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Starting our Cruise Up the St. Johns River – Part 1: Jacksonville to Deep Creek

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 navigable portion of the St. Johns River (and our course).

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.

Lots of nature to explore!

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!

Our Intentions

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 do love a slower pace of travel, and we really wanted to push our newly installed lithium batteries from Battle Born to the max.

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

Our 12.5nm cruise from Ortega Landing to Doctors Lake. Cruising Time: 2 hr 32 m

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

Our 10.4 nm cruise from Doctors Lake to Black Creek. Cruising Time: 2 hr

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

Our 1 nm cruise up Black Creek. Cruising Time: 0 hr 23 m

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.

That’s where anchorage resources come in handy to find such places scouted out in advance by others. We rely on Active CaptainWaterway Guide, as well as word of mouth from fellow cruisers.

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

Our 5.3 nm cruise from Black Creek to Green Cove Springs. Cruising Time: 1 hr 11 m

In 2013 we moved to and setup our domicile at St. Brendan’s Isle in Green Cove Springs, FL.

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.

Visiting 411 Walnut St – Not the actual location of SBI anymore.

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.

Irony, huh?

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.)

Finally coming ‘home’ and picking up our mail in person. We’re in the ‘established’ neighborhood of SBI since we’ve been there so long.

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.)

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

Our 18.3 nm cruise from Green Cove Springs to Deep Creek. Cruising Time: 3 hr

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.

Current Update:

Spoiler alert..

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.

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41 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. We once rented a houseboat and cruised the St Johns around Sanford and a bit north. Although some areas were busy, most of it was like being in a wilderness. We loved it.

  2. I was quite surprised to learn of this inland waterway, I had no idea it existed! What wonderful scenery along the river. Thank you for sharing your story and your pictures.

  3. LOVE the lifestyle you have. While I love our RV and the housesitting we do, my ideal would be boating as you’re doing. I missed reading your blog over December because of tablet/computer issues, but I sure appreciate all your excellent work because I know how hard it is – I do it too, only not nearly as consistently. Love your work and stories.

  4. Really enjoyed this story! Have to admit that the logistics of boating, water navigation, and docking would overwhelm me! Just not used to that culture at all. Now – – RV’s and campgrounds I understand! But I love hearing about your adventures. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Very much enjoyed this blog. Good for you for taking it slow and enjoying some time to explore and experience the area. A good time to take care of repairs and doctor appointments. Love the photo of Kiki steering the boat.

  6. I have been looking forward to hearing about your experiences on the St Johns river. We were very near the area last year in our RV and had no idea the beauty we missed. What an inspiration. Thank you

  7. I’m a full time RVer but enjoy following your boating adventures. I’m now in Florida myself and a friend told me about St. Brendan’s Isle mail service so I was glad to read the information you shared. Thanks.

  8. I really enjoyed this post. Partially because I’ve been wanting to explore the St Johns (now that I no longer have a mast – had to bypass it last time I was in Florida), but also because of the way you organize it (IOW, it wouldn’t need to be an area I want to see in order to hold my interest).

    On the one hand, it’s all laid out so clearly and it logically flows from one place to the next — which is nice because then I feel like I’m almost traveling along. But on the other hand, it doesn’t have that “and then we did this, and then we did that” that I find so hard to avoid when I’m writing about a trip.

    I also like the blocks of photos. I didn’t realize how to look at them at first, but as soon as I did I went back and re-checked them all to see more.

    The midges really look like something else – crazy! Chris’s face in one of your last IG posts (where he was resignedly vacuuming) really said it all.

    • Thanks Luna.. glad you enjoy the format. I found I needed a bit of structure in order to keep the stories from being too rambling. Hope you get a chance to cruise the St. Johns – it’s so lovely.

  9. You folks have gotten me thinking about maybe wintering in the Sanford area next year. Wilton Manors sometimes gets to be too much in season. Great blog and information. Thanks, Ron

  10. You two have definitely bern bitten by the boating bug, that’s pretty obvious. Know that you had a lot of plans for changes in the boat and are enjoying seeing those plans come together. Add in Mother Nature sending you nice weather, and it’s hard to resist! Looking forward to our escape to Florida next week and a preview of tge Summer of 2019! Be well!

    Frank

  11. I lived in Florida for a year and had no idea about this “secret’ world. How exciting! And what a gem to find this location you love! Thank you for sharing photos along the route. Florida’s inner waterways truly are unique and most people only think of the coastline and ocean. The Y-Not seems to be an expedition vessel in the truest sense, introducing so many to the Lesser Known Florida. Love that you finally got to pick up your mail in person!

    Now if there were just an electronic gadget frequency repellant frequency for midges…wouldn’t that be grand?

    Enjoy your newest ‘favorite’ town! Extra treats and hellos to Admiral KiKi!

    • Amazing the places there are to explore. I had lived in Florida in Melbourne (right along the lower St. Johns) for a dozen years before hitting the road. And really never know this existed either.

  12. So glad you put this post back up, it’s a wealth of information,( if I ever get over to that side of the country). The places you report on, the people, the weather (and the fricken midges) make it come alive. Thank you for the time you put into this post, Ya’ Done Good!

  13. Really looks like an very casual flow on this trip, both with the river current as well as the laid back places along the way. Enjoy your sort of respite from the normal 120 MPH with 150% capacity you two usually seem to steam at:)! Happy New Years, in a laid back few days late, to you both.
    Smitty

  14. Thanks for the blog. Growing up in Orlando/NSB/Titusville area, I have experienced most of the St Johns river by either by boating, jet skiing, water skiing, airboats, speedboats, and even over flying. It is still a special place for me. Great memories include Silver Glen Springs, Salt Springs, Sanford, Blue Hole, Jungle Den, Astor Park, and many other unique experiences.
    I am happy you have discovered one of Florida’s best natural resources, please enjoy as I have done in the past. It really is a gem.
    Dave

  15. I had trouble getting the full version of this update but it was worth the wait. I do so enjoy your travelogues whether you are on land or water.

  16. What a great write up! Thank you for posting this information! Definitely seems like a worthwhile side trip from the Great Loop!

  17. I really enjoyed this blog entry and especially the video. I think you hit just the right note. Even if the boat thing is not my thing, I still find all of it interesting and because it is you guys, I never miss an entry. Very enjoyable and I appreciate the effort that went into it. Leaving a bottle of wine for you guys. Enjoy the pace!

  18. Just got this yesterday by the way. Midges, no see umms, whatever you call them, they are terrible. We followed a hint from a fellow RVer and got a larger fan (2 feet across, kind of industrial. Find a good one that does not need to be high speed and will be quieter) that we set up to provide a breeze where we are. Works good. The little flies can’t fly in much of a breeze. If they’re around or not depends on wind direction and speed. Reason they’re not out at night is because flies use eyes to navigate and don’t fly at night.

  19. We really enjoyed Sandford when we were there. Glad to hear you are still enjoying it (minus the midges) and doing things at your own pace.

  20. I can’t get over the view you have and how gorgeous your boat looks with the water and sky backdrops. I think the pace you’re taking is suiting you well, it sounds like it’s giving you plenty of time to get things done and still tour and relax!

  21. The river is a really great place to meander, and stay. One “condo” that was available with one of our timeshare memberships was a houseboat on the St. Johns river. We anchored a couple times but mostly tied up to fallen trees by the banks. The Sandhill Cranes are a very good alarm clock. The alligators kept us from any swimming. Because we could literally pull up to a bank we even got to do some beach activities. All in all a great week. So glad you are getting to enjoy the river.

  22. Thanks for sharing this part of your trip. We will be heading up the St. Johns to Monroe Harbour in a few weeks so we appreciate the info. Maybe we’ll cross paths as we will be in the slip next to you!

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