Thursday morning brought clear skies with light winds. High tide was at 7:08am. Since we knew that we would have a number of shoaling issues just south of Fernandina Beach, we wanted to leave as close to high tide as possible. At 7:06am, Adrienne pulled us away from the dock and we started south.
In ten minutes, we were in the problem area, so we cautiously proceeded down the ICW. We had Active Captain Companion running on my iPad and Garmin Blue Charts (which also shows all the Active Captain warnings) running on Adrienne’s iPad. Active Captain is a crowd-sourced navigation aid that documents hazards along the marine waterways. Members of Active Captain, which includes mostly operators of pleasure craft like us, supply up-to-date information on shoaling and other hazards. For example, in many spots, we had information from other boats that was only two or three weeks old. This information would tell us not only where there was a problem but also the best course to steer between marks and how deep the water had been. It is a real blessing, but requires constant monitoring.
Because of Active Captain and our leaving at high tide, we never saw less than 10 feet of water, which was great since we draw 5 feet.
By 9am, we were out of the worst of the shoaling, although there would continue to be a few isolated spots as we headed further south. The rest of the trip was uneventful. The scenery along the ICW here varies widely from beautiful houses lining the ICW to trailer parks and dilapidated houses.
We made the 1:30pm opening of the Bridge of Lions and by 1:40pm we were docked at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina. The wind was whistling and there was a strong current that made docking in our slip a bit challenging, but we made it without incident. It did, however, get my blood pumping.
This was our second visit to St. Augustine. We had stopped here on our way north with our other boat, Sea BLyS. At that time, we had only spent one night because we were trying to get north quickly without overdoing it. We toured a bit of St. Augustine, enough to know that we wanted to return, but not much considering all that the city has to offer. This time we planned on spending two nights.
After doing our boat chores, we headed into downtown St. Augustine. The municipal marina is perfectly situated for exploring the city. It’s just south of the Bridge of Lions (so named for the large concrete lions that flank the entrance to the bridge) and within easy walking distance of the main square downtown.
We could tell that St. Augustine was decked out for Christmas. There were many trees festooned with lights and wreaths and other decorations on the store fronts. We were arriving late in the afternoon so we didn’t have much time to explore, so we strolled about admiring the Spanish architecture and old streets.
One of the main historic sites on the Plaza de la Constitucion is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine built between 1793 and 1797. It’s currently undergoing renovations, but we were still able to get a sense of the interior design, which is spacious with a beautiful central altar. The altar is flanked by side chapels. The one to the left had a gold mosaic behind its altar, reminiscent of the mosaics found in eastern orthodox churches.
From here we wandered up King Street past Flagler College, a liberal arts college founded in 1968. The campus centerpiece is the Ponce de Leon Hall, which was built in 1888 by Henry Flagler as a luxury hotel. Quite ornate, but well preserved. The entire campus was beautifully landscaped and consistent with the surrounding Spanish architecture.
Eventually we made our way to Carmelo’s marketplace, a gas station/pizzeria/market/souvenir shop. We needed a few provisions, but for all that St. Augustine has to offer, a downtown grocery store is not one of them, at least not within walking distance of the marina. Fortunately, Carmelo’s market had just enough real food to satisfy our needs.
By this time the afternoon was beginning to fade, so we headed back to the boat to relax a bit and get ready for dinner. We had reservations at the Columbia Restaurant, which has been serving the folks of St. Augustine since the early 1900s. They had a tapas menu that looked appealing. The tapas were good and hit the spot. We had a lobster flatbread with a garlic pepper aiolie, jumbo fried shrimp and stuffed mushrooms. We were tired, however, from the long day and ate dinner at a record pace. The Christmas lights were all around us on our return to the boat. Very beautiful and festive.
The next day we had a leisurely morning complete with, what else? –fog! It seems that the weather system that brought us fog from Brunswick to Fernandina Beach had not moved off yet. But this time we didn’t have to worry about it because we weren’t going anywhere. It started to lift in the late morning thanks to a stiff breeze.
We decided that this day we would be tourists. There are several trolley tours that take visitors to all the main historic sites in St. Augustine. This looked like a good option for getting in as much of St. Augustine as we could in one day. We grabbed an early lunch at the Bunnery and then hopped on a trolley that took us past several sites and eventually to the Castillo de San Marcos.
The Spanish constructed the Castillo in the late 17th century to protect the city from repeated raids from pirates and the British. Not surprisingly, the Castillo sits on top of a hill overlooking the city and the bay. The Spanish built it to be impregnable, and so it proved to be throughout its history. Although ownership of the fort changed several times, it never changed because it had been taken in battle. Instead, treaties and other agreements among powers caused it to be under Spanish, British or American control.
The fort is now a national park, and they had one of their very informative and knowledgeable rangers on hand who gave a great talk about the fort’s construction and history. We happened to be in St. Augustine on the first weekend of December when the fort commemorates the 20 years or so that it was under British control. Hence, there were several people running around as red coats or in local militia costumes. That also meant there were millions of school kids in attendance. We tried hard not to step on them.
The highlight of the fort tour was a talk and demonstration by one of the red coats about the muskets and cannons used in the early 18th century by the Brits. This included several firings of the muskets and one firing of the cannon. I got some shots (no pun intended) of the musket firings and tried to get the cannon firing, but the blast startled me and the picture ended up cockeyed.
After the fort, we reboarded the trolley and finished the tour around St. Augustine. The remainder of the tour contained some historic sites, but also a lot of tourist traps, like the original Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum. We hopped off where we got on and decided to walk some of the pedestrian streets that go through the old city. These streets were filled with people and interesting shops.
We ended our tourist day by hiking over to Aviles Street, said to be the oldest street in St. Augustine. Its narrow street is flanked by restaurants and numerous art galleries. We entered one and learned that it was also First Friday in St. Augustine, which meant that all the galleries would be open late and feature munchies and music as well as the art. We decided to return after our dinner at Collage, a French restaurant in the old city.
As evening fell the fog was beginning to return, despite the breeze off the water. Fortunately, Collage was a short walk from the marina. The restaurant came highly recommended and for good reason. We had an excellent meal. I had a hogfish filet with a lobster bisque sauce, potatoes and green beans. Very good, and Jim had sliced beef tenderloin with short-rib stuffed ravioli, parsnips and green beans. He was in heaven. We finished the meal with vanilla ice cream topped with a strawberry pepper sauce in a phyllo cup. Really good.
After dinner we returned to Aviles Street and wandered through several art galleries. A lot of the work was uninteresting, but there were a number of pieces that we really enjoyed. We then headed back to Curiosity because the plan was to be up early for an 8am departure. But we knew that there was still a lot to see in St. Augustine and decided to return when we head north in the Spring.