Quick recap: In Part 1 of our cruise up the St Johns River (that’s going south toward the headwaters), we left from Jacksonville and stopped in Green Cove Springs and Palatka, where brother Chuck met up with us for the night on 2/25.
Click the button below to see a detailed and interactive Google map of our route.
Feb 26, 2022
Chuck continued on his own road trip to Orlando early the next morning. We didn’t have far to go for our next stop so we got underway mid-morning. The St Johns River quickly narrowed and became more lush, with the east bank lined with homes and the west bank mostly trees and wilderness. It was an easy transit on a beautiful sunny day.
We passed the town of Waleka, and went on to Georgetown River Marina & RV Park. It was a pretty basic marina, catering more to local recreational fishermen rather than cruisers, and did a pretty brisk business in gas and bait. It was definitely in rural central Florida, with not much nearby. Okay, NOTHING nearby. Most interesting thing about the marina was their bathrooms. Clean but rather worn, they definitely win the prize for Uniqueness In An Odd Sort of Way.
Georgetown Marina bathroom facilities. Lots to unpack here — of the ‘picture’s worth a thousand words’ variety.
Niece Shannon met us shortly after we arrived, as Chuck had handed her car that he was driving off to her and met his buddies, while she was doing some paddleboard business and recreating. It was hot and since there was really nowhere to go in the area, we planned on grilling burgers. Except that I had forgotten to get any burgers. Oops. Tuna salad sandwiches to the rescue!
Hontoon Island State Park
Feb 27 - Mar 6
Shannon left early, and we planned to also except that we awoke to dense fog. Oh well – nothing to do but wait. It delayed us a little over an hour. The marina was right where the St. Johns River became Lake George, and there was still some fog when we got on the lake. But it gave us a chance to practice rigging for poor visibility while crossing a large lake with plenty of room to maneuver: using radar, foghorn sounding, and running lights on. Fortunately, the fog burned off as we approached the narrow re-entry to the river.
As soon as we got back on the narrow river, we were met by an armada of jet skis, pontoon boats, fishing skiffs, and houseboats! It was a Sunday, and the rest of our trip seemed to be Recreatoinal Boat Central. We even saw a couple of the classic Florida airboats giving tours – they are very noisy and when they came from behind us I thought we were being buzzed by low flying aircraft for a second.
South of Lake George, the river became even more lush. There were still homes with their private docks, but they were scattered and ‘vintage’ and added to the Old Florida ambience. Except I don’t think they had jet skis in Old Florida. It was as if the fog on the lake was a time machine and we had traveled back 50 years. I spent a lot of time riding up on the bow, both to take pictures and to enjoy the view. The shoreline has heavy growth of water hyacinth, which was brought here a hundred years ago by someone who thought it would beautify the shoreline. It did, but it also is invasive and now threatens to clog engines on boats and close off inlets and rivers if it is not cut back or fencing put up to inhibit growth
We arrived at Hontoon Island State Park in DeLand, FL in the early afternoon. It’s a small marina, and we actually took up both spots on the end of the dock because of our length. One of the center pilings had been sheared off by a poorly navigated houseboat, and we were doing some creative line placement and fendering when niece Shannon paddled up on a rented kayak. She was planning on meeting us to stay the night again, and had arrived a few hours earlier so had taken out one of the park kayaks. She had seen lots of wildlife, so we quickly got the boat settled at the dock and dropped the dinghy to go for a short ride.
After that, we offered to take Shannon to dinner in town if she would also drive us to the grocery store. She ran over something in the road that none of us saw, and upon exiting the car you could hear obvious air leaking from a rear tire. Ugh! So I went off to get sandwiches while she and Dave changed the tire. Then we did our grocery shopping and headed back to the boat. Shannon headed off the next morning for the rest of her planned trip — and to get a new tire.
We stayed a week at the park. It was phenomenal. Rivers run all the way around it so access is by boat only, with the park service operating a passenger ferry pontoon boat between the marina and a parking area about 100 yards directly across the river. There is a small ‘resort’ on the other side, and some homes. The park has the small basic but well-maintained marina, a campground, and some cabins available for rent. The river can be busy during the day, especially on weekends, but the park closes at dusk and it’s just the few boaters and campers and very peaceful. Dave like to look for alligators every night by shining a flashlight on the shoreline to see their red eyes reflected back. He had one regular right there in the marina that he named Allie.
There were trails to walk or bike/scooter, a shady picnic area to relax in, beautiful sunsets (after which the bugs came out in force), and of course the river to explore by kayak and dinghy. We did all the above, multiple times. But the highlight was what is dubbed the ‘jungle cruise.’ The Hontoon Dead River runs all the way around the island, and it’s about a 9 mile dinghy ride at a slow enough pace to see an abundance of birds, alligators, turtles, jumping fish, and maybe a manatee or otter. The first time we did the route, Dave’s other brother Jim and his wife Tammy who spent a day with us, and shortly after they arrived we piled into the dinghy and set out. Almost immediately we saw our first alligator, followed by many more, and turtles on almost every tree stump or log. And the variety of birds! We subsequently did the route or parts of it multiple times. I took a million pictures, so I’m going to shut up and let the pictures roll.
The Dead River loops back to the St. Johns River near Blue Springs Park, where manatees migrate to spend the winter in the warm spring waters. We beached the dinghy under the watchful beady eyes of the ubiquitous vultures. They do a daily count of the manatees, and at the peak of the season it runs 500-700. On the day we went, there were…four. Two weeks before there were 200, they told us. But the weather warmed up and they all high-tailed it out of there. (Which made me wonder why we hadn’t seen a parade of them going north on the river as we were moving south.) Of the four remaining, three were recovering from injuries and had floats attached to them. So mostly what we saw from the shore was a slowly moving float on the surface and a gray blob below it.
We did experience our first man overboard during the week there, except that it was a dog overboard. And off the dinghy. While it was tied to the boat. Okay, so it was more of a fall into the water than a man overboard.
Roxy was getting into the dinghy for a ride, and for some reason the crazy dog has taken to walking along the top of the inflatable pontoon. It was inevitable that she would slip, which she did and belly-flopped into the water. She had her life vest on so popped back up and Dave scooped her back into the boat within a second, so no worries that an alligator would eat her.
And a bunch more pictures of all that we saw and did during our week at Hontoon.
Waleka -- with a stop at Silver Glen Springs
Eventually it was time to return to Jacksonville. On the first day, we planned to anchor in Lake George at midday and dinghy in to Silver Glen Springs, a crystal clear natural springs that is a popular day trip. We dropped the lines shortly after sunrise and headed north. We hadn’t gone far when we realized the port engine had no turbo boost! Everything else was fine. I took the helm and Dave checked out the engine, but there was nothing obvious. Not having the turbo is not a big problem, it just meant that we couldn’t punch it in open water and had suddenly gone from a catamaran built for higher cruising speeds to a slow trawler. Kind of like putting a 4-cylinder Prius engine in a Porsche.
So we continued on to Silver Glen Springs and anchored easily just off the entrance. Almost immediately upon entering the creek with the dinghy, the water turned crystal clear and the shoreline lush. The creek itself was lush with other boaters, but we found a place we could beach the dinghy in knee-deep water. Dave decided it was time to see if Roxy could actually swim, so he took her a few feet out and let her go. It turns out she CAN swim, but that doesn’t mean she likes it and she wanted back in the dinghy after a couple tries. But good to know she at least doesn’t immediately sink. After about an hour, we were back on the boat – which was still exactly where we left it, fortunately.
Dave donned his headlamp and disappeared into the port engine compartment, but couldn’t find anything wrong with the turbo with a limited exploration. We continued on a little north of Waleka to Acosta Creek Marina, arriving about 4:30. This was a small marina on what looked like an old large residential property. It was quiet and peaceful, but once again not really much around. An exploratory walk with Roxy was cut short by rain, and we were tired after the days’ excitement anyways. The weather forecast for the rest of the week was growing increasingly concerning for thunderstorms and high winds, so decided to make tracks for JAX the next day.
Sunrise start so we could cover in one day what we had done in two days on the way down – and of course we still didn’t have the ability to kick it in the butt to cover ground. Or rather, cover water.
I took the helm for a couple hours while Dave did more research on the turbo problem and ordered some parts. I realized how much more comfortable and confident I am now driving the boat, and that feels good. We passed by Palatka and Green Cove Springs. We were watching the weather radar and while we had hoped we might be able to get all the way to JAX, decided it was cutting it too close with some thunderstorms so went to Doctors Lake, about 13 miles south of JAX. We wanted to check out someplace new anyways. This would put us close enough that even with the volatile weather expected over the next three days, we only needed a two hour window to get back to Lamb’s Yacht Center, where Dave could better work on the engine and the parts were being delivered. Doctors Lake Marina was a nice, sheltered location. We had just enough time to get tied up and Roxy off to find some grass when the skies opened up, so we were glad we had decided not to try to make it to JAX. We were, however, rewarded after the storm with an amazing sunset.
Woke up, checked the weather one last time, saw the window we had noted the night before was still there, and we were off on the short 90 minute trip.
We watched gray clouds gather as we turned onto the Ortega River, and then got stymied by having to wait for a train to get past the last bridge before Lamb’s Yacht Center. But it finally came, and we made it in just fine and before the weather moved in. This is the marina that we had departed from, so we were familiar with it which made it easier.
Here’s the best news: Dave picked up his ordered parts and was in the engine compartment as soon as it cooled. He found the problem – the boost hose had come off! It took some doing to get to it to adequately reattach it, but he was successful and everything was put back together and engine tested within a couple hours. See Level is now whole again, and back to being a fast catamaran!
I’ve got sooooo many more pictures. I’ll start putting them on the KDSeefari Facebook and Instagram pages, and also eventually get them on the Gallery page of this website.
Up next for us is waiting out a major cold front passing through in the next few days, then we have a friend joining us for a trip to St. Augustine. And from there…
WE WILL BE OFFICIALLY STARTING THE GREAT LOOP IN A WEEK!
Pops’ Stats Corner*
- Tot days covered this blog: 11
- Travel days: 5
- Miles traveled: 125.2 statute / 108.9 nautical
- Days as a trawler: 3
- Marinas: 5 Anchorages: 1
- # times dog fell in the water: 1
- Flat tires: 1
- Family members visiting: 4
*’Pops’ is what the family called Dave’s dad. He had an amazing mind for any kind of statistic, earning him the nickname Numbers from the Stillwater high school coaches for whom he kept team stats. This regular feature of the blog is named in his honor.