Jacksonville To Mayport, Fl Report
(Mayport, FL)

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Report By:  gbailey    Date: 6/12/2010 
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Launched from Arlington Lions Club boat ramp into the St. Johns River - 15 miles to Mayport.

My Report:

Arlington Lions Club to Mayport, FL
June 12, 2010

Its 10:15 am and already 89 degrees! Gonna be a hot day as we make our way from just south of downtown Jacksonville out to Mayport. We’re unloading and counting our water bottles and hit the water right at 11:02. Just prior to launching we saw 4-5 manatees just off the beach and within a minute of being on the water one swam right up behind me. Somewhat startled I didn’t slow down to chat, or share any of my water as it might be precious later.

Directly across from the boat ramp (given to the city by Arlington Lions Club many years ago), was a working tug that quickly pushed a freighter around, with its bow now being pointed downstream, as in out to sea. The river was nearing high tide so the currents were nil. As we started out someone noted that we didn’t feel any pull of the outgoing tide, and in fact it looked as if there was still a bit of incoming current. Maybe an eddy was working along our side of the river. Hope I didn’t read the tides wrong!

As we headed north you can see off in the distance (1.6 miles) a pier for the Jacksonville Zoo, offering free tours to boaters (and kayakers). We then turned east and cut inside of the first spoils island that separates Mill Cove from the St. Johns River. After easing past it we cut back and entered the main river, looking for visible signs of the strongest currents. We could see in the far distance the beautiful Dames Point Bridge, but closer to us was a cruise ship, no doubt loading passengers for a departure this afternoon. Carnival’s “Fascination” was protected by a cruising security boat so we kept a safe distance.

The river was moving a bit swifter now, with speeds near 5 mph for our group, with very little wind as we neared the Dames Point Bridge. We moved to cross the river (to the north side) underneath the massive bridge columns just as another tug passed us by and pulled in front of us to park, its work done for now. They are very safety minded and courteous, and didn’t leave any waves for us to contend with. We paddled past huge idling dock cranes with no freighters in sight along Blount Island. Being a military supply island we felt someone was watching us the whole time, with a few of the security trucks riding along the docks as we moved by. Now we had a slight head wind with some crossing, reflecting waves from underneath the piers, mostly from the many pleasure boaters moving up and down the river.

Moving past Blount Island we noticed ahead what appeared to be a dredge boat with several support vessels. Trailing some floating dredge pipes and working against an outgoing tide, the tug was really putting forth some power and the engines were groaning. Soon the groans were our own, as the strong currents fleeing from behind Blount Island hit us from the left side. Those currents were pushing us toward the dredge boat while it churned up a nice 2-3 ft. bow wave. We all sped up to widen our safety margin and then plowed through the waves and white water as we quickly passed them by. Now we had a faster ride and could see ahead the cranes of Atlantic Shipyards and the Sisters Creek / Intracoastal Waterway intersection.

Having been on the water for 2.5 hours, we decided to pull ashore on the south side of the river just before crossing the ICWW, along a sandy, weather beaten beach. John picked a nice spot that not only had a comfortable shade and fine breeze at the top, but also a fire ring, no bugs and nice surrounding view! Our lunch spot gave us a nice vantage point to see the confusing waters of that intersection. Lots of moving water from different directions, with water flowing from the ICWW in two directions entering the St. Johns and merging with the already substantial currents of the main river. Add in the jetties on the south side and you have a very interesting mix. We ate lunch and relaxed and joked about cutting the trip short, just hanging out here for 3-4 hours for the tide to turn. Not to happen though, as everyone was looking forward to seeing Mayport and the ocean.

Back in the water, approaching the frenzied, helter-skelter currents of the ICWW and St. Johns River intersection, we quickly got into the mix. Sloppy one-foot white-capped waves stretched from the tip of the jetties and east for at least ¼ mile. Side currents and semi-whirlpools were bursting through the gaps in the jetties and would spin your boat off by 45 degrees in one direction, then the other. Once I was just outside the rip in calmer waters while John was 30 feet away in the slop. He wasn’t even paddling, yet was moving faster than I was as I stroked at a moderate pace. Within a couple of minutes were had moved through the rough stuff and into calmer waters. Class II white water, the salt water variety, just 3 miles from the ocean? Who would have thunk it? Moving along quickly now we passed the U.S. Coast Guard station and its buoy tender then took photos of the Mayport fishing fleet. The smells of a seafood / fishing village is hard to forget and very unique. Soon we approached the automobile ferry as it exited its berth and slowly crossed the river, tooting its horn 6 quick times to get the attention of a power boat that apparently was not willing to yield! The “rule of tonnage” applied here and soon it slowed and passed behind the ferry. We pulled ashore at the beach along Huguenot Park’s snack shack and restrooms, our trip halfway complete. A nice cool ocean breeze was there to greet us as we stretched and walked across to the snack shack. Sitting on their covered deck with a nice view we were in no hurry to get back on the water, particularly since the current was still moving swiftly out to sea.
Distance out was 14.9 miles and it took us exactly 4 hours, including stops.

After an hour or so break we decided to start our trip back, in spite of the fact the current, surface current anyway, was still moving out. Surmising the incoming waters might be riding in underneath the warmer outgoing waters, we hit the water again at 4:02 pm. It was a struggle for sure as we moved along very close to shore, looking for eddies to help us move against the current. This time passing the ferry’s dock was a little more interesting, as it would take a while for us to get past it, paddling against a 2.5 or 3 mph current. But we made it safely and continued on, now with a following sea breeze to help. Once we got back to the ICWW intersection the currents seemed to be almost slack so we easily crossed the river to the south side, with John, Wayne, Martien and Jack waiting patiently for Andy and myself to catch-up. A quick break for water and a food snack and we were back paddling again. A four hour return would put us back at 8 pm, and I thought now it might even take longer with everyone tiring a bit. The sea breeze was a bit stronger now, maybe 10-12 mph and we were able to ride some smaller waves for the next hour or so as we paddled toward the sun and the Dames Point Bridge again. However, this time Andy and I decided to take the Mill Cove route, while the others continued along the main river. Jack was putting up his sail just as we made our turn south through the cut. Riding the flooding current, Andy and I were moving along swiftly between 5 & 6 mph for a while, then slowed to 4-4.5 for most of the way through the cove. We never hit any water shallow enough to worry, as we were approximately ½ ways into the flood tide and we’d both come through before with no problems. The southeast breeze was building even more now and it pushed us along well. We padded under the Dames Point Bridge again and could easily judge our pace with the visible currents rushing back the bridge pilings. Up ahead, maybe 2 miles we could see the New Castle, Randolph and William islands, sitting in the middle of the cove. We set course to skirt the northern tip of William Island knowing we had approximately 5 miles yet to paddle before arriving at the takeout. For the next hour or so we’d paddle directly into the sun so I pulled the rim of my Tilley down a bit to provide more shade for my face. However, the reflection on the water was unavoidable and a “raccoon sunburn” was all but certain today. After passing the cluster of small islands we could see the long pier jutting out into the western most part of Mill Cove, it still 2 miles away. Just before we reached it a set of large waves, maybe 4 footers from a passing yacht, came ashore and pulled up very steeply, signifying shallow waters. We slowed a bit to let the surface settle before we ducked under the pier. Now was not the time to bump heads with a 150 foot pier. The rule of tonnage applied again.
As Andy and I passed the pier we noticed Wayne and John to our right and then Martien and Jack as well. We must have caught more favorable currents coming through the cove, because they were probably ¼ mile ahead of us when we turned off the river and into the cove. Quite surprised were we all, as the distance along the river route was only slightly longer than the cove route.

Pulling ashore at the end of a long day, we were all quite tired, but satisfied in having completed the round-trip. We made the return trip a bit faster than the outgoing leg, finishing in 3 hours and 50 minutes and back at the take-out at 7:50 pm.

Total distance: 30.98 miles
On water time: 7 hours and 22 minutes
Paddling average speed: 4.2 mph
Maximum speed (with current): 8.2 mph
(thanks to Andy and Martien for these numbers)

Attendees: John M., Wayne E., Tom N., Andy M., Martien B., Jack P., Greg B

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Location Data:

Distance (miles): 30.9
Fees/Costs $: n/a

Post Date: 7/27/2010

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