For a guy who loves maps, charts, and geography, I’ve apparently been pretty dumb about Jacksonville. I had no idea the St. John’s River was so big. I also didn’t realize that it drains Florida clear down to Orlando. My new appreciation of the St. John’s began as we passed Sister’s Creek, heading towards downtown Jacksonville.
Battling both the river current and outgoing tide, we struggled to make four knots. Lola swims faster, and she can’t swim. Stationary channel markers created whitewater and left wakes. When our projected ETA at Ortega Landing jumped by two hours, I pushed Cirila harder. Well. remember that heat exchanger issue? Letting us know she was in no mood to run at 2000 rpm against the St. John’s, Cirila’s high temp alarm sounded.
After dropping back to 1500 rpm, the temp fell below 200 degrees, and the alarm thankfully quit. Crisis averted! Easing back up to that 1750 rpm happy place we’d been running most of the way from Stuart, the temp stayed below 200, and we clawed our way upriver.
The Saint John’s shoreline is surprisingly industrial, all the way to downtown. Picture Newark or Baltimore. Jacksonville’s “port” is really just ten miles of gantry cranes along the north bank, separated occasionally by secret military stuff. In the channel, trainees for the Coast Guard, Fish and Wildlife, and Sheriff Offices were practicing 40 knot U-turns in inflatable gun boats. A sprawling Maxwell House plant explained the intense coffee smell we picked up two miles downriver. We plodded along, our own wake caused more by the tide than our speed, like the channel markers.
We finally rounded the last bend, where downtown Jacksonville sprung into view. If you wondered what the “Cowford” title of this post means, it’s what Jacksonville was called before 1822. The Seminole called the place Wacca Pilatka, meaning cow crossing, because the St. John’s is at its narrowest where the city stands today. Unimaginatively, the British called it Cowford, short for cow ford. When Florida was taken for about the eighth from Spain, who had only just won it back from the British, its first territorial governor was none other than Andrew Jackson. Pandering to the man who saved New Orleans and subdued the natives, locals renamed the cow crossing in his honor. I like Wacca Pilatka better.
The current eased as we cruised through downtown, still hopeful of reaching the marina while deckhands were still at work. Upon our approach, the bascule railroad bridge lowered, and ten minutes later, a train slower than Cirila going up the St. John crossed. To amuse myself, I throttled us just enough to keep us on station in the river. I wondered why railroad bridges take so long to close, thinking this one was in Georgia by the time the bridge went up again.
We called the marina again as we passed under the I95 bridge south of town. Cam, the harbormaster at Ortega Landing, was still waiting for us as we turned out of the channel towards the Ortega River. The water that rushed passed us in the St. John was now gone, and the slack tide left us looking for enough to float us going in. The Ortega River bridge tender told us this was an exceptionally low tide, but not to worry. “The bottom is just soft mud, you can plow right through”. And that we did, cleaning our prop while our keel did most of the steering.
Cam and others helped us tie up in our temporary slip on C-dock. Right across the dock, bow shadowing us in the evening sun, was another Kadey Krogen 42, this one sporting a Cleveland Browns burgee up front. Three slips away, another one, minus the burgee. On B-dock, yet another, along with a 39′. Looks like a good place to lay-up for hurricane season.
We spent the our first week getting to know the surroundings, our boat neighbors and other loopers, plus preparing for a two week road trip up North. We were going on a family visit – to see kids, parents, and siblings, and most importantly, to meet June Helen Brennan, our new granddaughter. The night before hitting the road, we celebrated our 20th Anniversary at the Cowford Chophouse. It was a wonderful dinner and evening – and we even knew why it was called Cowford!