06 January, 2015
Happy New Year!
Holiday’s over, time to get back to the serious business of cruising. Christmas, as usual, was a happening. Suzanne’s sister, Sheila, and her husband, Mike were gracious hosts, as usual. Over the course of ten days they fed and berthed 20 some-odd nieces, nephews, siblings, significant others, and etc.-you get the picture. Both of our kids and their significant others were able to make it too. Made Yours Truly happy, as I hadn’t seen them since July. All the while a bacterial bronchitis was ravaging the older adult (our) generation. We all dropped like flies, only to resurface after the antibiotics kicked in-good times.
Back in Jacksonville, Jan and Doug arrived at Ortega Landings Marina at the same time as we pulled in. We all agreed that we were too tired for any activities that night, but would meet in the morning for some bike riding and local exploration. After provisioning and returning the rental car, we rode bikes to Avondale and had lunch at the Biscotti’s, discovering that it deserved its’ high ratings. After the multiple flat tires on Jekyll Island, I found a bike shop where I purchased some additional heavy-duty tubes, and a pump. Chamblin Bookmine kept us entertained for a few hours. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been to a used book store of this magnitude and scope. There were over 60 winding aisles of bookshelves, packed with (hundreds of) thousands of books. The aroma of the tons of old paper was pervasive, reminding me of the stacks in the Grad Library back in school. It’s difficult to convey the feeling, but the space was close, and quiet, and such a maze that there were signs directing you to as to the way out. Next stop was Sailor’s Exchange, sort of a nautical flea market, where I picked up some used chain for our 3rd anchor (cheap, cheap, cheap), and some scraps of teak to build the Admiral another shelf for the galley. The night before our departure on January third was chilly and windy, so we enjoyed a campfire with Jan and Doug on the marina patio. A word about Ortega Landings Marina. It is a beautiful, fairly new facility with all of the amenities: Heated pool, hot tub, free laundry, clubhouse with flat screen TV and full kitchen, as well as several outdoor gas grills and a fire pit for the use of guests. Dockside, there is water, electric service, and free pump-out. Even though it is 20 miles off the Intracoastal Waterway on the St John’s River, it is well worth the trip for a few days stay.
St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States, was our next destination. After picking up a mooring ball, we dinghy’d in for a quick reccon before dark. OMG! The old town was jammed. Kids were still on break from school, and it was Saturday night. I guess we really didn’t realize what a tourist destination St. A was. We purchased our “Olde Town Trolley Tour” tickets, good for 3 days, scoped out the breakfast joint recommended by a local boater on the radio earlier in the day, and checked the Mass schedule at the Basilica (oldest Christian church in the U.S.A.) before beating a hasty retreat to The Girl. Well, we really lucked out. We were at the Cathedral on the last Sunday before it was scheduled to be closed for renovations until late Spring. Mary’s proved to be a great spot for breakfast, then we spent the rest of the day hitting the high spots on the trolley. Besides its rich history from colonial days, St. Augustine was the beneficiary of the attention given by “Gilded Age” magnates. Several opulent hotels, built by Henry Flagler are still standing, housing Lightner Museum, and Flagler College facilities. After an exhausting day of touristing, we stopped at the A1A AleHouse and sat on the 2nd floor porch overlooking the harbor for a brew and a light snack while we waited out a cloudburst. Monday morning, the crowds had thinned out. Our trolley ticket allowed us to grab a bus out to Anacostia Island, where St. Augustine lighthouse and the beaches are located. Alligator Zoo is also on the loop. Sounds kinda hokie to me, but we were headed out that way, so thought we might as well check it out. As it turned out, it was really cool. It is the oldest alligator breeding and research facility in the country (maybe the world-not sure). They’ve been in business since the late 1800’s, and are the only facility on the planet that has all 23 species of crodilians on site. We end up spending a good part of the day there, watching a feeding and listening to educational presentations. After that, it’s off to the St. Augustine Light to climb the 219 steps to the top, which affords a fantastic panorama of the surrounding area. This is a wonderfully restored light and keeper’s house. Even if you’re not into lighthouses, this one’s worth visiting. Our chilly day is capped with a visit to Fort San Marcos, back in the center of St. A. Hot coffee, not cold beer is in order today, so “Casual Coffee” provides a warm-up for our farewell walk through town. We’ll head to New Smyrna Beach tomorrow to visit some friends who moved there several years ago after being our neighbors on Lake Charlevoix for the previous 2 decades.