Hi all….Rhonda here bringing you greetings from the beautiful Marina at Ortega Landing in Jacksonville, FL. It’s sunny and 68 degrees here this afternoon, making it a perfect day for boat chores, laundry and catching up on our correspondence.
One of the most frequent question we’re asked is “what has been the best part of the Loop?” I know many are expecting us to respond with an area of the country we really liked, or a stunning anchorage we happened onto one evening, or some touristy spot or activity, but truly it’s the folks we’ve met along the way who are the very best part. It’s also friends who come aboard for a day or two or three to join us in this Loopy adventure.
Last week, our Lafayette friends Marti and Alan cruised with us for a few days. They drove down from Indiana, stopping at National Park sites along the way and meeting us in St. Augustine. We took an interesting trolley tour of the city and learned of its rich history as the longest continually inhabited European-founded (that’s a lot of qualifiers) city in the United States – more commonly called the “Nation’s Oldest City.” Because all of us are National Parks groupies, we toured the Castillo de San Marcos fort (completed in 1695) and got our NPS Passport books stamped. After a late lunch at a nearby restaurant, we headed back to the boat.
Being an avid fisherman, Alan brought his tackle. And I, being a new fisher wannabe, was thrilled to have his encouragement and instruction. We dropped lines off the back of the boat and in very little time Rick, Alan and I had each caught a nice sized catfish that we promptly released. Although we’d spend much time with our lines in the water over the next couple of days, little did we know then that those three fish would be the highlight of our fish-catching experience.
The next day, after a little fog delay, R&R set off for Jacksonville with Rick at the helm and Marti and Alan as his faithful crew. I drove their car around….a one hour trip for me and a six hour trip for them – parts of the AICW are slow going. Late that afternoon we met up in Jacksonville at the Marina at Ortega Landing, settled in and enjoyed a nice dinner at MoJos BBQ joint in Avondale, just a couple of miles from our marina.
Alan and Marti chose to hop aboard for this part of our trip because we were planning a three day cruise of the St. Johns River, which boasts some of the best river fishing in Florida…crappie, bluegill, reds, stripers. What we didn’t know was that our timing was slightly off….the crappie were gone already and the bluegills weren’t on their beds yet…and the rest of the fish were not hungry! We had lots of fun trying, but thankfully our menu did not require a fish fry.
The next three days were for exploring and fishing on the St. Johns River, the longest river in Florida, that flows 310 miles north from its Headwaters at Blue Cypress Lake to its mouth east of Jacksonville. The trip included two nights “on the hook” A bit unnerving for Rick and me who are still anchoring novices, but we found great spots to “drop the hook” and by the end of the trip felt more confident in our skills. We found a nice anchorage along Black Creek and another in Sugarhouse Cove on Doctor’s Lake. We launched the dinghy and fished both areas. There was a good deal of eating, laughing, games, puzzles and even a couple of NCAA final games that we streamed from cellular internet to the TV. Even though Alan only caught a couple of fish, we had fun trying and I was proud to improve my casting skills and use my official Florida fishing license….the first one I’ve ever owned.
One warm day we reserved a spot on the dock at Whitey’s Fish Camp for brunch. It was a hopping venue with many boats coming and going. The Southern-themed food was good and the atmosphere was fun!
Alan and Marti are long-time friends, and two of only a handful of people who have cruised with us more than once. We feel really good about those repeat customers, and enjoy sharing this unique experience with them.
I’ll end with this little rhyme:
There are good ships and there are wood ships and there are ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships and may they ever be!