(28⁰24.474′ N by 080⁰40.673 W - Mile 2988.20 - Stuart, Florida)
When most people think of the Intracoastal Waterway they think of Florida’s ribbon of protected water on the eastern shoreline. Florida boasts the greatest length of protected coastal shoreline access of any state on the Eastern Seaboard. It stretches from Fernandina Beach just south of the Georgia state line to Key West in the Florida Keys a distance of 572 miles.
Don’t be fooled in thinking that is Florida’s only protected waterway though. The western shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico has another 406 miles stretching from Key West to Apalachicola on the Florida Panhandle.
This does not even count the St. Lucie/Okeechobee Waterway system that runs from Fort Meyers on the Gulf side to Stuart/Port St. Lucie on the Atlantic coast or the fresh water access provided to the inner state by the St. Johns River. Certainly count the Sun, the Surf and Florida’s Waterways as the things that attract tourists and residents to the Sunshine State.
Most people, when they think of Florida will inevitably also imagine a picture of unprecedented develop with new homes, shopping malls and high rise buildings and that would be an accurate picture. But, we were about to stop in St. Augustine a town know for some of the oldest history in North America with many of the original structures still standing in place.
St. Augustine was founded in 1565 as a Spanish military outpost. It is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States. Traces of the city’s Spanish heritage are everywhere and the Spanish Quarter where the conquistadors strolled has been recreated for the 21st century visitor and we were keen to take in its charm.
Before getting to the old-town, we walked from the boat along King Street to the downtown district to Flagler College which occupies Henry Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel, built in 1888. Henry Flagler is honored in many places in Florida (primarily on the East Coast) since he was the business man who built the ribbon of steel which carried the railroad from the northern border of Florida all the way to Key West opening up the state for commerce and tourism in the late 1800’s. You will find a street named after Flagler in nearly every city and town in Florida.
Across the street from Flagler College is the Alcazar Hotel (also built by Flagler in 1887) which has been carefully restored to its original condition and now houses the Lightner Museum. Nearby, the Casa Monica Hotel houses an upscale restaurant and bar and the city offices are located within the court yards of these two structures.
From here, we walked down the narrow streets which were lined by homes that were built as early as the 1600 and 1700’s. We took a tour of a small local hotel which was operated by a single woman and her staff. The tour guide told us that at the time, St. Augustine although prosperous and was protected by a military garrison was under attack by the local Indian population. Consequently, most stayed within its walls for security and protection.
After lunch, we went to the local tourist district, San Augustin Aquino which has been recreated to depict Spanish colonial life. Of course, being America, all of today’s tourist attractions are there (Starbuck’s, Ice Cream, Taffy, Tee-Shirts etc.) but, the buildings and the interpretation of life in the 16th century is accurately depicted.
From here it is just a short walk past the ramparts of a fortified city and on to the battlements and dungeons of the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. This fort has been maintained in as close to original state as possible today.
On November 4th, we left St. Augustine promising that we would return to this city to explore it once again. Our objective now was to travel south on the ICW to Palm Coast and New Smyrna Beach to reach Harbortown Marina on Merritt Island near Port Canaveral which is just south of the Space Shuttle launch sight.
Over the next three days we slowly worked our way down the ICW watching the scenery change from deciduous trees to palms, from mangrove to sandy banks and to see dolphins and manatees for the first time. For the most part, we were also required to go slowly to not only protect the manatees and ourselves from prop strikes but to protect the boats and the shoreline that were on either side of the ICW.
We arrived in Harbortown Marina on the afternoon of November 6th to park down the dock from Dealers Choice, the first time these boats had parked close together in a year. Although Brian was not at the marina, he had given us the name of some local skilled tradesmen who could conduct some engine tests and repairs as well as cabinetry repairs
that we were anxious to take care of before leaving for Bahamas in the New Year.
Six days later, repairs and maintenance completed for now, we headed south to Stuart, Florida with a stop overnight in Fort Pierce.
Stuart would be our home for the next five weeks. This is Prime Time V’s original winter home port and the place I first discovered the boat in the fall of 2006. When we bought the boat in 2007 it became our winter home port as well (part of the deal) for four months.
I felt comfortable here since we knew where most of the needed marine supplies could be purchased and that the local shopping allowed us to provision with the staples we would need when we crossed to Bahamas. It was also a good place to finish some key maintenance to the diesels as well as to install a water maker, something we considered essential for longer term cruising in the islands.
For Melanie Bear, this was a good time to stop as well. Not only for repairs and supplies but, as an easy access point to the Palm Beach Airport. After all, they had to get home for the arrival of their first grandchild.