Our journey back down the St John River, north towards Jacksonville, couldn’t have been more different from the journey we’d done in the opposite direction last March. Then, Carina had tossed frighteningly in the waves and driving rain, and we had been unable to see the river banks in the thick mist.
On Sunday, the sun shone, the water was calm, and Carina made a smooth exit from the dock.
Ian had decided that after a few days hard work in the heat and humidity getting the boat sorted out, we deserved a night in a good marina, and the upscale Marina at Ortega Landing would be just the thing, ‘upscale’ being the American word for posh, but without the divisive class connotations of the English word. Shaun, the dockhand who welcomed us, said that when the marina had opened 3 years ago, they had wanted to make it feel more like a resort than a marina, and in this they’ve succeeded. The marina fee included all electricity, water, wifi, use of laundry(free), use of rest-rooms that wouldn’t be out of place in a 5-star hotel(free), use of bicycles(free), use of swimming pool(free), and use of a beautifully furnished and decorated air-conditioned lounge, with a verandah overlooking the Ortega River (free).
And of course, friendly and helpful staff around, to sort out any problems and answer such questions as ‘What does that notice mean, exactly, the one dated 9th September saying that the FEC (Florida East Coast) railway bridge lifting mechanism is broken and might not be fixed for 2 weeks?’
It turned out that the notice meant exactly what it said – that the FEC railroad bridge, which we would need to be lifted for us to pass through on our way through Jacksonville, was probably going to be closed for another ten days. There were several other boats also stranded.
Hell really hath no fury like that of a Bridge Engineer whose plans are thwarted by the apparent incompetence of other Bridge Engineers, and it was hard to imagine that had it been the trains which were inconvenienced, rather than a few boaters, the repairs would have taken so long. The prospect of kicking our heels in Jacksonville for 10 days wasn’t an inviting one.
Ian adopted a two-pronged attack. He posted on FEC’s Facebook page, and got an email from the Communications and Marketing Director. He sent an email to the Senior Vice-President, Engineering and Mechanical, and got an email from him, too. The essence was the same. They were sorry for any inconvenience, and the bridge would be open (probably) at close of business, Friday. Result!
It could have been worse. The Marina is really a very pleasant place to be holed up, and they gave us a generous discount on the daily rate when it turned out we would have to stay for 6 nights instead of one.
I’d like to say we made good use of our time in Jacksonville, but we didn’t, really. The weather was oppressively hot and humid, and that, combined with the disappointment of not being able to get on with the journey, induced a certain lethargy and led to lazing about inside the air-conditioned boat, reading books and looking at social media websites, instead of going out and making the most of things.
Ian has done some maintenance work and we did manage (of course) a trip to the local branch of West Marine, where we bought two new chairs for the bridge, and we also commissioned some mattresses for the aft cabin, so we are now officially able to receive visitors!
Yesterday we stirred ourselves and took a taxi through the historic Avondale district to the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens , which has grown from a bequest in 1958 into an impressive gallery and beautiful gardens on the banks of the St John River.
Today we managed a bike ride over the bridge to Ortega Island.
Elegant houses sit surrounded by shady trees and lawns, and we found a small restaurant called Simply Sara’s, and went in for coffee, and were so impressed we went back (again by bike) for dinner – Southern home cooking, smothered steak with rice and vegetables, followed by peach cobbler.
It was almost dark by the time we got back to the boat. The hot days are a trial, but the warm evenings are magical.
The good news is that the bridge is going to be open sooner than expected, between 9 and 10 am tomorrow, so we have to be up early to get through. The bad news is that it’s probably going to be raining.