St. John's River and Lake George

June - 5th -7th 2009

by Ron Hoddinott

It was almost beyond belief. Seven Squadron boats were anchored forty yards from Silver Glen Springs. It was June, and it was overcast, but what was so hard to believe was the temperature! It felt like a cool spring afternoon. Seventy-Five degrees felt very cool, especially after taking a dip in the crystal clear, 72 degree spring water.

The day before, on Friday, we'd all found our way to the little town of Astor, on the St. John's River. The river was higher than it had been the month before, and there was a bit of current. Bill Fite was setting up MoonShadow, his SeaPearl 21, when I pulled in to the ramp right behind Phil and Donna Reed with their WW Potter 19. After a few minutes, Dennis and Carol Marshall also pulled up with their Com-Pac 17 Suncat in tow. The floating docks at the ramp made it fairly easy to get going after our launch, and there was plenty of spots to park the vehicles less that 40 yards from the ramp right across the street.

There is a bridge at Astor and we let Phil Reed call ahead to open it since he had the tallest mast on his sloop rigged WW Potter. As I went under I saw that the vertical clearance was listed at 22 feet on a sign along the bridge fenders. I put that information in the back of my mind for the return trip, since a SeaPearl only needs 20 feet to get under a bridge.

Going down river was easy, but you had to remember that turning across the current took a lot more space as you were swept downstream as you turned. On both sides of the river were wonderful, and not so wonderful homes and cottage get-a-ways, and a few places to tie up for fuel and/or ice. The homes ranged from the palatial to the quaint including one that had a pontoon boat with an MG midget on the deck. I guessed that someone had a unique commute! Farther downstream the Florida jungle like fauna extended right down to the shoreline - fallen logs, overhanging trees, snowy egrets, ospreys, turtles, and gators. I had a small print chart that I'd ordered over the internet that specifically said, "Not for Navigation" but I was able to make out most of the marker numbers, so I had an idea where we were. Four miles or so down stream, Phil moved Little Bit, his WW Potter over to "river left." I assumed that we were nearing the campsite that he had used the previous month. But with the higher water, I feared that we might not find it. Phil had the location well marked in his memory though, and we were able to cram our boats into the shoreline, or near enough to it to wade in. Just in time, too, as the sky was about to open up for a few hours with a deluge! Bill and I got our convertible cabins up and everyone ducked below for lunch and an afternoon nap during the rain squall. There was quite a lot of wind, and some lightning strikes, but we were snug in our cabins, and just waited it out.

When the rain stopped, we popped up and chatted from boat to boat. I got our and explored the Blue Island campsite. It was obvious that lots of people us it for camping or partying, but it wasn't the mess that it could have been. A large area in the center of a clearing was a long time campfire circle and there was even a supply of lumber for a fire.

About 4 p.m. we saw another fleet of Squadron boats coming down stream to the Blue Island anchorage! Richard Anderson, with his SeaPearl SeaNile, Steve Wood with his Bay Hen 21, and Ted Jean with his WW Potter 15 pulled in and anchored off the site as best they could. The bad weather was over for the day, and we even saw some blue sky to the west as the afternoon went on. The campfire was stoked, and Ted passed around the "do-it-yourself Margarita" which consisted of Taquila, line and salt is a certain order. Fun, but please do it in moderation! A few of the group enjoyed cigars in various sizes, and Phil, Steve and I worked on stoking the fire which with the wet conditions of the day was sort of a constant chore. Steve Wood regaled us with tales of being a Blimp pilot in the Canadian Rockies and in Turkey. Quite interesting.

The next morning, after a wonderfully calm and cool night aboard, we awoke and got ready for our big day of sailing on Lake George. The lake is over 10 miles in a North/South direction, and about 5 miles across. We had a nice breeze out of the southwest so we thought maybe we could sail to Salt Springs near the north end and then work our way south to Silver Glen Springs on the way back. Whisper soon took the lead, but we all noticed the large mass of dark threatening clouds to the west which seemed to be zeroing in on Salt Springs. So prudence being the better part of virtue, we altered course to Silver Glen, which was more of a beam reach and much closer.

Phil led us into the Silver Glen Spring Run, which as we got nearer to the actual Spring was lined with powerboats. But it was early in the day, and there was actually room for all seven of us up near the spring. The water was three feet or less in depth all over that area, so we anchored and just jumped in. At first it was a shock! My pool is 90 degrees in the summer, and the 72 degree water was really cool! Bill Fite put on mask and fins and swam over to the spring opening. We had lunch in our cockpits and kept an eye out to the west for incoming storms. One short rain storm swept over in 20 minutes or so, and it was overcast all day. A pontoon boat with ice and hot dogs came around every hour or so. I managed to stuff a 10 pound back of ice into my new 36 quart cooler, so I was all set for cool beers and soft drinks. It was a lazy day!

In the evening we took bets as to what time it would be before all or most of the powerboats cleared out. I picked 5:30, and was the first to lose. A few of the smaller boats did leave, but being a Saturday, the bigger boats just turned on their generators, and stayed all night. Bill Fite as the closest to a generator, but it wasn't that loud. If it was, I'm sure he would have pulled the anchor and moved.

The cool water of the spring, and the overcast skies made for very cool sleeping conditions! I hadn't even packed a blanket, but I utilized my tonneau cover and a sheet and slept like a baby all night.

The next morning, we noticed that Phil and Donna had moved Little Bit during the night. We didn't see them at all. Apparently they had pulled out early to see the sunrise on the lake. The rest of us pulled anchors and quietly made our was back down the spring run to the lake. There was very little wind, but we were moving. Ted decided that he'd head on home, having the farthest to travel. The rest of us tacked south toward Juniper Springs Run to see if we could make our way up that spring run for a ways. It took a couple of hours to get to the entrance, and once there we noticed that a dozen or so air boats were heading up the creek. Not wanting to share the narrow creek with dozens of airboats, we decided to anchor and just take one boat up river. Steve Wood had his mast down in a jiffy and offered to take us all on board for a tour. Steve Anderson and I stood on the foredeck, while Dennis, Carol, Bill and Steve took up positions in the cockpit. The scenery was super! Lots of turtles, and birds, and dense, dense vegetation. The creek gradually shallowed and narrowed. We made it a few miles, but eventually had to turn around when a pontoon boat ahead of us got stuck and was blocking the channel.

The trip back to Astor was uneventful, but beautiful, and the rain held off until we got a brief shower right at the ramp. Dennis, Carol, Steve, Steve, and I had a great lunch at the SeaFood shop just east of the Astor bridge. Good food and plenty of parking for boats and trailers!

Look for a repeat of this trip in cooler weather this year! Perhaps an "O.R.F. Cruise" on a weekday!