Out on the boat last week, I ventured just a touch off my normal beaten track and found myself in Clapboard Creek, as see at left courtesy of Google Maps. I don’t know why I’d never ventured off the St. Johns river into this very attractive tributary, but now that I have, I’ll be sure to go back.
Normally when making the trip from Jacksonville Marina to downtown, I’ll use what’s called the Dames Point Cut. As you can see in the screen grab at right, again from Google Maps, it makes the southern boundary of Blount Island, and trims probably a mile or so from the trip. It also keeps probably 95% of the pleasure boating traffic away from some of the larger shipping terminals, including the Marine Corps’, on Blount Island. That’s fine with me. Big ships make me nervous in close quarters with my little 20 foot boat. So I’d never taken that northerly branch of what is actually the St. Johns River to see what was there. After ducking under the bridge at Heckscher Drive, which a boat much bigger than mine would not be able to negotiate, I started motoring slowly up Clapboard Creek.
What I found I’d have to say surprised me in it’s lack of development. It is as pristine a brackish marsh as you’d be likely to find so close to that kind of industrial development.
Looking to the northeast as I came into the creek, you could almost imagine it largely unchanged since native Americans canoed and fished here, or the Huguenots explored from nearby Fort Caroline. (Yes, I know, the current site of Fort Caroline is only a best guess … but work with me here) The low marshland simply gave way to a distant tree line, with not a structure to be seen. Just the occasional heron or pelican. The low grass islands looked as if they were treading water just to be able to stay afloat, but as Jimmy Buffett wrote “The Low Country sinks, she cannot swim”, and I’m sure they succumb to very high tides.
And yet, that low grass island can provide some surprisingly sheltered water, thought I’m sure this little patch of relative calm on a breezy day was only inches deep on a falling tide. If you’ll look at the satellite image above, I’d motored all the way to where the creek makes a sharp turn to the northwest before turning around. As I made my way back toward the Heckscher Drive bridge, my eye, and camera lens, were drawn to this unbroken strait between the two low islands. I’m sure if I’d have had a lure or some stinky shrimp to toss up in that gap, I might have found a founder or red fish or whiting or something … but all I was taking that day was pictures.
Back out in the St. Johns River, it was a bit like a boat graveyard behind Blount Island. Several moldering sailboats like this one riding at anchor, but seeming almost like they were being held on the bottom against the wind, one long-unused working boat, her paint peeling and rust streaks running down her sides. And in the middle of it all, a new, well-kept shrimp trawler was making her way up the St. Johns River behind Blount Island, hoping to scoop up enough shrimp in her nets to pay for the fuel it took to get there.
As usual, you can see all my photos from that day on Flickr.
It’s an amazing place, the St. Johns River. From the tiniest kayaks and canoes to some of the largest cruise ships and car freighters, we all share the same water. Some try to eke out a living, some do very well. Others of us just enjoy the ever-changing mosaic of boats, people, birds, fish, industrial development and unspoiled beauty. I hope I never get to the point that I’m so blasé that I don’t take the time to notice. I believe that’s when my time spent on the water will start to be deducted from my time on this planet. And with only 50 trips around the sun under my feet, I’m not ready for that yet.