From Ft. Pierce, we planned for a sprint of near-daily travel to get us the final couple hundred miles to our Loop Finish Line in St. Augustine. The route takes us through Eau Gallie, Titusville, Daytona, and Palm Coast before we arrive back where our Loop started, thus crossing our wake. It seemed straightforward, but of course Mother Nature laughs in the face of even the best laid voyage plan.
Click the Google Map button below to open the map in a separate window. There you can zoom in/out, and click on the icons to see pictures and more info on the various places along our route.
We were within 200 miles of completing America’s Great Loop as we prepared to leave Ft. Pierce. It had been a great finish to our winter in Florida, with plenty of time to relax and reflect on the past 13 months. But it was time to finish what we had started on March 17 of last year.
The route was familiar to us between Ft. Piece and St. Augustine, as we had made the trip two years before after moving aboard See Level. Yes, astute readers will say that we already crossed our wake – the phrase for completing the Loop – in Ft. Pierce. Technically, they would be correct. But because we wanted to say we had done the Loop in one continuous circle clockwise around this island that is the entire eastern third of the US, we had arbitrarily chosen the furthest point south from which we had turned north up the Atlantic ICW last year. So that was where The Gold Flag was awaiting capture.
Eau Gallie, FL
April 5, 2023
It was a beautiful dawn with a full moon setting as we took Roxy up to chase the squirrels in Ft. Pierce Marina Plaza one last time. We started seeing dolphins regularly along the way, as well as small boats anchored on sandbars and people floating and wading around them enjoying the beautiful day.
Eau Gallie Yacht Basin is a small marina with a large and welcoming liveaboard population who invited us to join them for their weekly Wednesday potluck. The marina itself was older but had character; we could say the same for the town itself. There was a small historic arts district nearby if you turned right upon exiting the marina . Unfortunately, we went left and ended up finding Hwy 1, which really didn’t have much to offer. But with a couple of rights we circled back around to the main drag. We wandered through the quiet downtown and eventually stopped in at the public library and spent an hour catching up on our favorite periodicals, something of which we seem to be making an enjoyable habit as we have more time.
Titusville revolves around Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, which is across the channel on the barrier island. We have done the tour years ago and didn’t desire to do it again (though would highly recommend it), but we did scooter into the small downtown area near the marina. There was a great park that honored the pioneers of the Space Program, from the Gemini and Apollo programs to the Space Shuttle to the Space Station. A nice touch was a memorial to all the workers that had died in the line of duty while working on the program, not just the astronauts, which not only honored them but also reminded us of the many sacrifices that don’t make front page news. It looked like a lot had been sunk into sprucing up the main downtown, but there weren’t a lot of people around. We did stop in at the very small private American Space Museum, which had a nice exhibit on women of the space program and a lot of personal mementos donated by people from the early years, but nothing earth shattering.
Noticeable was how non-dog friendly Titusville was. There were a couple of lovely municipal parks right next to the marina that we walked to with Roxy. But then we noticed all the ‘NO PETS ALLOWED’ signs throughout. One even had a large dog park right in the center. Still haven’t figured out how you’re supposed to get your dog to the park if you can’t bring them in any of the entrances. Even the marina had signs saying to take your dog across the road to do their business. Clearly they don’t know boat dogs, who been denied the abundant opportunities of normal dogs and want to pee on the first patch of grass they come to after walking along the docks. We tried telling Roxy to hold it, but she just scoffed in our general direction.
Dave and I are just the right age to remember watching the broadcast (in black and white, no less) of Neil Armstrong’s Giant Leap for Mankind. I recall when they rolled the first space shuttle Enterprise out of the hangar to the Star Trek theme song when I was in high school. I gathered with friends in my college apartment in the wee hours one morning to excitedly watch Columbia land, completing the first space shuttle mission. And I vividly remember joining the shocked crowd gathered around a hospital lobby television in Richmond as a medical student when the Challenger disaster happened, with that gut-wrenching feeling every time I saw that spiraling contrail as it replayed over and over on the screen. So I have a lifelong interest with all things Space Program; it’s like a childhood friend that I check in with at various stages in life to catch up.
So we were quite excited that we had inadvertently timed our stop here with a SpaceX launch. Granted, these are a frequent occurrence and we had seen other launches from a distance on the St. John’s River last year and in Ft. Pierce most recently. But this was going to happen just a few miles from the marina, and would be clearly visible with the nighttime launch against the background of a full moon.
We got up at 12:15 am and took our front row seats right on our own bow deck. At the exact scheduled time, it started as a growing glow on the horizon, like the sun rising, followed a few seconds later by the deep rumbling of the rockets. Then we could see the bright trail of the arc. It was awesome. We could even see the tiny glow of the first stage as it descended back to the landing pad offshore. The whole thing only lasted a few minutes. Then we went back to bed, still marveling at what we had just witnessed.
On the way to Daytona, we passed through the short but historic Haulover Canal, a big manatee refuge this time of year. As we approached, I ensconced myself up on the bow deck with my cameras. We saw about a dozen small groups of at least 2-3 manatees along the way, and even a couple more as we passed under the bridge and turned into the open channel. Apparently it’s mating and calving season. Dave had to disengage the engines a couple times so we could just drift past them, because they weren’t moving out of our way. But did I get any photos? Heck no! Those guys are even more camera shy than dolphins, and they kept popping up in random places that I could neither anticipate nor was I fast enough to catch with the camera. But it was fun to see them. We also saw a group of stingrays on the surface. (Through my diligent research in an effort to make this blog educational for my intellectually curious readers, I learned the proper nomenclature is a ‘fever of stingrays.’ Who comes up with these???)
We had stayed in Halifax Harbor in Daytona almost exactly two years ago. Things were just reopening after COVID, and the downtown waterfront area was unimpressive and deserted. We were very happy to see a much more vibrant downtown. Almost all the main drag storefronts were occupied with new restaurants and shops. We attended a Friday night food truck extravaganza, and the next morning before we departed we wandered through a three block art festival happening that weekend. The city had also invested in a lot of cleanup and facelifts along the waterfront, and looked like more to come. Now they just need to get the people back.
April 8 - 11
A constant theme in cruising is ‘No Good Plan Goes Unchanged.’ When we left Ft. Pierce, we had a great plan to get us to St. Augustine and cross our wake on April 11. But there was a serious weather system looking to hit that day. We were concerned about trying to arrive early because of how exposed municipal marina, so took a spot that opened up last minute in a marina in Palm Coast about 25 miles south of St. Augustine. This meant that after almost 6200 miles, we would be stalled a mere 22 miles short of the finish line until the storm passed. Oh, the irony, yet how apropros!
Our Chuckle for the Day: The Knox Bridge was very busy with boats requesting openings every 10-15 minutes and the tender accommodating, and we listened to their radio chatter. As we approached, this conversation occurred:
Vessel: Thanks for the opening. Looks like you’re getting quite a workout with all these openings.
Bridge Tender: Well, the bridge actually does most of the work.
Hammock Beach Marina was a fantastic ‘hurricane hole,’ meaning it was very well protected for heavy weather. When the storm came through, we could see the palm trees bending and hear the wind singing through the rigging of nearby sailboats, but the water in the basin was calm. We had some periods of heavy rain, but we just stayed put doing boat projects. The third day was just wind and so we scootered around the very nice neighborhood around us and over to the beach, where we were happy to view the 8+ foot waves from land rather than the boat.
St. Augustine FL
Apr 12 - 13
Finally we could continue on this very short but final stretch. As eager as we were to get to St. Augustine, we traveled at an absolute crawl of 5-6 knots because we wanted to time our arrival with a slack current, since the municipal marina is known for the fast current making docking difficult. We were going so slow that none of the many dolphins we saw thought it worthwhile to play in our bow wake like they usually do.
We pulled into our slip at 2pm, and with that our Loop was complete!!! There was nothing spectacular about our arrival, mostly because that’s just not our style. Once all the usual tasks were complete, we did switch out our white ‘in progress’ AGLCA burgee for a gold ‘completed’ one. That felt pretty good, the satisfaction of seeing a long project completed. It was kind of like walking across the stage at a graduation: there’s never a question you’d complete the endeavor, but there is something about the ‘officialness’ of it that makes it sink in. And of course there were no goofy square hats – just our usual googy headsets.
The municipal marina is right in the heart of St. Augustine. We spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the next day reacquainting ourselves with the beauty of the city and all its history, then went out for a celebratory dinner. Our second day of exploring was cut short by severe weather alerts on our phones. From the boat we watched some ominous yet magnificent cloud formations approaching, but fortunately we caught just the edge with a short period of heavy rain and distant thunder.
We did learn how fortuitous our decision had been to stay in Palm Coast, for the storm that had delayed our arrival had indeed been rough on the boats in the St. Augustine marina. We talked with several other boaters there and heard tales of boats dragging anchor and beaching or hitting other boats, sleepless nights bouncing against the docks, and damage incurred on boats in slips. Just another reminder that Mother Nature needs to be respected, and we were really glad we had made the decision we did to stay in Palm Coast.
So What Now?
And thus we have completed America’s Great Loop. It’s been an amazing journey of 6200 miles in a little under 13 months. Many of the people whom we have met, traveled with, learned from and taught, shared challenges and triumphs, and laughed with at docktails have all completed their own Loops. As everyone always says, it is the people that have made the journey so memorable; that’s a whole blog in an of itself once I manage to process it all. By definition a loop is continuous, and this one has on and off ramps with constant turnover. The enthusiasm of those we were meeting as we were finishing up who are starting on their own way was heartwarming and very déjà vu, but it also reaffirmed that it is our time to exit the route, watch from the sidelines, and help others as we can.
But we are certainly not done with boat life.
While the Loop was what piqued our interest in cruising, we love this lifestyle and consider ourselves full-time cruisers who have done the Loop as part of a bigger adventure, not just ‘Loopers.’ We have at least a couple more years of places we want to go with See Level – the Bahamas, New England, maybe even a second time around the Loop to see some of the places we missed. In the immediate future, we will be heading north and plan to spend the summer exploring more of the Chesapeake Bay.
So our Seefari continues, and I will still be sharing our wanderings and adventures in this blog. With planned longer stays in locations, I will have more time to write about things we have learned about life and ourselves, people we meet and places we see along the way, and aspects of cruising in general; I hope you will continue to join us. In fact, I would love it if you would send me your questions or what you would like to hear more about.
But first, we have to get out of Florida before hurricane season starts. While doing the Loop always gave us something to keep moving towards, we now find our voyage plans are driven a little more by things to avoid, such as hurricanes, or freezing temperatures, or waterway closures, or state’s limits on how long we can stay without starting to pay resident taxes. I guess from that perspective, this next chapter is going to be a bit more like life on the lam – but discovering cool places along the way.
Pops’ Stats Corner*
- No of Days: 8
- Travel Days: 5
- Miles Traveled: 191.9 (166.9 nm)
Cumulative Great Loop
- Total Days: 389
- Travel Days: 153
- Miles Traveled: 6199.4 (5390.5 nm)
- States Visited: 18
- Canadian Provinces Visited: 2
- Locks: 142
- Anchorages: 26
- Marinas: 127
*Pops is what the family affectionately called Dave’s dad. He had a mind for sports statistics, earning him the nickname Numbers from the coaches of several Stillwater teams with whom he worked. This regular section of the blog is in his honor, because it’s the kind of thing he would love.