek until we get back to the St. John. We also meet several bass boats that are flying on this creek, barely able to make the sharp turns of the creek at the speeds they are traveling. There are a number of places where the water lilies are just starting to have buds develop for flowers. And some of the hardwood trees are starting to bud out also. The St John River is now narrower, and lined on each side with cypress, palm, and other swamp type trees. Occasionally  there is a community or series of houses along the river to break up the natural beauty.
We continue south going upstream (those words sound odd together in the US) until we get to Lake George, the second largest lake in Florida. We stop at the Georgetown Marina and RV Park to take on fuel. This is one of the last places to get diesel as we head south. A power catamaran comes in from the south as we fuel. They are live aboards and former loopers also, having completed the loop in 2015. We talk to them about going to Silver Glen Spring, hopefully our stop for the night. They tell us the creek coming out is shallower than normal, and we will probably not be able to get in. The dock boy helping us to fuel confirms what they are saying, stating that the lake is down 1' in depth this year due to low rains. He also tells us that a Bass Tournament originated in Palatka this morning, which explains the early morning boat rocking. And all the bass boats flying through Murphy Creek. We thank them and head out onto Lake George. I plot the course into the GPS to get us to Silver Glen Spring. An easy plot, as we make two turns to get onto Lake George, go 3/4 the way across, and turn towards the Springs entrance. We were told by our friends back in Jacksonville about how clear the springs were if we went up the creek, and the popularity of them for local boaters, particularly on weekends.
       We get to our turning point on the lake, and turn towards the springs. I am looking through the binoculars for the "Manatee Warning Sign" that is supposed to be next to the deeper line into the Springs creek. I see it and correct the course to it. I notice that some of the smaller boats seem to be changing course as they enter the entrance to the creek. We get to the "Manatee" sign and I feel SummerTimes keel touch the bottom. It is shallower than our friends told us. I add a little power from our idle speed and power across the shallow area. The water becomes remarkably clear as we leave the brown lake water.
As I head to the buoys marking the entrance Barbara and I discuss going up the creek. As lovely as the trip up sounded, we decide the trip into the creek to the springs is too high a risk. If we were to anchor to spend the night, and the wind changed, the water level at the entrance would go down, maybe a foot as the winds at 10-15mph are currently blowing water across the lake to this area. We could become stuck inside the shallow mouth. We turn around and power back out over the shallow bar guarding the entrance. I plot a new course to Astor, the next little city on the St John River after leaving Lake George. We leave the lake, and are in a whole new part of the river. It is narrower, with more water lilly patches. We turn into Morrison Creek to anchor for the night. We anchor just before a residential area, across from the pier at the end of a cattle ranch. We have Blue Herons nesting in the tree towering over us. And one of the 5 nests has young chicks. They appear to be 1' tall, and they are not flying yet. Also, they are noisy even after dark.
        Sunday morning we get up and start thinking how to get to church. I take my shower while Barbara cooks breakfast. She gets her shower after breakfast. It appears that there are only 3 churches in Astor, and only one is near the water. We would need to dinghy to a public dock to get to a road to walk on. There are no public or dinghy docks shown in the guide books, or on "Google" maps. We do our own "Bible" reading on board, and play a gospel CD. We weigh anchor about 11 to head for Sanford. The bottom must have been very muddy and soft, as I spend a lot of time cleaning the chain. We continue south on the St. John toward Sanford. Just past the Astor bridge, we meet three wooden home built cruisers, all the same model. The front one is flying a gold (completed) looper flag, but we are by before I can get the boat name. It is warmer today than on Saturday, with more sun. I think it must be in the 70s today. We see a lot more lilies, none blooming yet, and for the first time we see turtles sunning on logs. And they are not snapping turtles, actually having some color.
But as yet we have not seen an alligator in the three days we have been traveling. I think it may still be too cold. We go by a House Boat Rental marina. There are a few missing from their docks. Farther down we pass Hontoon State Park, and have to slow for the ferry. It is an electric powered pontoon boat to take people from the mainland (east) side to the Island.
The Island Park is nice looking, and has docks for boats smaller than SummerTime. There are about 6-8 "C-Dorys" (a popular small outboard cruiser) tied to the docks. A few miles farther south we come to Blue Springs, a day tourist area. It is blocked off to boat traffic as it is a Manatee wintering area. There are a lot of kayaks in the St John and the adjacent lagoon. It is a no wake area which is okay, as there are so many errant kayakers around that it is not safe to go above an idle speed. And there are people on rented pontoon boats (identified with livery name) that are just drifting around in the middle of the river, seemingly unaware of navigational rules or courtesies. After about a mile we are through the craziness and headed to Lake Monroe. We call Monroe Harbor Marina in Sanford to verify closing time and availability of a slip. We speed up to get to Lake Monroe and make the crossing. We get to the marina about 4:50, just in time to get docked. We call Don of the sloop "John B", whom we cruised NW Florida with, and arrange to meet him for dinner. We have a lovely dinner together at the Italian restaurant next to the marina. We reminisce about our past travels, the fun and trials we had together, and discuss our future trips. Don finished the loop the end of December and is contemplating doing another loop.
       On Monday morning the wind is calm when I get up. The first time we have seen calm conditions in a week. But it is not to last. Before we can get the holding tank pumped out on SummerTime, the wind is picking up from a new direction. We had tail winds most of the journey south, and now it appears we will have tail winds on our return journey north. They are the best kind as they help speed, and increase your fuel mileage. We get away about 9:45. We get across Lake Monroe, and the normally open RR bridge is down. We call for an opening, and the bridgetender tells us there are workers on the bridge and we have to wait an hour for their paint to dry.  I look at my watch, and answer back "you mean when they go to lunch?". No response. And I tell the tender we will anchor and wait between the highway bridge and RR bridge for the next hour. After two passenger trains pass a little after noon, and when the hour is up about 12:15, I radio the bridge tender again.
We pass under the RR bridge about 12:25. I push SummerTime a little harder today, as we would like to get back to Jacksonville about mid day Wednesday. We need some good miles today, and waiting for paint to dry was not in my plans. At Blue Springs, there is almost no traffic this Monday. After seeing the people floating on the previous cool Sunday, I can not envision how many people would be on the water there on a July weekend. It is hard to imagine no one there, even on a winter week day. Only the tour boats are moving about. And one errant rental house boat backing into the middle of the river with no watch on the stern. We ease into neutral gear to let him get out as he obviously has not seen us coming. We pass Hontoon Springs and there are even more "C-Dory"s at the docks today, apparently having some kind of rendezvous.
We make good time, and the weather is a little warmer. As we approach Lake Beresford, I see something in the water ahead. I am thinking a stick, but then it disappears in a small swirl. Barbara tells me I can not count this suspected alligator as seeing one as I have no photos to prove it. We continue northward, pass Morrison Creek, as we have determined we can get comfortably across Lake George today before needing to anchor. We cross Lake George, and make a hook around the island to the west. We anchor for the night in the protection of a large, nearly uninhabited Drayton Island. The wind is calm for the evening and night's sleeping.
        Tuesday we are up and moving north again. We have cereal and instant coffee so we do not start the generator. As we are already across Lake George, the goal is to get well past Palatka today before anchoring again for a night. Our plan is to get to Palmo Cove. It is an uneventful run until we get on the wide part of the river above Palatka. In the distance we can see a USCG helicopter continuing to move over the same area. After a bit a small boat arrives under the helicopter. As we pass we see the boat is also labeled USCG. It is not the normal Coast Guard Patrol vessel you see every day on the water, but a narrow go-fast center console with 3 big outboards on the back.
 We go by and it looks like they are going to put a rescue swimmer out of the helicopter. But they never do. It is obvious they are working together doing some kind of practice.. We get to Palmo Cove and decide to go up Sixmile Creek to anchor. It is narrow, and there is a restaurant up the creek with a long floating dock. We decide we should not tie there. We see two alligators on the way out of this creek.
We come back down looking for a place to anchor. We try to anchor near the mouth, but the bottom is too soft, the anchor does not hold. We go out into the cove and try to find an anchor spot. We go over to the south shore between houses and anchor out of the SE wind. It is a quiet night except for the two USCG helicopters that keep flying overhead. I think that they are looking for something, but there is no chatter or warnings on the radio. Maybe it is night search practice.
     The wind changes before we get up. It is light out of the SW. There are small waves lapping against the hull of SummerTime. I am thinking we may swing on the anchor and increase distance causing the anchor drag alarm to go off. After a bit of not hearing the alarm, I doze off back to sleep. I look at the GPS screen on waking, and it has been tracing our movement during the night. We did move when the wind changed, but not far enough to set off the anchor drag alarm. That is good. We get breakfast again without the generator and head back north on the St John north towards Jacksonville. We pass by Green Cove Springs and their piers look the same. As we move north from them two helicopters, marked USN, approach. They appear to be playing tag with a small boat, which as it gets closer turns out to be a USN boat.
They also are obviously practicing some maneuver as they take turns buzzing the small boat as they move south. We detour into Doctors Lake. It is time to refuel, and the Doctors Lake Marina has the least expensive fuel in the area. We take on 86gal for the 26hr of running time we have done and 2hours of generator time(about 1.8gal). As it is noon, we take our lunch alongside the fuel dock. We head back under the bridge over the Doctors Lake entrance and continue North on the St. John. We see a big jet approach and land at Jacksonville Naval Air Station. We get to Ortega Landing after about another 2 hours. They put us in a new slip just 4 places down from our last slip.
        Our trip on the St John River was very nice. It was cool almost every day we traveled. Sunday was the only day it got above the low 70s. It was too cool for most plants and trees to be blooming. We did see water lilies with buds, but no blooms. We saw azaleas blooming in some yards. Some of the trees were starting to bud, or leaf out. We saw a lot of birds, some in nesting pairs. And we only saw a few wild animals or the reptilian variety.
        On Thursday we do chores and hang around the marina. On Friday we do more chores and hang around the boat. I work on replacing the through hull for the bilge pump, and seem to be successful. We go to dinner in the evening in the Avondale area with Gene as he has a car. We have a nice BBQ dinner at MOJO4. And later ice cream at an ice cream shop there. It has been a very good week where we have done some nature touring and had quality time with friends.

BIRD PHOTOS ALONG THE ST. JOHN. Most were unidentifiable from our Wildlife handbooks.





  1. Murphy's Creek looks a bit like the bayous I remember from Louisiana. I think I must be mis-remembering as it seems near impossible two would look anything alike. Then again, with my skewed brain, a crazy remembrance is possible.

  2. Osprey, Ibbis, etc...must be lots of birds.