First of all, happy new year! We hope it’s off to a great start. Ours has been a little rough with fighting ‘holiday crud’, a crazy workload, boat projects and multiple midge invasions.
But we’re coming up for air, and ready to start filling in the travelogue a bit. Hard to believe we’ve been in Sanford for over two months now, and we’ve not yet told you how we got here!
First, the video version of this segment with lots of awesome drone footage from our Mavic 2 Pro:
A little about the St. Johns River
The St. Johns River is Florida’s longest river at 310 miles, starting inland in Indian River County (Vero Beach area) and ending at the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville.
It’s a very unique river for this part of the world, in that it flows north. Thus why we say we’re heading south UP the St. Johns River.
Albeit the flow is very slow. The drop in elevation over those 310 miles is just less than 30 feet and the flow is less than .3 mph.
Many lakes are formed along the way, and there are several natural springs flowing into it.
The river has a long history of commercial and recreational use, and many cities along the way. Today, it’s navigable and maintained from Sanford to Jacksonville for a vessel of our size and larger.
Many areas the river flows through are protected by national forests, state parks and wildlife preserves, so much of it is still very natural and undeveloped.
Wildlife is abundant. Making this side trip off the Great Loop a very unique adventure.
It’s about 140 miles of twisty winding river from Jacksonville to Sanford, with many creeks, springs and lakes to explore as additional side trips. The only way out is to turn around and head back to Jacksonville.
The cities along the way are quaint and small, with limited opportunity for re-provisioning. There are very few marinas and a few free/cheap docks. Diesel, marine services and waste pump outs are scarce.
So it definitely takes some pre-planning, comfort with anchoring and being a bit more self-reliant than you get used to along the intracoastal.
We’ve had this cruise on our bucket list for a while, and thought it one we’d approach after we complete the loop. But with staying in Florida for hurricane season, it made sense to do it now and use its natural features for protection. There’s lots of room to run, and lots of places to tuck into.
And hey.. this is just OUR kind of adventure!
After the peak of hurricane season, we left Ortega Landing in Jacksonville in mid-October after a 2-month stay. We intended to spend 2 weeks cruising south UP the St. Johns River.
Many folks we’ve communicated with do the trip from Jacksonville to Sanford in just a handful of days. We decided to time it for the capacity of our waste holding tanks, which 2 weeks is our max limit.
We booked a weeklong stay at the downtown Sanford marina to re-charge, provision & explore, and then planned to spend a week cruising back north (hitting spots we would surely miss) to store the boat for winter while we returned to RVing.
Stop 1: Doctor’s Lake Anchorage
For our first stop, we didn’t want to go too far, just a nice relaxing 12.5 nm departure cruise south. We had a lot of hurricane preps to undo before we could shove off.
We had heard incredible things about Whiteys, a local fish camp reachable by boat. It seemed like a perfect way to start our adventure.
We intended to anchor, get situated and then dinghy over for dinner.
Well, we got the dinghy within smelling distance of Whiteys, when the engine stalled and we ended up having to row 2-miles back to the boat.
We enjoyed a pleasant evening and delightful sunrise, before tackling the engine problem.
We detailed the full engine saga already: “By All Rights, That Engine Should Start” – Suzuki DF15A Outboard & Customer Service Failure
Stop 2: Black Creek Marina Anchorage
After an unsuccessful diagnosis at Jacksonville Marine in Doctor’s Lake, we decided we weren’t letting the engine interfere with our adventure. Instead of investing more time trying to find someone who could diagnose it, we instead found Isle of Palms in Green Cove Springs.
They were willing to take or old engine in on consignment, and had 3 outboards ready to go for us.
We made arrangements to anchor off of Black Creek Marina and use their dinghy dock to facilitate the swap. It was handled in just a few hours – and done. We were back on our way.
A working dinghy is very much part of this cruise with as much anchoring out as we’d be doing, and there are lots of places to explore!
There was a fresh vegetable stand near the marina parking lot, so we stocked up on some produce for the days ahead.
The anchorage was well protected from the building fetch coming in from the north (the marina itself was rocking and rolling!) – but it was also in sight of the main bridge. Fine for our purposes here for shore access, but not ideal for tranquility.
Stop 3: Black Creek Anchorage
The Black Creek is one of many side creeks off the St. Johns River. It runs nearly 15 miles, and is all navigable.
Now, when I think of the word ‘creek’ – I imagine a slow babbling water run that you can walk across. Not something you can navigate a big boat like ours down.
Creeks around here we’ve come to find are actually mini-rivers and are super deep. Areas can be 15-40′ deep!
The problem with anchoring up them is finding somewhere shallow enough were you can put out enough scope with ample swing room.
And there was one just 1.5 miles up the creek someone rated 6 out of 5 stars. Yeah, that got our attention.
We puttered up, found 8-10′ of depth in a nice wide oxbow. Perfection.
We ended up staying here for 3 nights – a perfect recharge after a rocky start. Aside from occasional recreational traffic gently waking us, it was peaceful and tranquil here. We gently swung on our hook enjoying changing views.
I just love seeing land views from the water (like I love seeing water views from our RV).
We drove the dinghy around getting used to our new engine. We paddle boarded. We flew the drone.
Stop 4: Green Cove Springs City Dock Anchorage
We’ve loved their mail forwarding service, digital scanning and they’ve been most excellent to us. (The Escapees have since offered up a Florida address option too, but SBI caters to RVers, cruisers and expats alike.)
We’ve passed through Green Cove Springs before, but had never spent considerable time there. And we had never toured SBI or met the staff, despite lots of communication over the years. And most recently, on the threat to taking away the right to vote for their customers. We were anxious for some face time with them.
We moved the boat a whole 5.3 nm to the Green Cove Springs city docks. There are docks there for just $20/night (but no visible way to pay), but the only one that could accommodate our size boat was taken.
So we just anchored out and used the docks with our dinghy to get ashore.
Now, we knew that our legal address of 411 Walnut St (which is right by the city docks) is no longer the actual location of SBI. Several years ago they outgrew their original location and moved – and they worked it out with the local postmaster to still be able to use the old address so no one had to go through a change of address.
So if you go to 411 Walnut St, all you see can see is the address on the door (they still own the building, by the way).
What we hadn’t researched is that the new facility is actually right across the street from Isle of Palms, where we just handled our engine swap.
We would have been better off just getting to SBI from our second anchorage, or going to another in-between.
We enjoyed exploring around the little downtown of Green Cove Springs – we got our library card, borrowed a couple movies, had dinner and did a lot of walking around. The little city park is actually quite beautiful, and we found the actual springs of Green Cove (it had never really occurred to me there would be actual springs.)
The next day we called a Lyft ride to take us to the SBI facility about 3 miles away, and spent the day hanging out with Scott (owner).
He gave us a tour of the facility and an in-depth update on the voting issue.
They’ve been hard at work to establish Club Isle, which all SBI customers are now members of. This gives us all access to a local RV park and marina where we can base ourselves out of to conduct business in the county – thus a residential address to use for voting.
Great solution – similar to how the Escapees Florida address works using their Bushnell campground.
It was still in trial then and only new customers were instructed to use it, so he asked us not to share yet. But since then, the supervisor of elections has given his nod to the solution and has asked all SBI customers to officially move their voter registration (only) to the new address by March 1 (all customers should have gotten instructions already.)
- For a full update on the voting issue: Urgent Advisory: Right to Vote in Jeopardy for RVers and Cruisers (St. Brendan’s Isle, Clay County, Florida)
- And for more on getting your mail and domiciling as a nomad: Domicile State, Getting Mail & Voting
We’re very pleased with SBI’s attention to this matter, and thank the Escapees for lending their experience to them in coming up with a solution. We’re also thrilled to learn of what is next for SBI and how they continue to improve their service.. but we’re not at liberty to share quite yet :).
Before returning to our boat, we walked over to the nearby Winn Dixie grocery store to stock up on some fresh basics, as we knew provisions would be scarce in the week or so ahead.
Stop 5: Deep Creek Anchorage
After finishing up our business in Green Cove Springs, it was time to head on. Next up we eyed an anchorage in Deep Creek about 18nm further south.
Getting there, we’d pass under the Shands Bridge – which is a fixed bridge at 45′. This limited taller masted vessels from proceeding south of here at current time, although there are plans in the future to replace the bridge with a taller one.
The Deep Creek anchorage didn’t have much information on it, and no recent reviews had been posted. We had conflicting charts that showed no depth at all to ample depths at the creek entrance. And the charts did show some submerged pilings to navigate around, so we proceeded with extreme caution.
All and all, it was an easy entry under the power lines with plenty of depth. We found anchorage at the first bend and enjoyed a rainy evening.
In the morning, we had swung around a bit closer to shore than anticipated and our depth gauge was reading 2′. A bit of mud kicked up as we pulled out, but all was well.
And we continued on south to our next stop…
Which we’ll cover in the next segment.
Well, it’s not too much of a spoiler, we already shared in this post about our change in plans: Letting Serendipity Do the Steering (We’re Staying on the Boat This Winter)
While we intended to turn around at Sanford and come back down the St. Johns – we’re still here. Serendipity kept us here, and we fell in love with this little town and are enjoying life here (well, mostly.. there are the fricken midges).
We’ll likely stay here into February sometime before we set off back down the St. Johns River. We hear March is the ideal cruise as spring blooms, so we may aim for that.
We’re doing lots of boat projects (new canvas, solar, blinds, engine work), catching ourselves up on doctors appointments, attending local theatre and enjoying some much needed sense of community.
We’re really digging this slower pace of travel thing and getting time to really experience some great cities.