Florida’s Space Coast is loosely bounded by New Smyrna in the North, and Vero Beach to its South. Some will argue the point. In another 30 years, Florida’s tourism bureau will probably add another dozen coastal names, so any argument is moot. They’re already lobbying for the Surf Coast to be added between the Space Coast and “First Coast” to the north, which would include Daytona. Personally, if anything, I think that should be the Race Coast. These are the important things for Florida’s Legislature to debate instead of making it harder to vote.
What defines the Space Coast is Cape Canaveral, Merritt Island, and the waterways that separate them from each other and the mainland. Ponce De Leon explored the area in 1513. He named the entry inlet “Mosquito Inlet”, and the lagoon stretching South to the cape, “Mosquito Lagoon”. He called the outer barrier island Canaveral, or “Place of Reeds”, and the inner lagoon, “Indian River”, for his welcoming committee. It was an unlikely place for the Fountain of Youth.
Relatively desolate and isolated by the poor navigability of its waters, the Space Coast missed Florida’s development boom – until rockets. It was a good place to launch rockets, especially in the early days, when they blew up a lot. The closer to the equator, the better. Few people and nothing but water to the east made it ideal. Elon Musk bought up Boca Chica, TX for the same reasons. The government built a deepwater port in the 40’s, then started shooting off rockets in the 50’s. Florida’s tourist Bureau renamed the Mosquito inlet to “Ponce” Inlet hoping more people would come, but it was Apollo, Ron Jon’s Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, and I Dream of Jeannie that fueled the boom. The rest is history.
We arrived at the Cocoa Village Marina mid-afternoon after an uneventful cruise up from Vero Beach. The Marina is compact, clean, and convenient to both the town of Cocoa Village and the Intracoastal Waterway. We stayed a couple nights, giving us a chance to explore the town, and watch the Falcon 9 launch scheduled the following day.
We scrapped plans to restock Tee-shirts at Ron Jon’s, as a one way Uber to Cocoa Beach was $30 for the straight, seven mile drive. The bus was only $1.50 but took over an hour each way. Either option was too much for tee shirts! We opted instead to watch the Launch from our dock, then go into town for dinner.
The launch was scheduled for 3:01. We were about ten miles away with a clear view over the waterway in the direction of the cape. My Nikon, telephoto, and tripod were prepped and set up by 2:30. By 2:45, other boaters began to cluster on the dock, then one boat began broadcasting the Nasa feed on their radio. With five minutes to go, I took a few test snaps, checking the autofocus. Then the battery died. I scrambled to grab the other from the pilothouse, and snapped it into place. Click click, back on line. Ten, nine, eight…..
About 3 seconds after liftoff, we could see the sharp tongue of yellow-white flame rise up over Merritt Island. I switched to movie mode to capture the amazing slowness of Falcon’s initial ascent, then its acceleration. The roar reached us 10 seconds later, as the rocket arced into its escape trajectory. It was an awesome sight.
Friends saw the Falcon 9 Heavy crew launch at night a few weeks prior from their anchorage, even closer to the cape. Jim captured breathtaking video of that launch. Unfortunately, I flubbed my entire suite of camera settings, capturing the whole affair in an overexposed mess of pure whiteness. Dawn captured a good video on her phone, but I’ve had difficulty uploading it here.
Later that afternoon, our masked faces were greeted with stares upon entering the George and Dragon Pub. Waiting for our Black $ Tans, a wiry guy at the bar chatted me up as I scanned the humidor cabinet for a cigar to enjoy on the patio. He was sharing enthusiasm for his new place in The Villages, joined soon by his botox inflated wife. I skipped the cigar and joined Dawn on the patio, where a one man band rendered a dismal Jimmy Buffet. Between songs he pandered to the self-proclaimed “Patriots” at the table behind us. We chugged our beers, made a hasty exit, then walked the block to Villa Palma. We thoroughly enjoyed the food and service there and recommend it highly.
We slipped lines at 7:30 the next morning, bound for New Smyrna. It was a lovely cruising day, warm but with a light breeze out of the East, cooling us through the open doors of the pilot house. Passing Titusville, the massive Nasa Assembly Building comes into view, visible as a giant gray brick on the horizon. Its hulk remained in view almost the entire day, finally fading out behind us as we approach New Smyrna.
The journey takes us through the headwaters of the Indian River Lagoon, then East through the Haulover Canal, where we run right over top of a couple large manta rays. Emerging into the Mosquito Lagoon, we resume our northward heading. Small islands separate us from the marshland to the west. To starboard, a couple miles of flat, shallow lagoon separate us from the northern reaches of Canaveral National Seashore and the Atlantic beyond. It is the most remote section of Florida coast we have seen, and other than the few fishing boats chasing speckled trout, and the big gray brick on the horizon behind us, is probably much the same as Ponce De Leon found it a half millennia ago.