20 December, 2014
Time to say goodbye to Georgia. 0815, and we’re anchor up on our way to Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, FL. We woke to “The Star Spangled Banner” being played over the P.A. system at the sub harbor over a mile away-the wind musta’ been just right. Crossing the Cumberland Sound, we’re accompanied by a pod of dolphins. Fort Clinch, on the North end of Amelia overlooks the channel to our port side. Nearing town, we’re well aware of its history and reputation as a “border town” between the Spanish, and English-held Americas. Over the years, 8 different flags have flown over F.B.. It is also said to be the home of the modern shrimp trawling industry. After sidling up to the dock to drop off our bikes and take on water, we grab a mooring ball by 0925. To the north, a shrimp boat is on the shore, lying on its’ side with the tide running in and out. The boat actually looks pretty good, and has all her gear apparently still onboard-must be a story. Yep-there is. After we dinghy to shore, the dock lady tells that the boat belongs to a guy who isn’t a local. The story is that it was chained (and padlocked) to the pier one evening when it somehow broke loose and drifted with the wind to the lee shore. Since it was a full moon, the tide was abnormally high, so the boat was REALLY high and dry when the tide went out, and has been there since. No attempt will be made to salvage, she’s been declared a total loss. Very suspicious-just sayin’. After a stop at the visitors center for maps, it’s off to Fort Clinch by bike. One of the coastal fortifications built after the War of 1812, this masonry fort was garrisoned during the Civil and Spanish American Wars, as well as World War II. Since the end of the war it has remained a Florida State Park. During tourist season, interpreters dressed in period costume bring visitors back to the Civil War era. Now, in the off-season, we touristas are on our own-still worth the trip. As we retrace our ride to the main gate of the park, 2.9 miles away, we roll through a continuous tunnel created by the Live Oak branches dripping with Spanish moss overhead. The understory is dense, a combination of plants dominated by Sawtooth Palmettos. We get a call from Jim and Louise, who we’ve agreed to meet at “T- Ray’s” (reported by USA Today to be one of the top burger joints in the country, located in an old gas station back in town). Bad news-the place closes at 1430, and we won’t make it back from the fort in time. Plan “B”, we’ll meet at “The Salty Pelican”, where we can eat outside. Sooooo…….. Back at the “S.P.”, I order tuna nachos on the recommendation of our waiter/bartender. Unbelievable. 8 ounces of barely seared sushi-grade Ahi strips over crispy wontons with pickled seaweed garnish, and a wasabi dressing on the side. Hardly had to chew it! After lunch/dinner, Suz and I stroll along the main drag doing the tourist shopper thing. Of course we finished the day with sunset and sips with Jim and Louise on our back porch. Next morning, Bill and Lisa steam in before we can even get to shore. The 6 of us will meet for lunch at “T- Ray’s at 1400. Suz and I are off to bike the Egan’s creek Greenway Park, which runs North-South in the middle of the island, encompassing a marshy wilderness area said to be full of wildlife with an emphasis on birds. Bill and Lisa will bike out to the fort, and Jim and Louise have errands and housekeeping chores. Although the weather was kinda’ cool and gray, the bike ride was way cool. Lots of Egrets, Herons and etc. Much to The Admiral’s chagrin, no ‘gator sightings. At the southern terminus of the park, we hopped on to the highway and went out to the beach. Stopped at the “Hammerhead” Bar. Walked into the smoke filled room full of good ol’ boys shootin’ pool and drinkin’ buckets of beer (5 Bud’s for $8). When I asked the bartender if she had a coffee pot going, she looked at me like I had three heads. Okay, just a couple Cokes. The atmosphere was pretty thick-obvious we didn’t belong here. When Suz went to the restroom, it was obvious that I needed to do something. Since I didn’t think that punching the biggest guy there was a prudent move, I ordered a double shot of rum for my Coke, signaling the bartenderette that “Mum was the word”. Mood changed 180 degrees. By the time Suz returned, we were all chattin’ it up like long-lost relatives. After we left, Suz observed that these “were some pretty nice guys, they just needed a few minutes to warm up to us”. I confessed the icebreaker. We rode different trails back up the greenway , and killed a few minutes at a REAL hardware store back in town. You can always count on some good conversation with the boys that work in old time hardware stores, and we were not disappointed. “T- Ray’s” was as advertised. One gallon bottomless Cokes, and handmade half pound burgers, cooked exactly the way you ordered it, surrounded by thick cut fries-“Heaven on Earth with” (sautéed) onions. When we split up, Suz and I rode out to the North end, and “Old Fernandina Beach” to see “Pippy Longstocking’s House”. Good fast ride to burn off some of those calories. Rode back to town through a Civil War era neighborhood house gawking. Parked our rides, and rewalked Center Street, catching a few shops that we had missed the day before, wanting to take in all the ambiance that we could before heading back to the boat (to say nothing about burning off a little more dinner). Atlantic Seafood had the pounds of shrimp that we had ordered in the morning nearly frozen for us, so we picked up the goods and headed back to The Girl for a last sunset with “The Gang of Six”.
High tide was at 0620 today, the 19th, so we left this morning at 0630, since we have a few shallow areas to contend with on our way to the St. John’s River and Jacksonville. Our passage has been uneventful since a beautiful sunrise on this partly cloudy, 60 degree day. We’ve seen a few dolphins along the way. Right now, Suzanne is reminiscing as we pass the baseball field at Jacksonville University. Her Dad was the baseball coach there in the 60’s, and she points out the spot on the riverbank where she played as a child when her Dad was “at work”. As we pass under the Matthews Bridge, she relates as to how she was “scared to death of that bridge” as a child, because the center section of this narrow, old suspension bridge is metal grating, and you can see down to the water. She’s happy that her Pop took the Athletic Director’s job up at University of North Carolina-Asheville. Waiting for the railroad bridge to open, we had a chance to take a good look at Jacksonville Landing, the waterfront park area downtown. “Kismet”, a 300’ motoryacht, is berthed at the city wall. She has a stainless steel sculpture of a jaguar, about 8’ long standing with one paw on a football helmet on her bow. Wonder who she belongs to? At Ortega Landing, there’s a pair of guys on the dock waving their arms. As we close in on our slip, we recognize Gary and Doug, who were cruising Lake Superior with their wives when we met them last Summer. Doug and Jan are spending the Holiday with some local relatives, while Gary and Jacquie will head back to Michigan to see their grandkids. It’s a gorgeous afternoon, so we spend it giving the Girl a good bath. Afterward, it’s sushi with Gary and Jacquie.
Have a Merry Christmas. See Ya Next Year.