Category Archives: St. Johns River

St Johns River Ferry Task Force

Update On The St. Johns River Ferry Service Task Force

Latest on the efforts of the task force working to preserve the St. Johns River Ferry. The Port Authority is meeting February 27th, and we hope to be able to convince them that we need more time to work on this issue.

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Filed under A1A, Beach Living, Jacksonville Beach, Local Issues, Neptune Beach, St. Johns River

It Never Gets Old

Self Portrait For the first time since November, Party Quirks came out of the barn and was lowered gently into the waters of the St. Johns River. After a winter that has been unusually cold and drear, finally a weekend day that gave the an opportunity to go play on the river again. The good news is, it never gets old. The bad news is … well, there’s not any bad news, and that’s the truth.

I was concerned after a long rest that the engine might be reluctant to turn over, but the Yamaha is very reliable. It did require a little cranking, which I rather expected, but once I got it running, well, as they say now in the Bud Light commercials … “Here we go.”

Cruise Ship

I ran upriver to the Dames Point bridge, and then a little beyond. The new cranes for the coming post-Panamax ships look like something out of Star Wars standing on the banks of the river, and you can see (if you click on the photo to see it larger on Flickr) in the distance the floating hotel that is the Carnival cruise ship Fascination. I continued upriver to where the Trout River empties into the St. Johns, about a half hour at my boat’s cruising speed. In places the river was just glassy, but in others, where the currents and tides run at cross purposes, the water became choppy and confused. Very much a normal day on the river.

Derelict SailboatI didn’t know what I’d gone in search of, but when I got to the Trout River, I found it. I can’t resist a derelict boat, and this one begged to be photographed. Riding at a moo ring like someone might come back to claim her any time. And for all I know, someone will. But with only half a mast and no discernible shelter she’ll be a project boat at the very best, but is most likely destined to end her days against the shore in the mud, eventually to be pulled disintegrating out of the water.

From the Trout River, I cruised back to the east to the mouth of the river and out into the Atlantic ocean. Mother, Mother ocean, I have heard  you call … and I heard her call today. As I neared the mouth of the river, I began to ride the ocean swells that make my boat climb uphill, if you can imagine that. But the swell wasn’t more than a foot today, a nice ride to the ocean. I just popped offshore long enough to say I’d been to sea today, and grab a quick photo to send off to Facebook. There were dozens Guanoof pelicans, gulls, and cormorants on the rocks of the jetties that protect the mouth of the river from the rolling surf, making the passage of ships and boats like mine possible. But as you can see, there hasn’t been a good storm recently to wash the guano off the rocks. Birds, particularly sea birds, are messy.

No, it never gets old. The river is constantly changing, always something new to see, and yet there are things that are constant. The dolphin were working the water from the Dames Point Bridge to the mouth of the river, the fishermen were anchored along the entrance of the Intercoastal waterway, under the bridges, pretty much anywhere there’s structure under water for fish to congregate. Even in these personally very difficult times, or maybe especially, the river and the ocean are grounding for me. I was very thankful today for the opportunity to reconnect.

Bar Code

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Filed under Beach Living, Boating, Photographs, Photography, St. Johns River, Thoughts

They Come in Threes

Today, I saw my third flipped-over car this week.  The third one.  Today’s was on I-295 San Jose boulevard, but let me start at the beginning.

Wreck 295 crop Last Monday, driving to rehearsal, I hit a traffic jam just coming across I-95.  After creeping along for a mile and a half or so, I came up on the accident site.  An SUV was flipped completely upside down in the median of the road.  It was a fairly nice evening, no obvious reason as to why this vehicle would be on it’s roof between the lanes, but there it was.  Still, one upside down car on Jacksonville’s freeways is not all that unusual.

But then Saturday, we were pulling into World Market on South Beach Parkway, and he heard the extended honk of a car horn.  I had no sooner said to Andie “no crunch”, when we heard the crunch.  Somehow, a small Toyota wound up on it’s side out of the traffic lane, and the driver was mostly unconscious.  I mostly stayed back out of the way.  There was a crowd of people around the little car, and at some point you know the only thing  you are is in the way.  So I went back across the street, and about that time the first police car showed up, then the ambulance and the fire trucks.

Then tonight, again driving to Orange Park for rehearsal, another car on its side in the median.  Three in a week.  At least this one didn’t have traffic backed up for more than a mile.  Maybe a quarter mile, tops.

Maybe three overturned cars in a week on Jacksonville’s roads is not so unusual.  I suppose if I looked, I’d find plenty of instances where there had been three flipped vehicles or more in a week.  But I don’t see them.  Before last Monday, I can’t tell you when was the last time I saw a car not on it’s wheels.  In the last seven days, I’ve seen three.  I think that’s enough.

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This update from  yesterday’s post … the St. Johns River Water Management District today voted 5-4 to approve Seminole County’s permit to withdraw up to  MathHart25.5 million gallons of water every day from the river over the objections of some 300 people who packed the districts offices in Palatka.  Admittedly, that’s a small fraction of the river’s flow, but, as St. Johns County Commission Chair Cyndi Stevenson said “This 5.5-million-gallon withdrawal is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent.”  The commission vowed that they would review all subsequent permit requests very carefully, but once one is approved, it would seem to be difficult to deny others.

Most disappointing, though, was that Seminole County won’t need the water for 6 years … plenty of time to finish the study into the possible effects of the withdrawal on the river’s ecosystem.  It’s one of those decisions who’s consequences can’t be seen, and one hopes that somewhere along the line someone doesn’t slap their forehead and say “D’Oh!”

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And then there was the tragedy this weekend on the Intercoastal Waterway.  14 people crammed into a 22 foot boat … coming home from the Conch House in St. Augustine … slammed into a stationary 25 foot tugboat just north of the Palm Valley bridge.  No one is quite sure what the factors were, but I do know this.  The boat was way overloaded.  There is no way the person acting as captain … and it’s an open question as to how much boat handling experience that person had … could not have been distracted.  The waterway is narrow there, so there’s not a lot of room to maneuver.  Five people are dead.  If there was ever an example of why licenses should be required for operating a boat, this is it.  Driving a boat is different from driving a car.  Imagine you’re driving a station wagon (that’s what they used to call a “crossover” vehicle) from the middle seat and you turned the car using the back wheels.  And it didn’t track around a turn … is skidded.  Pretty much every time.  With that, you get an idea of what it’s like to drive a boat.  I’ve been doing it since I was about 6 … so for me it’s very much second nature.  But I don’t even TAKE a beer on the boat, much less drink them underway.  The water can be very unforgiving, and it only takes a split second to go from fun afternoon to terrible tragedy.  If they decided tomorrow to require a licence to operate a boat, I’d be first in line.

Hmmm … this post is kind of a downer.  Sorry about that.  The good news is, there’s tomorrow.  It’s JCCI day.  And I get to pick up my tax return.  At least I’m getting a little refund this year.

Sig

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Filed under Boat Safety, Boating, St. Johns River, Traffic

Drawing Down the St. Johns

SJRSunset The Saint Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) will meet Monday to vote on a Seminole County proposal to withdraw 5.5 million gallons of water per day from the St. Johns rivers.  Seminole County says they need the water to meet demand for water caused by growth in the region.  The county says it will use the water primarily for irrigation though some would be processed for drinking water.  The county has designed a facility that could eventually draw up to 50 million gallons daily from the St. Johns river in north central Florida.

Duval county officials are on record as opposing this withdrawal.  Environmental scientists say there has not been enough study on the possible effects of increased salinity of the river should hundreds of millions of gallons of fresh water be siphoned off and not allowed to make its way north to the ocean.

The St. Johns is not like the great inland rivers I grew up with.  The nearest to me was the Ohio, which forms the southern border of Indiana.  Water in that river moved steadily one direction … south and west to the Mississippi and eventually to the  Gulf of Mexico.  It rises and falls with annual rain and runoff, not with the tides.  The similarity is that it provides commerce and recreation to millions of people, as does the St. Johns.

But the St. Johns River is tidal.  When the current and the tide both flow to the north, it races along at several knots, and I’ve seen sailboats struggling to makeGulls on Posts their way up river against the flow.  But on an incoming tide, the river flows back to the south … bringing salt water from the ocean far up stream.  The further south, the more fresh the water, due to the natural springs and watershed that feed the upper, southern reaches of the river.  No one knows how the withdrawal of millions of gallons of that fresh water will effect that salinity, and how much further south salt water will intrude should that northern flow of fresh water be depleted.

That water is needed to flush out the St. Johns.  It flows slowly, with a total drop in elevation of only 30 feet over it’s 310 mile length.  Along the way, the watershed drains a huge area of Florida, much of which is developed.  That means a lot of nutrients running off fertilized lawns, golf courses, and the like.  The only way those nutrients can be removed from the river is if they’re flushed out by the water flow.  The water flows slowly anyway, and goes back and forth with the change of the tide.  Several years ago, the river was choked in several places by a blue-green algae that was attributed to an elevated level of those nutrients.

Then, too, there is the salt water intrusion.  The river has decreasing levels of salinity as you travel to the south.  The grasses and other aquatic plants which shelter the marine need certain levels of salinity to thrive.  Too much, and it can change the entire ecosystem of the river.

Now, I’m not marine biologist, but it doesn’t take a lot of research to learn these things. MathHart1

In the not too distant future, dredging will begin on the St. Johns from the mouth of the river to Jaxport’s Blount Island facility to accommodate the larger,  post-panamax ships that call here.  It’s very important to the region’s economy, but deepening the river will also allow a greater volume of salt water to make it’s way upriver.  But not accommodating those post-Panamax ships would put our port at such a competitive disadvantage that there’s very little doubt that it will be done.

But the water withdrawal is a little squishier.  It’s for irrigation at a time when mandatory water restrictions are in effect over pretty much the entire state of Florida, and for drinking water for an expanding population.  Growth has been such a huge issue for 40 or more years in Florida, and it has not always been as well planned as it might have been.  Still, an Administrative Law Judge has given his approval to the withdrawal plan, but there is an ongoing scientific study into the potential effects of withdrawing that much water.  Meanwhile, Seminole County is just the beginning.  There are proposals to withdraw as much as 262 million gallons per day from the river.

The meeting begins at 1:00 pm at the offices of the SJRWMD. The St. Johns Riverkeeper is planning to take a bus of people to Palatka.  Public comments will be heard.  For me, the question that has to be answered is: should the ecosystem of the river be potentially  jeopardized for green lawns in Seminole County?  We don’t know for sure that it will, but we don’t know for sure that it won’t either.  I would urge the water management district to not allow the withdrawal to begin until those and other questions about the ecosystem are answered.

Sig

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That Felt Good

For the first time since the day I was let go from WJCT … I got “Party Quirks” off the rack and into the water.

If you’re a new reader to the blog, “Party Quirks” is my boat.  A 20 foot center console fishing boat that I just love.  And today, I took the video camera as well as the mighty Nikon.

It had been 4 months since I’d been on the water, at least on my boat.  Mike brought his over early in the year, and we went out and caught grouper and snapper like it was our job.  But it was 2 inch short day, and 95% of what we caught went back into the ocean.

Today, I spent 45 minutes or so just making sure she still would run, and decompressing.  My boat is my laughing place.  It’s where I go when I just need to re-focus and re-energize.

She started right up and ran pretty well.  I know the engine needs a tune up, but for the most part, she runs like the day I took delivery.  It was too rough to take her out on the ocean, so I ran up to Clapboard Creek.  The breeze was up, the water was fairly rough, and there was a lot of traffic.  Probably because the weather is supposed to sour tonight, and it’ll be cold and windy the next few days.

The marina manager told me today that all the permits are in place to dredge the basin, and it’s not a day too soon.  Not even low tide today, and I barely got the boat back to the lift station.  The marina is really only usable about half the time right now … but hopefully that’ll change sooner rather than later.

So the payments are made for March, and I’ve got to make the most of Party Quirks.  I’ve never spent as much time on my boat as I should, and hopefully this will be the season that I finally make that happen.  Today made me feel good, which an afternoon on the water always does.

Sig

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A Couple of Hours of Party Quirks

I managed to get the boat off the rack for a couple of hours today … and fought my way out of the St. Johns River out to the ocean.  The swell wasn’t too bad, only about 1-2 feet from the southeast.  But the river current and tide were running so hard out to sea that the water was just piled up at the mouth of the river … and the color contrast between the water coming from the river and the ocean water was stark.  The river carries so much silt and such out from inland that the water coming out of the river is almost brown compared to the bright turquoise of the ocean water.  And it doesn’t mix very well.  It’s really a sharp line in the water.

So, I fought the waves to get out of the river and turned north for a bit, just running up the coastline.  I’d gone 4 or 5 miles to the north when I just cut the engine, let the boat drift, tied my throwable PFD to a dockline, and dove off the swim platform.  I love swimming in the ocean.  I know, maybe not the smartest thing to do when I’m out by myself. but it was hot and that was absolutely the best way to cool off.  We’ve not been to the beach often enough this summer, and it was really nice to just hop in the ocean and cool off a bit.

When I got back to the marina, as I was letting the engine flush with fresh water and salt-away, I pulled out my camera and started looking for some interesting things.  as you can imagine, I found some.

Shrimp Boat Nguyn This is about what’s left of the once-venerable Mayport shrimping fleet.  About a dozen boats still trying to eke out a living catching the tiny tasty cholesterol bombs from the ocean.  I don’t say that to be disparaging … but just honest.  I’ll grant you that many of those few remaining boats are better kept than this one, but where just a year ago there were a couple dozen boats tied up at the shrimpers’ docks in Mayport, now, there are only a handful.  It’s a very difficult way to make a living, and the cost of fuel and inexpensive imported Asian shrimp aren’t making it any easier.  But for those trying to block a cruise terminal because it will “ruin the flavor of the fishing village”, well maybe  that’s already happened.

Shall We Dance There’s always a committee on the docks at Jacksonville Marina where I keep Party Quirks, and though they’re big, and ungainly, and really kinda gross in their eating habits … they’re fascinating to watch and photograph. Today was no exception, with one king of the pelicans ruling the roost, and several others down on the floating dock pretty much just making a mess.  I know sometimes it seems like I take the same picture over and over … but I can’t get enough of these guys.

Gulls on Posts The gulls, too, were hanging out at the marina.  They usually wait for people cleaning fish to pass along a handout or two, but with a new state moratorium on feeding the brown pelicans, the gulls will probably find a freebie harder to come by.  Still, these scavengers are unlikely to stop hanging out at the docks.

I thought this shot was interesting just because the angle of their heads was so similar.  There are a few like this, and they’re all linked up on Flickr.

So, it was a nice afternoon to be out on the water.  Party Quirks got a nice run, and a good bath.  She’s running a little rough at idle again, so I need to either pay for a tune up or look up what I need to do online.  And, for the second time in a row, my GPS failed to power up when I plugged it in and pushed the button … so I’ll need to replace it.  I’ve been intending to all season, but now I think I might as well wait until next spring.  I’ll need to fish new wires for a different transducer for the unit I’ve been investigating.  Hopefully there will be enough money to replace it, and get that tune up, at the top of the season next year.

I’ve not had enough time for the boat this year.  I love being able to go and just play on the ocean, even for just a couple of hours.  And as you’ve read here before … time spent on the water is not deducted from man’s allotted span.  I bought myself a couple of extra hours today.

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Filed under Birds, Boat, Photography, Photos, St. Johns River, Thoughts, Wildlife

A Little Time on the Water

I got Party Quirks off the rack for the first time in probably 6 weeks today.  I hadn’t spent any time on the water since Jenni was here in July, and here it is nearly the end of August.  Just between weather and work and travel and stuff going on … I haven’t had much of a chance to go.

Not to mention gas was up over $4.00 / gallon, and I couldn’t see just cremating dead dinosaurs.  But the boat does need to be run just to keep things all lubricated and moving.  So out we went today.

Waves 1

I started out to the east, thinking I’d pop out into the ocean for a bit.  I’d be less likely to run into storm debris that way, I thought.  That was until I got up near the jetties and saw the waves breaking on the rocks.

Tides have been extraordinarily high the past few days.  There have been times launching the boat that it seems like I’ve had to climb down 6-7 feet of ladder to get to the barely-floating dock at the marina.  Today, you could practically walk off the dock onto the bulkhead.  Maybe one rung of the ladder was out of the water.  The marsh along the Intercoastal waterway has been flooded the past few day.  But I thought with Fay pretty well dissipated into a tropical depression that the ocean would have flattened out just a bit.

Not so much.

Waves 2 The swells were breaking against the jetties and sending spray 12-15 feet in the air.  There was still a ton of energy being dissipated by the ocean, and a lot of it was being spent on the rocks protecting the entrance of the St. Johns River.  I decided that it probably wasn’t a good day to venture offshore by myself in a  20 foot boat, so I shot these pictures, turned around, and went up river a ways just to see what I could see … and run the boat a bit.  But the power of the waves never fails to amaze me.  When you think “it’s just water”, but the waves killed a girl this week.  She thought it would be a good idea to go swimming in the ocean at the height of the tropical storm.  My sister was working the ER when they brought her in … already gone from this mortal coil.  There is very little that’s more powerful than moving water, particularly when it’s driven by winds over 60 miles per hour.  Even this afternoon, with the storm little more than a memory and a few downed limbs in the yard, the water is carrying so much potential energy.  Enough to send spray 15 feet in the air.

Pelican The Duval County Air Force was on patrol, as always.  I do love the way pelicans can just skim a foot or less above the waves … using the ground effects to allow them to just cruise along with minimal effort.

As I went west, then south following the river, the sky got continually darker.  The forecast was for a 60 percent chance of rain today, and there were numerous showers wandering around the region.  I watched a couple pass in front of me before I swung around and headed back to the marina.  I didn’t really need to be concerned, though.  It didn’t start to rain here at the beach until nearly 7:00.  I had plenty of time to give the boat a good cleaning, which it needed after all the stormy weather.

I won’t be back to the marina next weekend.  It’s amateur weekend … one of those time when the people who run their boats 3 weekends a year decide they’re going to show off their boat handling skills to all their friends.  Alcohol is often involved.  I’ll wait another week before I try it again.  Hopefully there won’t be another tropical storm or hurricane to prevent me from spending a little more time on the water.

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Filed under Beach Living, Boat, Fay, Photography, Photos, St. Johns River, Thoughts