Breaking Free from St. Augustine

St. Augustine to Chesapeake We enjoyed our time in St. Augustine just a little too much. Our one week layover became two weeks without a thought. There's so much to see and do here and we've hardly touched the surface. We never made it to the main fort, Castillo de San Marcos. We'd still like to check out some of the beaches. There are more walks we'd like to take and more museums to visit. Maybe next time.

Departure plan delays haven't just been our fault. Tropical Storm Bonnie kept us in port for a couple of days, waiting her out to see what she'd do along the Carolina coast. Then we waited a couple of days for southerly winds again. We made plans to leave one day, then thought better of it and postponed till the next. Then the next morning came and we didn't feel like leaving. We finally pulled ourselves together, gave ourselves a stern talking to and managed to prepare for a timely departure. Then Tropical Storm Colin came along.

Weather forecasts differ. We always wonder  if the weather forecasters and the news broadcasters just hype it a bit too much (duh!), providing all the worst scenarios to catch the headlines and not providing more realistic forecasts. Still … we prefer to be prudent, so we stayed put and in retrospect, glad we did. We've been in storms and cyclones before and it's not pretty. We'd begun to think of St. Augustine as something of a magnet, keeping us here. We were having problems breaking away.


Tropical Storm Colin arrived and departed and we were no worse for the wear, but he left heavy seas and northerly winds in his wake. We waited for two more days and then … finally … a reasonable weather window appeared. We got up, checked the weather and our southerly winds had vanished during the night. The heck with it … we'll motor up the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) for awhile then we can head out an inlet when the winds were favorable.  Enough waiting. Let's get on with it. The sunrise was outstanding.

Day 1 – 635 nm to go (outside) or 706 nm on the ICW


We headed out through the Bridge of Lions at 0630 towards the end of a low tide. The friendly bridge keeper waved and wished us a safe trip. As we sailed past the city and the fort, we felt the tiniest tug. This is an endearing city. We'll be back. The near slack tide gave us no resistance as we traversed the inlet and headed up the Tolomato River, the course of the ICW headed north. Instead of searching for the Gulf Stream, we were trying to stay between the lines in the channel.


Our experience with the ICW was admittedly limited, but we were a bit negative about it. It was slow and circuitous; we were motoring, not sailing; all that fuel, etc., etc. Just a few miles up the river, I spotted a bald eagle sitting on the shore. My negativity faded quickly.


Further up, I spotted roseate spoonbills. There were egrets and herons everywhere … pelicans, terns and black-headed gulls. The traffic we feared was minimal. It was late in the season for folks heading north. We found ourselves pretty much alone with  a trawler or two politely notifying us before they passed.

The scenery was beautiful for the most part … tall grass marshes, bright green grassy banks, sea oats swaying in the breeze. Dolphins worked the river and we saw them frequently. A ray jumped up several feet out of the water. Turtles poked their heads up, then submerged again. Manatees lumbered along close to the grassy shores. We agreed … this really isn't so bad.

Thanks to our new friends Cheryl  and Doug on Renaissance, we discovered Active Captain, a free download for sailors with lots of local knowledge and specifics on transiting the ICW … everything from shoaling and strategies to marinas, restaurants and points of interest along the way. It saved our bacon on a couple of occasions and though we disliked some aspects of the program, overall, we found it quite helpful.

We found a fine anchorage in Cumberland Sound South, just off Cumberland Island, Georgia for the night. (Thanks, Benjamin, for that suggestion). This is a National Seashore Reserve and beckons more time which we didn't have. We didn't get to go ashore at all, but it's on the wish list for our next trip down.

So we've stopped whinging about the ICW and actually, we're starting to like it. We plan to spend at least another day or two on this circuitous route north … maybe even go all the way. Who knows?

14 Free Things to Do in St. Augustine

I knew if I looked hard enough I'd uncover a bunch of free things to do in St. Augustine. It actually wasn't hard once I started looking. See for yourself … st. augustine, florida

1. Take a self-guided city walking tour.

We found we really didn't need to buy a guidebook at all. It's easy to explore the city by just wandering around. There are signs and info placards in front of places of interest throughout the city. Look for statues (Ponce de Leon, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Henry Flagler), city landmarks (City Gate), churches and cathedrals. Don't forget to walk along the narrow streets in the residential areas for unique, picturesque gates and gardens. The trolley tours of the city are modestly priced, but if you enjoy walking and wandering … and St. Augustine is a good walking city … just check out the trolley tour route on-line in advance. It provides lots of information, as well as the main sights to see.

trolley tour map st. augustine, florida

2. Walk over the Bridge of Lions to Anastasia Island

The Bridge of Lions is beautiful and it's a short walk across. Check out the Carrera marble lions on both sides of the bridge. If you're lucky, the bridge will open while you're walking across and you'll see sailboats or even the Black Raven, the local pirate ship, heading through on the Intracoastal Waterway. Except during the busiest traffic hours (0800/Noon/1700), the bridge opens for boats on request on the hour and half hour. You can monitor the bridge on VHF Channel 09.

pirate ship in st. augustine, florida

3. Beaches

The beaches here are lovely and access to the public is free. Parking is at a premium, but some of the beaches are the type you can drive right up to and actually park on the beach. Come early to stake out your claim.

vilano beach, st. augustine, florida

4. Free Distillery and Winery Tours and Tastings

The St. Augustine Distillery and the San Sebastian Winery both offer free tours and tastings (age 21 and older). They are located right in the old city, an easy walk in historic downtown St. Augustine. Additionally, if you're an olive oil or balsamic vinegar connoisseur (or would like to be), The Ancient Olive offers tastings of olive oils and balsamics.

san sebastion winery st. augustine, florida

5. Aviles Street

Brick-paved Aviles Street, named after the city's founder Pedro Menendez de Aviles, is touted as the oldest street in America. It's lined with boutiques, antique shops, bistros, cafes and historic houses. Browse, explore, window shop. It doesn't cost a penny.

aviles street, st. augustine, florida

6. St. George Pedestrian Mall

More touristy and crowded than Aviles Street, this pedestrian mall in the old Spanish Quarter is still interesting to explore. Multiply the offerings on Aviles Street by 10 and that's St. George Pedestrian Mall. If people watching is your thing, this is a good place for it.

7. St. Photios Shrine & the Peck-Peña House Tour

While you're on the St. George mall, you can duck into St. Photio's, a Greek Orthodox shrine, rich in Byzantine décor, statuary and historic significance. The Peck-Peña House is just up the street from the Shrine and, unlike most of the historical houses in town, offers a free historic house tour at designated times throughout the day.

st. photios shrine, st. augustine, florida

8. Fort Matanzas National Monument

This small, but interesting fort, is about 14 miles from the old city on Anastasia Island. There is no admission charge for this US National Park facility and even the ferry ride to Rattlesnake Island where the fort is located is free. There's a movie and interesting displays at the Visitor's Center. The fort is small, but worth the visit and a ½ mile boardwalk trail through the beach flora is pleasant. You might even spot one of the gopher tortoises that make their home there.

9. Free exhibits at the Visitor's Center and Government House

We were pleasantly surprised by the city's Visitor's Center. There are several interesting displays and lots of information available. This is also the main parking facility for the old city area. Parking, unfortunately, is not free.

visitors center, st. augustine, florida

Near the Plaza is the Government House which offers free exhibits from time to time. While we visited, an interesting exhibit on Dugout Canoes was available.

st. augustine, florida

10. Free concerts and movies

There are two venues for free summer concerts in the city. There's a Music by the Sea Concert Series at the St. Augustine Amphitheater and Concerts in the Plaza, right on the old city plaza in front of the Cathedral. Just Google “free concerts st augustine” or “free movies st augustine” for current scheds and movie/performance offerings. Bring your chair or blanket and your dinner if you wish, but no alcohol is allowed.

11. Davenport Park Carousel

This is a good place to bring the kids to run off some energy. Entrance to this city park is free and there's plenty of playground equipment to keep the kids occupied. The 1927 restored carousel is $1/ride … almost free.

carousel, st. augustine, florida

12. Lighthouse Park

If you continue across the Bridge of Lions along A1A, you can walk to Lighthouse Park. Entrance to the lighthouse is not free, but you can easily view the lighthouse, check out the displays and shop in the Visitor's Center, view the lighthouse keeper's house and walk down to the beach without charge. Wandering the neighborhood and checking out the historic houses (19th/20th c) around the lighthouse is pleasant walking along shady, flowery streets.

lighthouse, st.augustine, florida

13. Magnolia Street

This street, where the Fountain of Youth Park is located, is misnamed. Instead of magnolias, it is lined with magnificent live oak trees. Spanish moss, aka old man's beard, hangs from the branches and provides a great opportunity to take advantage of one of St. Augustine's most photographed streets.

magnolia street, st. augustine, florida

14. Churches, cathedrals and old hotels

The St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica and the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church are just two of several churches that can be visited in St. Augustine. You don't have to be religious to appreciate the architecture and detail of these buildings.

Though tours and museums are available for the old hotels, you can wander the luxurious grounds and take in the delightful decadence without admission. The old Ponce de Leon Hotel, one of Flagler's flagship hotels, is now Flagler College. Walk past Flagler's statue and through the arches and enjoy the lavish surroundings and detail. A tour is available if you're interested.

ponce de leon hotel, st. augustine, florida

Across the street, the Lightner Museum and City Hall are located in the old Alcazar Hotel, also one of Flagler's hotels developed for the rich and famous in the 1920s. Past Pedro Menendez de Aviles' statue, again you can enter the lavish courtyard and cross the bridge to view the huge koi in the pond. There's a small bistro and several shops surrounding the gardened courtyard. The Lightner Museum, one of the city's premiere museums, is located here and, in our opinions, is well worth the admission price ($10/pp).

There are coupon books and city maps galore available at the Visitor's Center, many retail stores and the trolley/train ticket outlets. The coupon books offer discounts for restaurants, tours and most attractions allowing you to save a few bucks when you do opt to splurge. Senior discounts are offered at most attractions.