We knew that we wanted to spend the weekend on the St John’s river, but this particular side trip isn’t detailed in the Great Loop book that we have generally been following, so we had to wing it. I did a bit of online research and found a blog post detailing an anchorage about one mile up Black Creek which is just off the west side of the river and not too far south.
With that plan in mind, we’d been rationing our diesel for several days, knowing we had to fill up fairly soon. All of the diesel up the ICW had been $3-$3.50 a gallon, and with us getting nearly 300 gallons to fill up, that was gonna be pricey. I’d seen a “Mandarin Holiday Marina” just down the St Johns River that had cheap diesel (listed at $2.10 online), and decided that we’d be able to make it there, as long as we kept planing (going 14-16kts) to a minimum. We called them the night before showing up, to make sure they were still open, and to ask about any depth issues (“no problem as long as you draw less than 6 feet!”) It all sounded good, so in the morning, we headed straight there.
It was a lie. Or, as we found out, they might not even know because no one that works at the marina actually boats in the area. We looked every way possible at the chart and couldn’t actually find a way in that wasn’t dangerously shallow. But we knew that boats got in there, so we just did the Florida thing and went in anyway. 10 minutes of nonstop shallow water alarms from the depthfinder later (I don’t like seeing numbers like “2.5”), we did make it safely into the fuel dock, and were rewarded with 260 gallons of $1.90/gallon diesel! We paid, crept out of the area, and got back to our regularly-scheduled safe 10-15 ft depths.
We continued down the St John’s River, turned up Black Creek, found the spot and dropped the anchor. We’ve now anchored a few times on this trip, something we are very comfortable with, having done so many times while boating in the NW. What we are finding here is that rather than rocks and mud, most of the time, the bottom is sand and our anchor is apparently not finding good holds in sand. After a couple of tries, we decided we’d found a good enough spot and we’d sit tight and monitor the situation with two anchor alarms. The anchorage was beautiful and we were the only boat there!
Despite being the only boat actually anchored here, we were not actually the only boat on the creek – not by a long shot. It’s actually very impressive that David managed to get both the day time and the sunset drone photos boat-free, since day boaters and jet skis were driving by us from both sides of the tiny island at full speed (huge wakes and all) until sundown.
Since it was so pretty, and we were feeling pretty lazy on Saturday, and we could deal with the rocking from the wakes, we decided to stay here for the weekend instead of finding another spot on the St John’s River.
On Sunday, we pulled anchor and decided to go all the way north to Fernandina without stopping again in downtown Jacksonville. When we have a weekend day without dealing with work, it’s a good opportunity to get long transit stages out of the way. With everything now closing due to COVID-19, there’s not a whole lot of incentive to stay in places more than a day or two, since we can’t explore towns/museums/parks, so we’re pretty restricted to either public road bike rides or what we can see from the boat. So we’re going to just keep pushing north, seeing what we can along the way, and ideally get up to Maine for some quality social distancing.
We pulled into Fernandina just before dinner time, and found that while the marina was very swank (new docks), the location most certainly wasn’t. The marina was flanked on both sides by large processing plants and the area didn’t smell too pleasant. Also, we tried to plug into power and blew the breaker on two towers on the dock. I tried to bike to a couple grocery stores in town to buy some more food, and they were all completely out of anything useful, so I came back basically empty-handed. Since the marina office was closed for the evening, we decided to ditch the dock and spend the night on one of the marina’s mooring buoys, saving $80 in the process. However, by the time we had made this decision, it was decidedly past sundown, so we did all this with our radio headsets on and me on the bow of the boat with a headlamp and the mooring line; and to cap it all off, right as we cast off from the dock, a good wind picked up making the buoy approach quite difficult! Nonetheless we got tied up for the night just fine.