St. John's River - The Return Trip

Travelogue - April 5, 2013
"If I could have, to hold forever, one brief place of time and beauty, I think I might choose the night on the high lonely bank above the St. Johns River."

- Cross Creek, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1942

Hontoon Island State Park

Still Wednesday, March 20, where we left us in the previous 'logue.

River mile 139: Hontoon Island State Park, our final destination. Although the river continues southward another 160+ miles - a fair stretch of it navigable to a boat of Sea Gator's draft - this was our goal.

The Park is a wooded island in this very quiet and serene stretch of the St. John's river. It's accessible only by boat and many people come across on the Park's ferry lugging their fishing gear, picnic baskets, and hiking boots. There was always activity at the docks.

Tie a Belt Around Your Peduncle

One day we saw a bizarre float bobbing near the water hyacinths. It gradually caught our attention because it didn't seem to be drifting with the current. It moved erratically, and several of us gathered around to speculate. When it headed our direction I had an X-Files moment, but when it came to idle directly beneath us the fellow next to me exclaimed "It's a manatee! He's a big'un!"

The water was dark with tanins so nobody else saw it, but sure enough it was a manatee tagged with a GPS tracking unit. One wonders: How do you tag a manatee?

...Manatee tags are attached with a "peduncle belt" and a "nylon tether." The belt goes around the manatee just in front of its tail, in an area called its "peduncle", and the tether is a stiff nylon rod (about 10 mm in diameter and 130 to 200 cm long) that connects the belt to the tag. Each tether has a "weak link" built into it, which will break and allow the manatee to swim free if the tether or tag ever become snagged on something such as a dock, a boat, thick vegetation, or even a hungry alligator!
- Journey North Manatees and Protecting Our Water

Life on Hontoon Island

We've noticed that boaters often tend to segregate themselves: sailboaters flock together, fast power boaters have much in common, and we trawler folk are in the minority but we get along. We met some nice folks, but we spent most of our time aboard Working and tending Goldie.

So we heard more of our neighbors than we saw of them. One afternoon the fast boaters held an impromptu happy hour for everyone. As the evening wore on their conversation grew louder and louder, so we got to hear our neighbor tell and re-tell the story of the tagged manatee. Each time he told it the manatee got bigger and bigger. Pretty soon he was "almost as long as that slip there, I ain't kiddin'!"

Fortunately, the peduncle belts are not constricting, so however big the manatee eventually becomes he should be OK.

Rick finally took a couple hours for himself, away from me and Goldie, and went for a long hike along the island's many trails. He came back smiling and reported that the trails were excellent. I promised I'd go with him next time.

Goldie Decides She's Had Enough

Before sunrise we bundled Goldie into her travel hutch and she, Rick, Bump Head and I dinghied across the river. From the Park's ferry dock we watched the sun rise over the water, right, while we waited for our ride. Fifteen minutes later a car pulled up and a young man waved. Rick began to load our gear into the backseat.

I leaned in the door and asked "Are you Enterprise?"

The driver looked startled and then shook his head. "Nope, I'm just some random guy. Get in." Then he cracked up. Hah! Those Enterprise guys!

Random Guy drove us to the rental car lot in nearby DeLand and then Rick piloted us, yet again, to Gainesville. This time we took the "scenic route" through the Ocala National Forest. It wasn't a forest like we're accustomed to in the west - it was flat land, dense with scrub so you couldn't get a sense of its scale - but it was very nice in its way. There was a great deal of traffic on a weekday, mostly day fishing boats.

Goldie's team at UF's Small Animal Hospital pronounced her "cured" of her infection (which she'd contracted during their procedure) and prescribed the protocols we could now follow to resurrect her from the ravages of her IBD. They checked her dressings and gently wrapped pink gauze around her little shaved neck. My heart softened when they each cuddled her, murmuring sweet words in her ears, before letting her go. Goldie has that effect on people.

On the way home we stopped at several pet stores where we loaded up on a new Mr. Scratchee and some litter and everything else Goldie would need for Sea Gator's long journey home.

At a crossroads we came upon... well... it's hard to describe. These three photos only show a small part of the enterprise. But if you've ever wondered where to get a life-sized giraffe for your yard, you will find it in Barberville. FYI: a life-sized fiberglass stallion costs $2,850.

By the time we pulled in to the Park's ferry landing it was nearly 6:00 pm. I lugged our purchases to the dock while Rick got Bump Head ready to go.

A few minutes later the ferry glided across the river and came to the landing: they'd seen us from the office across the river and came to pick us up. Never mind that they thought we were the camping group they'd been waiting for - it was still extremely nice of them.

Goldie and I rode the ferry across while Rick brought Bump Head and all our stuff. We settled in again for a good night's rest.

In the morning I heard the dockside coffee klatch exclaim "Look at that animal! It has a brace around its neck..."

Before I could mosey up to the sundeck to see what was going on the realization hit me: Goldie, who had never willingly left Sea Gator in all her eight winters aboard, had jumped ship.

Rick went to collect her from the concerned group and one of them trailed along to Sea Gator. Misty eyed, the man told us he still mourned the loss of his favorite cat. I imagine that seeing Goldie so frail brought back painful memories for him. No animal lover could look in her eyes and not know that she was an ill little creature.

We brought her aboard, tucked her in her blankets in the sunshine, and kept hope alive.

The Springs

The St. John's River basin covers an area of 8,840 square miles:

Springs are an important component of the basin's water resources, with an estimated 30 or more springs present. The most notable spring-fed river in the Middle St. Johns Basin is the Wekiva River, which starts as a discharge from Wekiwa Springs and enters the St. Johns just north of Lake Monroe.

Alexander Springs, Silver Glen Springs, and Blue Spring are classified as first-magnitude springs, which have an average flow of 100 cubic feet per second or greater. Croaker Hole Spring, in the bed of Little Lake George in the St. Johns River, provides a thermal refuge for striped bass. Other springs along the St. Johns provide warm water refuges for manatees during the winter...

Why, just last week the Blue Spring State Park blogsite stated that they had counted 134 manatees in the clear blue waters of the run!

Rick was eager to experience the springs, and he was really excited about the opportunity to observe manatees in clear water. So we ferried our folding bikes across the river, stuffed them in the trunk of our rental car, drove to DeLand to return the car, then assembled our bikes on the sidewalk. Just as it started to rain. That's when we noticed that my back tire was flat. Of course it had to be the back.

OK, quick detour to the gas station across the street to temporarily fluff up the tire. Quick search for "bike shop" using the apps on my iPhone and a speed ride to what proved to be a Harley shop. Oops. Another quick iPhone search and a couple miles in the rain brought us to a biCYCLE shop on the last whiff of air in the tire.

The folks at JC's Bikes & Boards were very friendly and helpful. They sold us an inner tube and installed it while we browsed the amazing road bikes they had in stock. Most of them were lighter than my purse.

The rain stopped just as my bike was ready to go and we were off.

Deland appears to be a nice town. They have a very pretty and pedestrian-friendly downtown, and the beautiful Stetson University campus (our sister-in-law Tanis' alma mater) is right there on the main street, warranting its own "University Historic District" signage. As soon as the sun came out so did all the people, and everyone strolled the sidewalks and it was a lovely day with temperatures warming and comfortable.

Spring-to-Spring Trail

We worked our way south and west from town to Lake Beresford Park, where we turned onto the local portion of the Spring to Spring Trail, right:

When completed the Spring-to-Spring Trail will stretch 26 miles from Gemini Springs Park to DeLeon Springs State Park. It is being designed to accommodate walkers, joggers, inline skaters, bicyclists and people with disabilities. To date, Volusia County has completed several segments of the trail totalling nearly 15 miles.

Awesome! It was a great ride. Although it parallels the ruler-straight CXS railroad tracks the trail winds through the forest. It sweeps through the woods, arcs over shallow hills, rattles over bridged creeks. The pavement is about ten feet wide so you can really let fly.

Too soon, we emerged at the entrance to Blue Spring State Park.

Blue Spring

The spring emerges from the ground in a large pool of clear water, below right. While the water is a light blue-green around the edges of the pool, it becomes darker toward the center until suddenly the bottom drops into a deep, deep blue hole. It is mysterious and compelling, like staring into deep space.

Blue Spring is the largest spring on the St. Johns River and discharges a historical average of 165 million gallons per day. The spring pool is circular, with a notable boil in the center and steep sandy banks that rise approximately 15 to 20 feet above water level. The spring run flows about 1,050 feet to the St. Johns River through a dense hardwood and palm forest, with picturesque live oak trees leaning over the run.

The cave is a vertical shaft that angles into a room at a depth of 80 to 90 feet, but at 120 to 125 feet, the cave constricts and creates a strong flow, preventing further safe diver access...

In 1971, Jacques Cousteau's The Forgotten Mermaids was filmed here. The documentary brought attention to the manatee and the importance of the abused Blue Spring, greatly influencing the state's decision to purchase the land.

The State stabilized and revegetated the spring's eroded banks and created access points for visitors - now folks can view the spring and its entire "run" (the outflow from spring to its confluence with the river) without breaking down the banks. The spring is popular for snorkeling, scuba/cave diving, and floating the run on inner tubes (just watch out for gators near the river).

Cousteau's grandson Phillipe returned to the Springs recently to film Living on Earth, above left. The episode reviewed the latest threat to the manatees: decreased quantity and quality of the water, stemming from unregulated population growth in the basin.

We were only visiting, and we are careful to conserve water. Nevertheless we slunk around feeling vaguely guilty.

Several people swam to the hole in dive gear, preparing to explore the depths of the spring. The very thought made us claustrophobic. We headed down the trail, following the run, in search of manatees.

We joined the many folks taking in the scenic spring, right, and the run, left.

It looked like fun to be in the water: you can rent an inner tube at the park concession stand, follow the trail upstream to a nice flight of stairs that takes you to the edge of the stream, plop down on your inner tube and float downstream to the next set of stairs. Then do it again. It would be excellent on a hot day, especially considering the water is consistently 72-degrees, year-round.

We gaped at an enormous alligator basking on a sunny bank - fortunately a good 50 yards downstream of the inner-tube egress point (it just seemed like less).

In 1856, gold rush prospector turned orange-grower Louis Thursby purchased Blue Spring. Thursby's Blue Spring Landing was a hotbed of steamboat activity, shipping tourists and goods to Jacksonville and beyond. Mrs. Thursby was Orange City's first postmistress...

We visited the original Thursby home, right, on a midden-mound overlooking the river and the old riverboat landing site. It was fun to speculate about what it would have been like to arrive here by steamship; to step on to the dock for the first time either as a visitor or a homesteader...

In the years following the Civil War, the North was awakened to the possibilities for relaxation and profit in semi-tropical Florida. Sightseers and would-be settlers came by railroad and ship to Jacksonville, the center of the tourist trade. Many boarded paddle-wheeled steamboats and journeyed up the St. John's. Some entrepreneurs, seeking a future in citrus, got off at Blue Spring and traveled two miles to the new settlement of Orange City.

Before railroads penetrated the peninsula, river steamboats were the only practical means of transportation. A shallow draft and flat bottom enabled the steamers to navigate over shifting sand bars and fallen trees. By 1882, many of Florida's cities were connected by railroads, and the heyday of the river steamboats ended.

Here is "a fossil from the steamboat age", the paddlewheel shaft from the sidewheeler Fannie Dugan, below left. The steamboat was eventually abandoned (!!!) in a nearby creek.

We devoured an extremely delicious sandwich at the snack bar and rested with cool drinks in the shade. Despite the sudden and nearly overwhelming temptation to tip or rock a vending machine - heavens, where did that urge come from? - we were deterred by this sign, right. Thank goodness.

But... where were the 134 manatees? For that matter, where was even ONE manatee?

Well, it turns out that the warming trend which we'd enjoyed so much for the last couple of days was enough to inspire all the manatees to LEAVE the run and head into the river. The dark, turbid and bottomless river. Where we'd never see them.


Nevertheless, we had a wonderful visit to the park and a really excellent ride back to the Hontoon Island State Park ferry landing. On the way we stopped at the restored, historic DeLand Railroad Station, below right. It was wonderful, and just looking at the posted schedules made my mind wander...

What with the extra distance from town, the flat tire and a couple of wrong turns, it was a 27-mile-ride day (although, much like the tagged manatee at the Park dock, the bike ride gets longer and longer each time I tell it).

That works out to about 1.5 bags of M&Ms.

Back on the Island: Young Boat(ers) and Old (Boats)

We took our bikes back "home" on Hontoon Island's park ferry, right.

We were on a roll, so we checked in with Goldie and then Rick showed me the excellent Island trails.

The trails meander through scrub...

...and woods.

One of the trails leads to this grand-daddy of a live oak tree, right.

The highest point is a drastic 20' elevation gain to the top of the island's prehistoric midden mound.

It was a really excellent place to walk or to ride, you could go for miles and miles and each new turn was picturesque.

Other Boats

Meanwhile, Stetson University's Sculling and Sweep Rowing teams practiced in the calm waters of the River just off Sea Gator's port side, right.

They were FAST.

In other news, Rick had been disappointed that we couldn't spend more time with the wooden boats in Welaka. However we had been hearing about an antique boat rally that would be held in Mount Dora the coming week:

St. John's South-Bound River Cruise is hosted annually by the Antique and Classic Boat Society. The cruise runs from Jacksonville to Sanford, FL, arriving in Lake Monroe in time for the Classic Race Boat Association (CRA) annual show, followed by The Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival...

Rick kept an eye out, and sure enough one day a parade of wooden boats motored past, left. They were spread out over several miles, and one of them pulled in to Hontoon Island docks so the captain and passengers could make a mad dash to the restroom.

Rick strolled over for a closer look, right, and a chat with the owner:

When I asked the captain the make and year of his boat, I expected a date in the 30's or 40's by its look. I learned the boat is a Gar Wood and it was built in 1991 but the model has been in production since 1936. The boat is powered by twin V-8s so it will really move in open water.

Silver Glen Springs

It was cold. Again. We stayed an extra couple of days to receive an express mail package of medicine for Goldie (sent c/o the Park office, they were so nice) and then we were ready to begin our downriver journey.

Wednesday, March 27. We were glad to be on the move, and heading for yet another scenic wonder of the St. John's River basin: the famous Silver Glen Springs.

Everyone talks about Silver Glen Springs as THE place to go. Its run empties into Lake George, about a third of the way north along the Lake's western shore. There seems to always be someone trying to get a large cruising-sized boat in there, and getting stuck. No thanks. We would anchor Sea Gator in the Lake and take Bump Head up the run.

We edged toward shore and anchored in 7', donned long pants and layered shirts and slick windbreakers, splashed Bump Head and motored in.

WOW! Still a quarter-mile out from shore, and the brown lake water began to pale and was suddenly blue! The water grew clearer and more lovely as we motored up the run until we were able to count fish (and beer cans).

The banks were heavily wooded in their natural state for the most part. Notably, the area was the setting for Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' 1938 novel The Yearling.

We soon arrived at the floats around the spring itself and beached Bump Head on the northern bank.

Because the spring is so popular it can be extremely crowded. But on a chilly weekday there were only a few dozen folk anywhere to be seen.

We wandered up to the park entrance and paid the miniscule fee, then strolled around the Spring itself, above right. The water was a beautiful, crystalline clear blue, and the pool's shallow banks opened into a wide sunny glade.

There were divets in the bottom of the pool, left - perfect circles of sand whirled out of the streambed, clearly visible as pale areas among the dark green foliage. And a single fish in or near each one! What gives?

The largemouth [bass] need water of 2 to 6 feet deep with firm sand, mud or gravel to spawn. As water temperatures near 60 degrees (between late April and early June) bass migrate from deep water... the male fans out a dish-shaped nest with its tail.

As the water warms the female will lay from 2,000 to 7,000 eggs per pound of body weight. The male then fertilizes the eggs. After spawning, the female moves off into deep water and does not feed for a couple of weeks.

The male guards the nest until the eggs hatch and mature into a swarm of black fry. During this time, the male strikes savagely at intruding fish (or lures) but does not eat. It may even carry intruders and objects from the nest but then ejects them. When the fry reach an inch in length, they leave the nest. Then the male resumes feeding and in fact may eat any young bass he encounters...

Well, everybody knows that the St. John's is "The Bass Fishing Capitol of the World." But other than that, everything else I thought I knew about bass I learned from SNL.

But wait, there's more! A trail sign pointed the way to the so-called "Sand Boils." OK! The path wound through the woods, arriving eventually at a little backwater where a series of depressions in the stream bed erupted in boiling, roiling sand (below left).

There was no stench of sulfer nor any bubbles, clearly no air was coming out, but water was continually rising through seeps in the bottom of the watercourse and the fine sand billowed in the vortex then settled around to the edges, only to slide into the bottomless hole and whirl upward again. It was like watching miniature thunderheads build and recede, as mesmerizing as staring into a fire or a front-loading washing machine.

The more I looked at it the more I wanted to put my hand in and feel the silky grains sliding over my wrist.

Laying down on the bridge I leaned under the guardrail. Rick said "You're not supposed to do that. And you'll never reach it, it's too low."

The boyscout was right: civilians are prohibited from interacting with the sandboils. But since I hadn't tipped or rocked any vending machines lately I had the rare urge to scofflaw. "Pshaw", I said, "hang onto my legs..." and I scooted forward off the edge and leaned down...

A flash of color flew in front of my eyes. What? I experienced one blissful moment of ignorance before I realized that my phone had slid out of my jacket pocket, to instantly disappear into the whirling vortex and water and sand.

After a moment of horrified shock I grabbed a stick and crawled forward to hang off the bridge again. Rick held on as best he could, and he yelped when the pocket ripped out of my (favorite vintage 501) jeans leaving him holding a scrap of denim and me sliding off the bridge - in hindsight I guess I should have tied a belt around my peduncle. The stick method was no good, of course. But now I was mad.

Off came the torn jeans, jacket and sweatshirt, shoes and socks, and I rolled under the guardrail - barely clearing the "Closed Area Do Not Enter" sign conspicuously placed there - and splashed into the water below. I plunged my arm down inside the boil (why yes, the sand was silky and quite pleasant) and on the third attempt, submerged nearly to my shoulder, my fingers brushed something solid and a moment later I emerged covered in wet, sugar-fine sand, triumphantly holding my drowned phone in its impact-resistant but not waterproof Otterbox cover.

My triumph was dimmed when I confessed to Rick that I hadn't quite yet in fact actually gotten around to exactly, one would say, downloading the 600+ photos I'd taken with the phone - all the pictures of this season's cruise. Despite being repeatedly asked to do so by my long-suffering spouse.

We returned to Bump Head, Rick conspicuously silent and me ever-so-solicitous and not even complaining about being soaking wet and covered with (very nice) sand. Would you like some lunch, honey? May as well head back home, right? Um, right?

On the dinghy ride down the run we saw - YES! - a manatee! In the crystal clear water, he was lazily meandering upstream, poking at a plant here and there, lifting his elephantine snout to breath now and then. Wonderful, hulking creature, graceful and serene in his element. Rick cut Bump Head's engine and we floated silently with the manatee until the current drew us away. The moment was marred only by its bad timing as we were unable to memorialize the moment in pictures.

Back home on Sea Gator. Rick, having progressed with admirable rapidity to the sighing-and-shaking-his-head stage, went online and learned how to dismember an iPhone. Which you're not supposed to do, of course, but soon we had it down to its component parts and drying on a paper towel, right. Only time would tell whether it would come back to life...

Salt Spring State Park

Still Wednesday, March 27. We hoisted Bump Head and raised Sea Gator's anchor, then motored easily down Lake George to anchor near the mouth of Salt Creek.

Thursday, March 28. Bright and early, we packed our jackets and the good ol' standby digital camera and motored Bump Head in to Salt Creek.

It was wonderful! Certainly Silver Glen Springs has the fame and glamour and instant accessibility from the Lake. However, Salt Spring has a five-mile long, meandering, wooded and beautiful Run as its introduction, right. Each bend and turn revealed a lovelier vista than the last and we could easily imagine being the first people to ever glide over its surface. It was the loveliest place we had seen to-date and would be worth a return trip with a kayak...

We arrived at the Spring area, beached Bump Head near the boat ramp and began searching for Fran and Phil. We had agreed to meet them "at the boat ramp near the picnic area" (assuming that surely both would exist in the Park). While we were gawking landward, Fran and Phil were standing on the opposite shore of the Spring at a boat ramp conveniently located near a picnic area, yelling and waving across at us. Finally they gave up and drove the long way around to where Rick was at that very moment reminding me that if only I had a phone I could call Fran...

The four of us enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch and wide-ranging conversation, all with the beautiful Springs in the background. We vowed to get together in Wyoming this summer, and soon they drove back to Ocala.

We dinghyed back down the incredibly beautiful run, came home to Sea Gator and Goldie and brought Bump Head aboard.

An hour or so later we pulled in to the Welaka city free dock for the night. And for a belated birthday celebration.

Palms Cafe Bleuu

Rick's birthday had already passed without fanfare as we were saving our "night out" for a place that actually had a place to go out to at night. Rick had heard excellent reviews of Welaka's Palms Cafe Bleuu so we donned our cruising best, stepped off the dock and strolled across the adjacent lawn to the Palms Cafe Bleuu, below.

You HAVE to go there - make a special trip to Florida if you have to, but go. It was my first experience with the sort of place where, if you were a local, you wouldn't even read the menu; you'd just say "Surprise me" and you would get something wonderful every time.

In that spirit, although the menu was intriguing, Rick and I were savvy enough to order the specials. Good choice: everything was unique, homemade and absolutely wonderful, right down to the salad dressings.

The restaurant is run by a husband and wife: chef Bleuu (from Poland) and Roxie (from New York). Roxie and her brother befriended us instantly. It was nice to be treated as other than strangers. From across the room and in a voice like Harvey Fierstein's Roxie wanted to know why I didn't want any wine; and we learned about her brother's annual visits from New York to offer his free labor in the cafe just so he can eat his sister's and her husband's cooking.

Rick declared it was his favorite birthday dinner EVER. And since he's had quite a few, that is saying a lot.

Oklawaha River

Friday, March 29, with Sea Gator and Goldie content to doze in the sun at the Welaka dock Rick and I lowered Bump Head and went on safari.

About a half-mile south of Welaka is the mouth of the Ocklawaha River. It's 74 water-miles to the river's source in Lake Griffin but we only had time to experience a small part of it:

...The lower part of the Ocklawaha River is as it was hundreds of years ago in its pristine natural beauty, totally unmarred by restaurants, marinas, gas pumps or waterfront homes. The natural landscapes are mostly hydric hammocks and flatwoods, with scrub pine ridges and sugar sand banks... The Ocala National Forest on the southern banks and the Caravelle Ranch Wildlife Management Area (SJRWMD) on the northern banks border the shores.

This was the main tourism attraction in Florida for over 50 years during the 19th century [narrow steamboats carried visitors up the river to Silver Springs - where the Tarzan movies were later filmed].

This is the largest of the St. Johns River’s tributaries...The Ocklawaha is teaming with wildlife including alligators, snakes, and hornets...
- Putnam County Blueways

The River was narrow and winding between thickly overgrown banks of ferns; overhanging trees trailed vines into the water and dripped blossoms through the dappled shade; birds flitted silently overhead, and a light breeze rustled the branches. We rounded a sharp corner defined by water hyacinths (an invasive, but beautiful) and turtles ducked beneath the floating leaves, above right.

After several miles we left the main river to pursue the first significant side channel (it's named on the chart but I can't recall it at the moment, sorry) heading even deeper into the heart of darkness, right and above left. We wended beneath a canopy of trees until this sidestream became so narrow Rick grew concerned about Bump Head. Drifting downstream on the return trip he spied the largest gator we'd ever seen, just resting on the banks, and looking completely at home in the Pleistocene.

Heads reeling from the time warp, we returned to Sea Gator in time for a lunch of mastadon... er, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Still Friday, March 29; after lunch we fired up Sea Gator and continued downriver. We wove through the gentle twists and turns of the St. Johns' and waved at Palatka as we went past. There the river widened, and we edged over to her eastern shores to anchor for the night in the shelter of Federal Point.

Blackfoot Point

Saturday, March 30. It's not really called that, but this little semi-sheltered anchorage near Green Cove Springs is a mere 150' from the land-base dock of Blackfoot's Pam and Frank. "Yoo hoo!" We anchored Sea Gator, fed and med and cuddled Goldie, then took Bump Head ashore. Pam and Frank met us at the dock, right, and it was great to see them again. We all piled into their cars and went to lunch, Rick's treat.

In the days prior to our visit Pam's and my email exchanges had become increasingly confused so we finalized our plans over lunch: Pam and Frank would continue their home improvement projects and Rick and I would head into the vastness of Jacksonville. Because by this time my iPhone had proved it was indeed drowned and had no intention of coming back to life. Pam, the trusting soul, handed Rick the keys to her new car.

Fortunately there is nothing interesting to report about our drive through the megalopolis of Jacksonville. We found our way to the Console Doctor and submitted the iPhone to their mercy, complete with its entire tale of woe - which, judging by their expressions, they'd heard before. They tried putting in a new battery, which didn't work. Then they hooked it up to their computer and the phone's screen still didn't respond but the phone asked the computer "Do you want to download...?" and the Console-Doctor-guy unhesitatingly clicked YES.

All 600+ photos downloaded to his machine and then straight onto a CD. Hallelujiah! THANK YOU CONSOLE DOCTOR!!

With our new spare battery and priceless CD of photos we returned to Green Cove Springs' nearest Verizon store for a new iPhone. Which I hope to never ever drop in water again, amen.

Back at the house I immediately dinghied out to Sea Gator to sing a round of Wimoweh to Goldie, then joined Rick and Pam and Frank on their deck overlooking the river.

The next day - Easter morning - we joined them for breakfast and the Easter Bunny had come! Rick and I would enjoy chocolate eggs and jellybeans for the next few days thanks to our thoughtful friends.

Green Cove Springs to Pine Island Anchorage

Sunday, March 31. Munching our jellybeans we waved goodbye to Pam and Frank, weighed anchor, and continued our course downriver.

We had intended to stop over at Jacksonville Landings again for the night but then we wondered, why? when we had several hours of daylight left. So we motored non-stop beneath the many bridges and tall buildings of downtown Jacksonville (right)...

...Past EverBank Field, the Jaguars football stadium (I don't follow the team but I love their motto)...

...Past the commercial ports and vast storehouses...

Until we once again joined the ICW. We pointed Sea Gator's bow south.

We only had one exciting moment during that day's cruise, and that happened when a sailboat we were following at a respectful distance got hung up in an eddy just upstream of some very massive concrete bridge abutments. They came to a halt for no visible reason and before we knew it Sea Gator found herself drawn into the backwash (sorry for the nautical terminology). Rick floored it (again, sorry) and got us out of there just in time, and the sailboat finally made it through.

With about 15 minutes of daylight left we slid behind half-dozen other boats and set our anchor in the quiet Pine Island anchorage, right.

Rick stood on the bow to watch a beautiful sunset over the marshes. He appeared just as I imagine Commander Lord Nelson once stood on his quarterdeck: secure, proud and contemplative - like a man with a good ship under him and a good day's sailing behind him.

St. Augustine. Again.

Monday, April 1, we were definitely going against the grain on our south-bound journey. Flotillas passed us, sailors and trawler-folk all heading north after a winter in the Keys or the Bahamas.

Sea Gator is an independent soul and doesn't much care what other boats do. We waved at the north-bound traffic and continued our leisurely cruise to St. Augustine. Once again we snagged a city mooring south of the Bridge of Lions, right.

Tuesday, April 2. Goldie started throwing up her dinner. Again. After a sleepless night I left a message for An. I told him that Goldie had shown little to no improvement since her visit to the Small Animal Hospital in Gainesville. It had been over a week; she was suffering; how long did she have to wait until the new meds helped her and is there anything else we could do for her? An called back within the hour to tell us, gently, what we already knew in our hearts: "Goldie should be feeling better by now. If she's not, then it's not IBD..."

An said, "You have to make a decision now..."

We already had.

As a courtesy we called Dr. Duffy at Gainesville. She immediately said, "Yes, Dr. Nguyen and I spoke. We can start a course of chemotherapy right away..."

I interrupted "Will that make Goldie feel good?" It was a rhetorical question but she answered "Well, no" - which we already knew. Dr. Duffy sounded very sad - she had come to love Goldie and to be fond of us, but she eventually agreed that our decision was the right one. Which we already knew.


Wednesday, April 3. In keeping with the kindness that marked everything An had done for Goldie, he came out to Sea Gator on the marina's launch. Rick met the launch on Sea Gator's sidedecks with a heavy heart and, judging by the expressions on faces of the captain and passengers they, too, knew why An had come.

We joined Goldie in her swath of sunlight on the aft deck and Rick stroked her soft fur, telling her what a good girl she is and how much he loved her. Then I wrapped Goldie in my teeshirt and pressed my lips to her ear, crooning a song of her favorite things: "Goldie, Goldie, sweet Goldie, running in the grass, eating mice, playing with papers, sleeping in the sunshine, helping in the garden. Everybody loves Goldie... eating tuna, grooming by the fire, watching the fish, hearing the birds, resting in the shade..." and tears and snot matted her lovely fur.

She passed gently, with Rick in her sight and my voice in her ear.

Afterwards we just wanted to leave and head home but, as I wailed to An, how would Goldie find us? How would she find her way home? We decided to stay for several more days until we could take her ashes with us. Sea Gator wouldn't leave without Goldie.

Ayla's Acres

We asked An which local charity could benefit from Goldie's vast collection of food, medicine, toys, beds, litter and supplies. He told us he donates his time to Ayla's Acres, a no-kill animal sanctuary, and he hooked us up with its director, Fran.

As it turns out, Fran lives in a lovely historic house fronting the Bay. She and a neighbor walked down to the marina and met us as we dingyed to the dock. She called a hello and I responded "How did you know it was us?" She laughed - Bump Head was loaded to the gunwales with cat supplies.

The four of us carted the stuff to her home and she graciously gave us a tour. The house was built in the mid-1800s and Flagler's attorney lived there. Much of its woodwork is several centuries old and was imported for the house from France. It was a lovely distraction.

We found many other distractions in St. Augustine. Which we'll describe next time, thanks for your patience.

Take care, everyone.

- Pat and Rick

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