I like a couple of things. Free dockage when it rains and blows. Lots of water under our keel. Coffee. Two out of three would have to suffice.
Start: Mooring field, St. Augustine, FL, 0850
End: FREE DOCK, Sisters Creek, just outside Jacksonville, FL, 1426
Total Distance: 34.5 nm
Average Speed: 6.3 kts!!!
I will leave the complaining about the currents for another day. I take that back–maybe just a little today. I asked the dock master at the St. Augustine marina when we should leave to get the best push from the tides. He told me to wait until high tide and then ride it out. We should leave at noon. Or maybe as early at 10am. We decide to ignore his advice and head out at 9am. Because we are convinced this current thing is all voodoo magic that we are incapable of understanding. That, and we have 15-20 knot east winds, a sail, and the inkling that short of a set of rapids running the wrong way, we will be able to overcome a whole bunch of current.
We have a bridge right in front of us which opens on the half hour and we were ready for the 9am lift. Immediately in front of us was a tow pushing a barge with a very large (and apparently heavy) crane. Through the bridge, we turned to the east and slogged into the wind and current. We were not going fast and thinking this whole ‘ignore the currents’ stuff was stupid.
But within an hour we had turned to the north, put out the genoa and were skipping right along at 6 knots. And as the morning went on, our speed picked up slowly but steadily. And we were gaining on the tow/barge. For the first time since we were on the Tennessee river we were going to pass us a tow! Called the tow up, asked if we could pass, he acquiesced, but said we would have to finish our pass before we entered a channel about a mile ahead of us. We jam the throttles all the way forward, leap up to a whopping 8 knots. EIGHT! And slowly pull along side….and…then…ahead. About five feet before the channel.
The day is a transition day.
We started off in St. Augustine and the ICW was lined with homes/houses/condos with the obligatory dock on the water. We went through a spectrum of houses; huge mansions close to St. Augustine with yachts, then single family homes with fishing trawler, then smaller homes with fishing boats and then trailers. Then we went through the channel, entered another river and were now in the wilds of northern Florida. Marshlands. Flats. Few homes. TONS of bugs. Pretty nice.
Our destination is on Sister’s Creek, just north of the intersection with St. Johns River, which is the river that goes from the Atlantic to Jacksonville, Florida. It is busy. As we get close to St. Johns, we look at AIS and see an icon approaching from the west. We click on the icon and see that it is a thousand foot cargo ship moving right along at 10 knots. We decide to slow our roll and let him pass before we cross the river. And, of course, as happens when we want to slow down, we have a hard time–the wind is pushing us right along at 5knots, which doesn’t sound like much but with a monster ship approaching it seems like we are flying (to our DOOM!). Fortunately the river is way wide, we stay to the southern shore and she passes us and we head across the river.
The City of Jacksonville has some free docks available for use along Sister Creek. Did you see the cost? FREE! And Jimmy likes free.1 The docks are in a small park on the west side of the river. Two of the docks are located directly on the western shore of the creek and another dock is on the north side of the park, along a tributary just off the creek. The northern dock has deep (11 feet) water at the dock, but that dock is full. Of the two docks on the river, the southern most is for temporary docking only–there is a boat ramp and this is where you tie off the boats after launch. The one to the north of the boat ramp does not have signs that say that you cannot stay overnight; there are two boats (one trawler and one sailboat) already at the dock, and just enough space between into which we can squeeze Serenity. Most likely without striking anyone.
We swing around, Jan places fenders up and down the side of the boat, head into the current and, with the help of the crew from the M/V Noah’s Ark, land the boat. We are set.
For three days.
Today is Friday. In two days (which by my calendar would make it Sunday), there are to be some thunderstorms, with associated wind, and we don’t like thunderstorms. So we decide that the thought of a dock, and a FREE dock at that, is a good thing. But there ain’t a lot to do where we are at. We are in a park, true. But it is a big parking lot with grass along the side, docks along the river, and a bathroom. We have a view of the river and a huge overpass. Jacksonville is 10 miles to our West. Nearest convenance store is 3 miles one way. Looks like lots of school, reading and movies.
Good news is that S/Vs Schole and Irish Rose (aka ‘Kid Boats!’) anchor just across the creek from us in the afternoon and spend Friday night with us before heading north; they are going to hole up in Ferdinand Beach for the weekend. AJ gets to exhaust his words for the day.
And one more big old motor vessel of the ‘trawler’ type joins us Friday afternoon. She is landed ahead of the sailboat along a concrete wall. More about her later.
I have been whining pretty incessantly about the current. Which is driven by the tides. Which are pretty dramatic here and only going to get worse before they get better. Here in Sister’s Creek the tide goes in/out twice a day, so four changes. And the swing is 4-5 feet. Each time. Up to now we haven’t really had to worry about tides…we have been in anchorages or at moorings with depths that are plenty deep, and the tides haven’t been so dramatic. But here in Sister’s creek, it turns out, the difference between high and low tide is the difference between our floating dock actually floating, or resting on the sticky mud of the river bottom. We came in at high tide. I looked at the depth gauge to make sure we were in good water, but it was a binary check quickly forgotten. What happened in my brain was something like this:
Emotional side of brain jacked up on adrenaline (here after referred to as ESOBJUOA): “Holy Crap this current is strong! Must. Not. Hit. The. Dock.”
Rational part of brain (Here after referred to as ‘Richard’): “You may want to check the depth. It would be detrimental to the underside of our boat, not to mention just a little embarrassing, to focus on the dock and then run around because the water is too shallow.”
At this point a switch marked ‘depth’ on the brain’s switchboard gets changed from ‘Go’ to ‘No-Go’ and the ‘Docking status’ goes from green to red. Alarms ensue. Involuntary bodily reactions viz. sweaty palms, rapid breathing, dry mouth are activated.
ESOBJUOA: “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT! There is a SAILBOAT at the dock for goodness sakes! We aren’t going to run aground!”
Richard: “Just because there is a sailboat there doesn’t mean that the sailboat isn’t aground or that the water behind her isn’t shallow.”
ESOBJUOA: “You are a pain. Fine. Mission Manager please order a scan for depth.”
Mission Manager for Brain: (reading input from mark 52 eyeballs) “The depth is xxxxxxxxx.”
Depth reading is stored in RAM, waiting for a determination on if the information needs to be stored in long term memory.
Logical side of brain: “We confirm, depth is sufficient for dockage.”
Mission Manager: “We are a go for dockage.”
And at this point, the depth switch in the brain changes from ‘No-go’ to ‘Go’ and the depth reading, having met the criteria, is flushed from the RAM. ‘Docking status’ is changed from red to green, alarms sounds cease.
Richard: “Did you account for the change in depth due to the tidal flow here in Sister River?”
ESOBJUOA: “WOULD YOU SHUT UP!!!”
Mission Manager: “Let’s get all resources focused on getting boat to dock. And can someone check to see if we have a problem with our gauges? I’m showing our bowels just went from full to empty. I hope that is a gauge problem, not another unplanned emergency evacuation.”
Bowel Control: “Gauges are good.”
And at this point, Richard is summarily shouted down by the other parts of the brain who are more concerned about docking rather than pesky details about depth and tide. And the depth, which was read but not stored in memory, is forgotten.
We get off our boat, mill around aimlessly fiddling with lines and fenders and talk to our neighbors. Which is when we find that the floating dock we are tied to has some issues at low tide. Like it doesn’t ‘float’. It ‘sits’ as in ‘sits on the mud.’ And the sailboat in front of us (5.5 foot draw), at low tide, sits on the bottom and lists to port (shore). But the trawler behind us, that draws 3.5 feet, has no problem. Which makes that number I read earlier pretty darn important. Back to the depth gauge. We are seeing 8 feet at high tide. On our outside hull. Bottom line? We were fine.
But the big trawler that joined us later? Turns out not so much.
Saturday morning we are sitting in our salon drinking coffee (Jan and I) and complaining about school work (AJ). Jan asks what the loud noise is and we head up topside. To see the front trawler. Not at the dock, but just forward of his last position and slightly closer to the center of the creek. Where he is stuck. And where is is revving up his engines trying to get off the mud. Because of those damn tides. Which at this point was just past low tide with the water beginning to come back in (rise).
So what happened is trawler is at dock. Trawler decides it is time to leave, engages engines. Trawler is not on bottom, so engines push boat forward. Current pushes boat forward. Right into the shallow mud. Which in five hours would be covered by an additional four feet of water and he could get out. Trawler stuck. Engines rev as captain tries to back off mud, but port engine is in the mud as well and it stops with the intake filled with the brown goo. All systems shut down and a tow boat is called. She is towed to the north dock and we all get her tied back in place waiting for a mechanic.
It was a sobering experience for ALL of us. We looked at our plans for Monday and adjusted our departure time forward about three hours to make sure we took into account the tide. And we looked at all the information we had on the ICW and current state of shoaling; while we may run aground, we would prefer that if we did, it was at someplace that no one had found anything, not someplace where it was already marked.
Rest of weekend was good. We took long walks over the high bridge and kept Lucky on a short leash as he kept wanting to jump over the bridge wall to see what was on the other side. Sunday, as promised, had another set of huge storms that dumped an enormous amount of rain in a very short time. So much so that the drain in our dinghy couldn’t keep up with the incoming water and we had a small pool hanging off the back of our boat. We did run out of coffee on Saturday morning and had a momentary crisis. But the kindness of cruisers saved us. Hugh in S/V Sea Otter, the sailboat ahead of us, was making a store run and asked if we needed anything and by afternoon we had some more coffee grounds to last us until at least Charleston. Love this community!
1And talking about himself in the third person.