To see as much of the world as we can,
Using the smallest carbon footprint we can,
Spending the least amount of money we can,
Making as many friends we can.

Team Red Cruising

JAX before Xmas

Started: 2 miles from ICW Mile 740, Marsh Island, 30°23.74′N 081°30.43′W

Docked: The Marina at Ortega Landing, 30°16.61′N 081°42.79′W

Log: 19.4 nm. Time 4 hr. Engine 4 hr.

What a hair-raising, sphincter clenching morning here in Jacksonville. Never been here before. Even though — technically — we live just down the road in Green Cove Springs.

The Main Street Bridge schedule was a bafflement to the City of Jacksonville receptionist. She told us it was under repair. It was open from 09:00 to 10:00 and from 14:00 to 15:00. We thundered up the St. John's river at hull speed, glued to our ETA timer trying to make it by 10:00.

For the first part of the trip, we had good flood tide current helping us along. But that peters out the further you get from the ocean. By the time you're in downtown Jacksonville, the current is nil.

Once we could see the bridge — and the bridge tender could see us — we could beg them to hold for us, since we'd only delay them about 5 minutes.

We came roaring around Commodore Pt., only to see that the bridge was already closed.

Already Closed!



We can go about a mile back down river to Exchange Island; drop the hook and wait until 14:00. We have a bailout plan.

CA calls the bridge on VHF 9.

"Main Street Bridge, what's your next scheduled opening?"

"We open on demand. It only takes a few minutes. Come right on up cap'n."

What? Not under repair?


That's great!

Too bad the city receptionist has no clue. But good for us.

The Main Street bridge is a lift bridge, not a swing or bascule. So there's this awkward problem of us not being able to judge how "open" it is. A swing or a bascule shows clear air above the channel. A lift bridge has the span hanging up there in space.

I'm getting better at judging the speed of swing bridges, and I can sometimes slip through right as it reaches fully open. I'm a little less good at bascules. I like to slip through quick so that the cars aren't stopped forever and ever waiting for us.

About the time we realized we had no idea what was going on, the bridge tender said he had it up to 70' and we should "give her a jingle."

Cool! Thanks!

Bridge Two of Three

Once through the Main Street lift bridge, the next obstacle, about 650 yards away, is a railroad bridge. Which is closed. Blocking boat traffic.

The view is awful. There's a huge concrete fixed bridge over the top of things, so it's hard to tell where the opening in the railroad bridge is supposed to be. It's behind the big bridge's fenders, out of sight from the Main Street bridge, way over on the NW side of the channel.

So we circled between the two bridges. And circled. And wondered what was going on. 650 yards is plenty of room for Red Ranger to orbit. Thank goodness there was only us. More than a few boats and it would become a zoo.

Maybe the "under repair" was the railroad bridge? Maybe it was only open until 10:00? If so, were we stuck between the two bridges, driving in a tiny circle until 14:00?

The Jacksonville Waterfront is there. We could tie up at Hooters. Or Finn McCools. Have some lunch. Shove off in time for the railroad bridge to open.

The guide book says "Trains cross relatively frequently, all at slow speed."

There's no train in site, of course. Has it just passed? Or is it coming?

About the time we decided to go really close to the railroad bridge to try and read the phone number on the sign board, we heard an ominous grinding noise. The bridge started moving.

Cool! It was opening!

Bridge Three and the Mud Flats

Okay. Now we have about a ½ hr. trip down to the Ortega River and the prestigious Marina at Ortega Landing. With condos and a pool and laundry and a two block walk to Publix. And Wi-Fi. And Fresh Water. And Pump Outs.

The first 20 minutes up the St. John's are delightful.

The next 20 are awful.

The Ortega river is blocked by a shoal. It's a 1¼ nm stretch of water that's between 7 and 11 feet deep. The entrance to the river is charted at 4'-6'. That means one false move and we're aground. We're at high tide, so there's no waiting to get floated off. If we ground, we have to launch Scout and kedge off whatever we're on.

Mud Flats
Mud Flats "*Screen Grab with Annotation*"

There are some small aids to navigation. A day board is out in the middle of the mudflats. Not shown on any chart. It was red. We kept it on our right.

Once we got to the mouth of the river, there was a nun, a green day board and a can to guide us into not horribly shallow water.

The bridge dates from the 20's. It has a span that's all of 20' across. It's very cute. It opens super fast, since it's so small.

I completely flub my turn for backing in. It took CA, two dock hands and our new neighbor, Bill, to get us wrestled into the slip. I was going too fast, and should have circled once to bleed some speed. Throwing reverse and then trying to make a 90° turn doesn't work out well. I did manage to prop-walk us most of the way around, but it felt ugly.

If we're moving at about 1.5 kt or less, the correct order is to turn hard (two full turns of the wheel) and then hit reverse to prop walk around. Once Red Ranger's close to aligned with the slip, the wheel has to have the two full turns carefully taken out. There's little helm feel with the hydraulics so you can't count on feeling a push against the rudder. Usually the wind (or current) has more influence than the prop, but it was dead calm today.

And here we are. Still drying out from Sunday's drenching in the 4'-6' seas.


Attribute Value
Depart Started: 2 miles from ICW Mile 740, Marsh Island, 30°23.74′N 081°30.43′W
Arrive Docked: The Marina at Ortega Landing, 30°16.61′N 081°42.79′W
Log 19.4 nm.
Time 4 hr.
Engine 4 hr.