After a few days getting the fuel tank cleaned out and waiting out the wet windy weather in Fernandina Beach Marina, we headed back into the Waterway for the passage to St Augustine, and it was a pleasant and uneventful trip most of the way. We chugged along – there was a bit of wind and some yachts managed to make a bit of use of it. We passed Brian and Michelle aboard the Jennie B, whom we had met in Fernandina Beach. They are keen and skilful sailors, and when there isn’t enough wind, they just push their yacht along with the dinghy. The homes along the waterway seemed to grow larger and more luxurious with every mile, but apparently we ‘ain’t seen nothin yet’!
Unfortunately we ran into problems within sight of the St Augustine Municipal mooring field, missing the notorious ‘Red 60’ marker and striking the bottom quite hard. Common Sense was fine – Terry backed her out safely – but I was coming up the companionway steps at the time and landed flat on my back from the impact. Nothing broken, thank goodness, but a sore head and some colourful bruises. A well-padded bum is clearly an asset in these circumstances.
We’re in a mooring field here, where the reasonable price of $20 gets you your mooring, access to bathrooms and the cruisers’ lounge, internet, rubbish disposal, dinghy docking and pump-out. It’s calm and safe, and only a short dinghy ride into the historic downtown section of St Augustine, once a walled city and with a solid claim to be the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in America. The Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed here in 1513 and the town was founded in 1565. One of the things Ponce de Leon was looking for was the Fountain of Youth – he didn’t find it, but it is here, and you can knock back a little paper cup of the nasty sulphurous stuff if you really want to. A 17th century fort, the Castillo de San Marcos, dominates the view of the city from the water.
The town has plenty of ugly history – the death of local Indians from European diseases; the massacre of French Hugenots, a yellow fever epidemic that killed a third of the populace – but it is incredibly beautiful, with lavish Spanish-style architecture and fine gardens. Henry Flagler (Rockefeller’s partner in Standard Oil) was responsible for turning St Augustine into a tourist destination, building two fabulous hotels in the town and also commissioning the railway that effectively joined Florida to the rest of the country. The Hotel Ponce de Leon is now a private college, but it is open for tours (which help to fund the college’s program). It is clearly what you get when a billionaire says, ‘spare no expense!’ – Tiffany glass everywhere, 14 ct gold leaf in the vast murals, mosaics, carvings, terracotta work from Spain… and even new-fangled electric lights! It’s easy to imagine the wealthiest New York socialites in the early years of the 20th century spending the winter season at dinners, balls, playing tennis, flirting and gossiping, or doing deals in the smoking lounge. Now the students of Flagler College get to live and study in what must be one of the most beautiful and extravagant campuses anywhere.
Lots of interesting little shops and specialised museums (the Lightner is terrific), good cafes (we liked the Spanish bakery for empanadas and excellent bread)and some pleasant bars for Terry to add to his beer repertoire, St Augustine was a great place to spend three or four days. And yes, it’s getting warmer as we work our way down the latitudes!