Tales of the St Johns-Stuart to Ortega

So my blog has been quiet for a while. I have been away, but today I look forward to sharing with you Ed and my recent journey. On September 2, 2021, Ed and I began our trawler excursion number two.  Last year we christened “Adrift” by completing the Southern Loop. This year our goal was something a bit more unfamiliar, the St Johns River.

Always worried about leaving in the heart of hurricane season, we were pleased that the weather was nice leaving “Stuart on the St Lucie.” Inching around the southern tip of home, the peninsula of Sewall’s Point, we headed north on the Indian River Lagoon. Honing our skills, we anchored-out the first night in Wabasso, and again the second night in Titusville. The third night we docked at the Halifax Harbor Marina in Daytona; and the forth at St Augustine Municipal Marina.

St AugustineIt was St Augustine that awoke us from our South Florida slumber. Historic St Augustine lies at the intersection of what is named the Matanzas and Tolomoto Rivers and sits directly across from the St Augustine Inlet.

Docking at the marina went well, but our departure, not so much. In the pastel clouded morning, as wading birds and rock pigeons flew in every direction, Ed and I pulled away to continue on to Jacksonville. As we were slapping ourselves on the back for “an exit well done” the strong current pushed our craft aside sending us in the direction of two enormous yachts. We were headed for collision. Time froze, Ed and I could not believe our eyes. It happened so fast!

I followed orders grabbing a starboard line, but realized there was really nothing I could safely achieve. The force of the tide was overbearing. Ed’s instincts kicked in, he exercised full power, stern hitting a lone piling that swung wildly as we pulled away.

I heard a gentleman holding a cup of coffee yell to Ed: “Nice save!”

Ed and I looked at each other incredulously, both knowing it was more luck than skill that saved us. Miraculously, there was no damage other than our egos. From here on out, Ed and I paid great attention to the tides and currents of the region.We didn’t talk much that day, and the Tolomato River region revealed its most beautiful residents to sooth our spirts. At one point along the miles of bright green marshes, forty-two roseate spoonbills flew past! It was spectacular! Eventually we entered “the northern part of the ditch, better known as the Intracoastal Waterway and suddenly we we entering the mighty St Johns River.


The Intracoastal and the St Johns intersect just west of the inlet at the Atlantic Ocean and Mayport, one of the largest naval stations in the United States and historic fishing village. As we veered west, Jacksonville came into view. It was impressive and intimidating. The river was wide and ships the length of skyscrapers filled the shorelines. I kept looking down, thinking I could “see” the tide. This river made the St Lucie look like a brook. In spite of the size of the river and the heavy industry, I kept noticing what appeared to be Monarch butterflies flying low across the water to the other side of the St Johns.“Unbelievable,” I thought. “How do they do that?”Everywhere I looked there were tugboats and container ships. A pod of dolphins joined our wake to say “hello.” Ed and I laughed and for a moment in time, nothing else existed. Just joy! “I can’t believe there are dolphins here!” Ed exclaimed.The dolphins finally pulled away and Ed shifted his eyes to the horizon. Our destination was an historic neighborhood, Ortega, about eight miles away located on the western bank of the St Johns River. Ed slowed down, called on the radio and little Ortega River Bridge slowly opened. The horn blew – a sound from a simpler past. “Thank you!” I waved from the bow and shortly thereafter we slid into a slip at the Ortega Marina.That evening we met Captain Paul, the Ortega Marina Dock Master, who became our guide, friend,  and confidant.  In the evenings he held court on his boat, “Passages,” telling stories of tides, time, and fishing tournaments.

The next morning Ed and I used the marina bicycles and rode throughout the historic district of Ortega. It was stunning! Oak trees and mansions the size of dinosaurs filled the landscape. Ortega got its start in 1769 so history includes many tales. I enjoyed seeing that Florida has many live oak trees that can compete with our northern neighbors. Breathtakingly beautiful trees, branches to the ground! Almost back at the marina, we visited nearby classic Chamblin Bookmine, Highway 17 – wonderful to browse for hours as most in Stuart are now long gone. After a final cool down and walk to Publix where we met displaced Canadian Geese searching for last year’s wetlands, Ed and I  visited again with Captian Paul. I informed him I had researched and found out the beautiful flowers growing in the Ortega Marina were swamp lilies;  we were already fast friends even though I was a “tree hugger.” Ed was looking to Paul as a mentor. Planning for tomorrow, we  talked tides and weather figuring out our departure.

Night fell. Ed and I slept like babies with the sound of the train echoing in the distance. I dreamt about Henry Flagler, riverboats, and Canadian Geese. I was excited about our next stop, September 8: Palatka.



21 thoughts on “Tales of the St Johns-Stuart to Ortega

  1. I believe the large Oak tree is in front of my great grandmother’s white house. My maternal great grandfather was the founder of the Ortega Land Company. Thanks for the pics.

    1. John this is all so incredible that your family is so intertwined in the fabric of Ortega. How cool that that is your great grandmother’s house. That tree has certainly lived throughout all of our lives! I can’t wait to hear more.

  2. My son lives on the west shore across from the Naval Base. Beautiful area. Lots of dolphins off his dock. Palatka is a interesting place. Few people know Florida had a “steamboat” era as busy as the Mississippi. Our small farm near Palatka teams with wildlife, plenty of bears!

    1. Newton how wonderful that your son lives on the west shore across from the Naval Base. It is a beautiful area and it was amazing to me to see industry and nature so intertwined. Yes the steamboat era is remarkable! I read my mom’s history books and learned so much about the era that defined this state for a very long time. I want to see a bear! I knew they were there. I was looking for them with my binoculars. There was a Bear Trail in Palatka. I want to go back. All the best to you and your son.

  3. Loved reading this chapter. The part about St. Augustine brought back memories of my husband and me anchoring out in our Gemini catamaran almost 20 years ago with our own story about the tide and currents. Keep up the great work!

  4. Great adventures. Thanks for sharing them. My daughter attended Flagler College in St Augistine, playing volleyball there. I fell in love with area. The water and nature is really beautiful and wild there. And yes, the current by Lions Bridge area can be super strong. Keep having fun and be alert.

    1. Mike yes your daughter attended Flagler College! What a great place to go to university. It is a beautiful area and the surrounding waters to me seemed very intact. There was basically coral and sponges of sorts growing on the dock! Little crabs.

  5. I grow up in Sanford not to far from Lake Jessup growing up I would fish Monroe Jessup and over at lemon bluff and Mullet lake Park the St. Johns River is very special to me now I live in Kansas and your journey down to St. John’s is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life go from one into the other maybe I’ll do it when I retire I sure enjoy reading your journey thank you so much for doing this article I thoroughly enjoyed reading it

    1. Dear Sean, thank you so much for writing. I’m sure those were precious times fishing the St Johns. What a treasure! I’m so glad you found my and Ed’s St Johns journey and I look forward one day to yours! In the meanwhile, hello to Kansas. All the best.

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