Thursday, December 8, 2011

St. Augustine and Marineland, FL ICW M 803 Dec. 3-9, 2011

Bridge of Lions, St. Augustine, FL
Bridge of Lions

December finds us in the St. Augustine area. The trip here was great- everyone warned of "skinny" water but careful planning made the day a breeze, no groundings yet! Once inside the welcoming St. Augustine waters you are greeted by the recently restored Bridge of Lions, complete with a pair of lions at either end. There are hundreds of moorings and ample anchorages but we enjoyed the municipal marina right in the heart of the historic first city in America. It is classically Spanish in flavor, dense with history and tourism, and the influence of Henry Flagler. He was Rockefeller's partner in Standard Oil and later developed the railroad system to the Keys, hence opening the coast to tourism and industry. He built his own hotel when he needed a place for his wife to recover from TB. The building is spectacular, filled with Tiffany windows and chandeliers, which were not Tiffany's main medium. After many years, the hotel became the private Flagler College and the main building is the women's dorm. You are left speechless by the wealth taken for granted then but shared by young students now!

The Ballroom at Flagler College,
now used as the dining room, original furnishings,
Tiffany windows and frescoes included.

Flagler College


Flagler's life was steeped in a strong work ethic, religion and tragedy. Son of a Presbyterian minister, he wove religious themes in the architecture of his hotel and he held high standards of everyone around him. When his daughter died in St. Augustine shortly after she gave birth to a daughter, he commissioned a memorial church be built with in the year to honor her. The results are a wonder when you consider the distance all materials and craftsmen had to travel, and of course, Flagler spared no expense. His first wife died soon after his daughter and all three are buried in the church. (Flagler did marry twice more, but the stories require a book!) Today the parish is thriving.

Presbyterian Memorial Church
St. Augustine, FL 
Our trolley tour fee included a ride to the beach so we took advantage of it. Clear skys, 80 degrees, surfers to entertain us. That should have been our warning the weather would change. The best part of our stay connecting with sailing friends, one set from Norfolk, another from the Chesapeake. We got caught up, shared knowledge and plans, and two great meals.

On Wednesday, we left for Marineland. That's actually the name of the town twenty miles south of St. Augustine, but it is also the name of the marina and a dolphin research/education facility. The marina is new, small and only a dollar a foot. Safe but only 7-8 feet of water, so mariners, weigh the tides carefully. We were challenged to get in here at 25 knots and low tide so, you guessed it, we cruised the river again until conditions were right, just in time for a storm to open up.

The Marineland center is across the road on the Atlantic and worth the stop. We wanted to have an "immersion experience" and get into the dolphin tanks, but temps dropped 40 degrees, yes, to 40 degrees, so we just toured the facility. Originally built in 1938 by some of the wealthy we are learning about, including Vanderbilt, Whitney and Tolstoy (Leo's grandson) as an oceanarium and underwater film studio, it was the first marine show in the country. Following a hurricane in recent years, it was completely rebuilt. There is a singular focus on dolphins now and in January the Georgia zoological system incorporated the center. It is now a nonprofit for education purposes; the dolphins do not present "shows" but they provide great research opportunities. Right next to the marina office is the Florida State auditorium and there was a free lecture each night, one on the history of Marine Land. If you have time, we suggest you take a day to stop here. If nothing else, it's a quiet rest.

Our son sent us the storage bag for our dingy and it arrived today. The deck is neater and safer now. The care package came with Christmas lights, an Advent calendar filled with chocolates (Rick won't share) and a pine tree air freshener in case we don't get a tree. Very clever!

We have a week of poor weather ahead. They call it a nor'easter, but I think it has different connotations than it does up north.