105 Bucksport, SC to Palatka, FL

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A line of rooftops, richly landscaped yards, beach and ocean stretch to their vanishing points on the horizon at Isle of Palms. For just $3.2 million the view and 4-bedroom, 4-bath home below the rooftop deck could be ours. Earlier we’d looked at a $500,000 home inland with a master bedroom larger than Odyssey. Our tour hosts, Toby and Sonya sold I Gotta Go and are temporarily land dwellers. Toby is working as a real estate agent and made our custom home tours possible. An outstanding dinner at the One Eyed Parrot provided a great opportunity to see Jeff their son again. He now manages the restaurant and is building a boat he’ll use for clam farming in the South Carolina marshes.

We couldn’t figure out why the sailboat was leaving Isle of Palms when we did at 7AM. We could easily pass under the Ben Sawyer Bridge a short distance south. The sailboat would be stuck until the rush hour opening restrictions lifted. We forgot about them until the VHF came alive with a discussion between the bridge tender and the sailboat. The sailboat insisted there was an 8AM opening listed in their cruise book and so the bridge should open. Loved their logic. The bridge tender wasn’t impressed, and we could hear her frustration building as she repeatedly explained the bridge was restricted from 7 to 9. The bridge prevailed, and the sailboat finally announced they’d anchor and wait.

Beaufort, SC historic district

Beaufort, SC historic district

Favorable tidal currents brought us into Beaufort, SC in time for a haircut for Ruth and a leisurely late lunch. We spent the next morning finding a few streets we hadn’t explored before. We gravitated into the historic district enjoying old homes tucked in around live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. A sound bite of history compliments of the horse drawn carriage driver describing the town to the couple aboard escaped around the clip-clop of the horses hooves and added charm to the shady scene. We made it back to Odyssey in time to watch the afternoon parade of boats join us at anchor.

Between Odyssey and the entrance to Cattle Pen Creek five sailboats rested at anchor. We’d passed them the previous day and then enjoyed watching them anchor late in the afternoon. Now at first light we quietly threaded our way past, a task made easier with the high tide. For us, it was five fewer boats to pass during the day ahead.

Two ladies arranged their lawn chairs on the sidewalk corner. Curious, we stopped, chatted and learned the Brunswick Christmas parade would be starting soon. We continued on to accomplish our main mission–having breakfast at the one open restaurant we’d found and then went back to enjoy the parade. A hometown mix of police cars, fire trucks, church groups, a few simple floats and three bands went by for over an hour. The sunny 80-degree day prompted Santa to show up in shirtsleeves riding on a fire truck.

Many old homes maintained in pristine condition made for great walking along Brunswick’s streets. We explored until we found Lovers Oak, a huge very old live oak reported to be the traditional meeting place of lovers. Shrimp boats rafted two and three deep line the river bulkhead just below the marina. Low tide provided perfect viewing down onto decks awash with nets and fishermen getting ready for their next trip. Weaving our way slowly around the clutter of welding torches, rope, nets, supplies and fishermen provided a perfect excuse to savor the scene at a leisurely pace.

Baby alligators sunned themselves on a shallow bank of the Jekyll Island pond we check on each stop. For us, it’s our second brood of babies since we began visiting the island. We quietly watched and could hear their call in the quiet. Further along the pine needle covered trail we entered a familiar clearing and were surprised to see incoming tide slowly beginning to flood the bike path. We stopped and watched for a half hour as the full moon tide slowly reached its high water point, paused and then began to recede.

Our week’s stay at Jekyll yielded unplanned meetings with old and new friends. Claire Sailing with Dene and Anita showed up. We’ve never planned a meeting, but always seem share a port each year. The dock took on a unique look as Double Pleasure, the sailing version of Odyssey, tied up so we were bow to bow. We’d spent time with Bill and Joan at Isle of Palms and Beaufort. Endeavours took over when Ammy Boo with Ralph and Bonnie Jean showed up for an afternoon with their just launched sister ship to Odyssey. We were old friends by e-mail and now finally met in person. Friends showing up provided the perfect excuse to enjoy delicious breakfast and lunches at the Millionaire’s Club. First we sampled the quiet elegance of the main dining room for breakfast and then on another day tried lunch at the recently restored Crane cottage. Then for variety we sampled the Huddle House, Sea Jay’s and Blackbeards. We are doing our personal best to make sure the restaurants on Jekyll Island don’t go out of business.

The volunteer crew from all over Jekyll Island transformed the historic district into Christmas-trimmed splendor. Seeing Christmas decorations when it’s 80 out never seems right, but the warm temperatures sure were nice when we walked the roads one evening enjoying the beautifully lighted trees lining the entrance to the island.

The north shore of the St Johns River has huge sea container cranes and other large industries associated with a busy seaport. Across the river on the south shore large homes with well-tended lawns line the shore. Things sorted themselves out as we reached Jacksonville and city buildings overflowed filling both shores. We continued on, leaving exploration of Jacksonville for later. City gave way to residential and marinas.

“Captain the bridge will be closed for repairs until 5PM.” We were trapped on the wrong side of the bridge. We’d tucked into the Ortega River the day before to visit with Roy and Lynn on Lyndal K. Had we known, we would have anchored short of the bridge and dinghied the last few hundred yards for our visit. Now we anchored and spend a pleasant afternoon watching the repair crew alternate working with scrambling off the bridge when trains approached. Some day we’ll see if Playboy is interested in publishing: Waiting For the Bridge To Open. So much for our early afternoon arrival at Doctors Lake; now arrival would be well after dark at a strange marina.

A cell phone call alerted Laurent and Judy (formally on Blitzen now cruising aboard an RV complete with a small car for a dinghy) of our approach to the marina. Our combination of a GPS route to follow and radar to assist in seeing in the dark made the night run to Doctors Lake uneventful. Finding our assigned covered slip in a dimly lit marina we’d never seen before was a challenge. Our portable high-powered spotlight illuminated small sections of the docks ahead providing a view similar to looking through a very small keyhole well away from one’s eye. Laurent and Judy caught lines as Ruth eased Odyssey into the slip. We settled in and renewed old friendships and caught up on one another’s adventures.

Doctors Lake intrigued us so after waving good-bye to Laurent and Judy we headed west in fog down the lake. A swampy, cyprus stretch of shore caught our attention, and we eased in until just two feet of water under our bottom showed on the depth sounder. For two days we enjoyed the quiet of the lake. Ashore buzzards roosted in the upper branches of trees a hundred yards away. Below in lower branches egrets took up residence. Entertainment became watching the contrast in black and white. Strict segregation between the species was maintained, but within each group abundant jockeying for the best perch was very much in evidence. Both groups became very vocal at sunset, evidently saying goodnight to one another.

Swimming Pen Creek by day yielded two large alligators sunning themselves along the banks about a half-mile upstream from the end of shoreline homes. Two other alligators swam slowly and then disappeared as we quietly glided closer. Our two shoreline companions felt we were coming too close and slid into the water with barely a ripple and disappeared in the tannin-black water. We returned to the populated area of the creek in the evening to enjoy the waterside display of Christmas lights lining docks and shorelines of almost every home.

Green Cove Spring’s city marina is not listed in our cruising guide. We learned about it while exploring by car with Laurent and Judy to see the town’s sulfur spring. It bubbles up and then flows through a swimming pool before making its short run to the river. As the friendly city hall staff took our $20 fee for an overnight stay they mentioned that we could stay the day for free and anchor just off the dock for free if we chose. As we signed for the slip complete with electricity and water we noticed their last boater had registered a month earlier. Not a busy place. During our trip up we hadn’t seen another cruising boat, and it was becoming apparent we were off the main route of boaters spending the winter south.

It seems strange to be talking about going up the St Johns River while heading due south. The river is one of the few in the USA that flow from the south to north. We headed south and found our holiday storage home for Odyssey at Palatka at the Boatyard Marina, a quiet and very funky marina. While Odyssey rests, we’ll head north to Rochester, NY to spend the holidays with our kids and family.

Visibility is zero. Looking up from three feet underwater just a vague hint of daylight can be seen. By feel I install new zincs to Odyssey’s running gear. We’ll be ready for returning to salt water sometime in February.

Palatka is off the winter tourist beat. It’s a quiet piece of old Florida. We walked the historic districts enjoying the huge old homes, some restored to their old splendor, some waiting for their comeback. We’ll do more exploring when we return in January.

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