The year was 1971. I was twelve years old. My youngest sister, Lisa, was seven. My two older sisters, Wanda and Gail, were married and already away from home. We had moved to Panama City Beach, Florida, for a few months. My mother and father divorced when I was ten, and what had been a pretty predictable and secure life melted into one of frequent moves and insecurity. Why am I prompted to recall these things, today? Smell. As we rounded the bend in the St. Mary’s River and neared Fernandina Harbor Marina, I was transported back to 1971 by the sulfuric odors of a paper mill, one of two in Fernandina Beach, which stands to the south of the City. That same odor from a nearby mill accompanied my daily walks to and from my seventh grade school. The sense of smell is a wonderful thing which is capable of transporting us back in time when a familiar smell is sensed.
Yesterday, May 13th, we left St. Augustine to continue moving northward. The day before we had a leisurely day in the city. We read. We caught up on our two TV shows we watch (Idol and Dancing). We browsed through art galleries. We shopped. We had a nice meal at the Columbia Restaurant. And, we retired somewhat early for the rather long journey up the ICW we had planned for yesterday.
We released the lines to the mooring ball at 6:10 and passed through the raised decks of the Bridge of Lions shortly thereafter. The day was magnificent with a light easterly wind and hardly a cloud in the sky. Temperatures were in the low-eighties. We faced an equal number of bridges today as we did on our previous big-bridge day, but with far less anxiety. Most of our 65’ vertical clearance fixed bridges had 68’+ of clearance. The tides were with us all day. Depending on the current, we averaged anywhere from 5 knots to 7.8 knots. That is one thing that has surprised me as we make our way up the ICW now – there is a significant current which impacts the ship whether at anchor, mooring, or underway. But, neither the bridges nor the current were actually cause for much concern. Of only slight concern, were the multiple areas of shoaling along the ICW. We use Active Captain, along with our chart plotter as we travel. I find it very helpful when anticipating shoals. Generally, if we stay on the outside of the bend along the ICW, all will be fine. But, the waterway can shallow up unexpectedly. Alas, we did not run aground and arrived safely in Fernandina Beach in mid-afternoon. The 53.4 nautical mile trip took right at nine hours. By 3:15, we had picked up the mooring ball in St. Mary’s River just in front of the marina and prepared to head ashore.
My first impressions of Fernandina Beach were favorable. The marina is nice with a clean and comfortable captain’s lounge in which to relax. Wifi, while not the greatest we’ve had, is adequate and can be picked up from the mooring field (as in St. Augustine). The town, one of Florida’s northernmost cities, is quaint and lovely. It sits on Amelia Island, also called the “Isle of 8 Flags,” since it has had eight different national flags which have flow over the area. Most of its history is dominated by the Spanish, English, and France (which is true for much of Florida). The cities economy is dominated by the two paper mills which flank the town on the north and south and, at least in the past, the shrimping industry. Over a period of 200 years, it was home to perhaps the largest concentration of pirates in America, including Blackbeard, the Lafittes, Calico Jack, and others. (And, now… the Careys!)
Last evening, we enjoyed the captain’s lounge, walked around town a bit, and had dinner at the Salty Pelican, a better than expected water front restaurant very close to the marina. Afterwards, we returned aboard and watched the finale of American Idol. (I enjoy Clark’s music more, but Nick – the winner – is more likely to have success in the current music scene.) We’ll hang around Fernandina Beach a day or two before continuing further north. With our next move, we’ll enter the state of Georgia, my home state, and the state in which all my sisters still reside (unfortunately at the exact opposite corner).