Island Hopping in Georgia

February 23, 2023

Lil Sudden has a family member visiting, so we stopped in Jacksonville, FL to pick her up before we enter Georgia.

This area is experiencing a heat wave while I hear it’s snowing back home in WA. Tying up to the free dock on the outskirts of Jacksonville, we took an Uber to hit the downtown. Our first destination was Pete’s Sweet Shop, but the Uber driver had the wrong address and we were almost dropped off 20 minutes away from our desired destination. The driver was great and we were back on track.

The sweet shop was fun! It had three decorated floors full of candy, soda, and ice cream. There was also event spaces and an area you could view the candy making. We bought a little candy and went on our way.

Another sight was the USS Orleck, a Destroyer. We opted not to tour it as it was too hot.

We returned to the boat for some kayaking and called it a night.

February 24, 2023

We had an early departure set to cross into Georgia and head to Cumberland Island. The morning was nice, but once we entered the ocean, a thick fog covered the water. The mornings are cold, but the afternoons heat up. After 3.5 hours or so of boating, we anchored next to the island and dinghied to shore.

Cumberland Island is a barrier island in the southern area of Georgia. The island is accessible by boat/ferry only and has many walking trails to explore. Wild horses roam the island along the beaches and around the oak trees. Michael loves climbing and was happy to explore the trees.

The island was once home to Thomas and Lucy Carnegie (brother of Andrew Carnegie). Thomas and Lucy built a mansion called Dungeness along with several homes for their children. Years later, a fire burned down the mansion, leaving ruins in its place. We strolled along the ruins admiring the area.

Michael and I later kayaked back to the beach to play. We saw tiny fiddler crabs crawling into holes along the rocks and sand. Our fun was not long lasting as we kept getting bugged by bugs. I always thought no see ems were a joke and a nickname. I was mistaken.

February 25, 2023

We had to rise and shine early again to travel to Jekyll Island; it was another 3.5 hours and wanted to make the most of our day. We had moorage at a marina that was located within a mile from the historic area. The marina had a pool, hot tub, restaurant, and courtesy golf carts and bikes. We all chose bikes to make exploring the bike friendly town easier.

In 1733, Jekyll Island got its name in honor of Sir Joseph Jekyll, friend and financier of General James Oglethorpe. In the late 1800s, Jekyll Island became an exclusive hunting club for the wealthiest families including Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, and Baker. These millionaires pooled their money to buy the island, build a club house, and have a rustic retreat to spend together. In addition to the club house, many members built their own “cottages” that surround the area. The “cottages” were about 8,000 square feet and built in various styles. We took a trolley tour around the area.

Jekyll Island is also home to the first transcontinental phone call. President Woodrow Wilson, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Watson, Henry Higginson, and AT&T President Theodore Newton Vail joined in on this call. Vail initially planned to partake in the call from his office in New York City, but a leg injury forced him to remain on Jekyll Island where he was wintering. He ordered an extension of the line to the island and was able to partake from Jekyll.

The historic area is also home to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. We took a quick tour and learned about the turtles that were rescued and under treatment.

After exploring the town, we needed to buy some provisions. A bike ride to the east side of the island brought us to the local market. I went to buy some milk and eggs, but gasped when I saw the prices. A gallon of milk was $7, eggs were $7, and Wonder Bread was $4.50. Recovering from sticker shock, we decided to try provisioning another day.

February 26, 2023

We slept in! After moving each morning, it was nice taking it easy. We departed Jekyll Island at 11:00 and had an hour long journey to St. Simons Island. Anchoring nearby, Tonia, Emily, and I went to explore the island while Boris and Matt went to Brunswick to provision.

Turns out it’s difficult finding an Uber or Lyft. The boys were unable to get to the grocery store and had to use Instacart. Us girls had to walk 3 miles into town to go sightseeing. The kids chilled on the boat as it was another hot day and there were bugs on land.

St. Simons tells a story of a spirit that protects and guides sea turtles. Faces of the spirit can be seen carved on trees around the island. The carvings began in 1982 and 11 can be found scattered around with a majority in the main town area. We were able to find over half of the carvings on our walk around town. As the sun began the set and the bugs began to feast, we wanted to find an Uber or Lyft. After numerous attempts, we finally had luck and arrived to the dock, and back to the boat, safely.

In the evening, we enjoyed Sangrias, watched the final two episodes of Below Deck Mediterranean, and had a nice dinner.

Just before heading to bed, Annette announced that her room was full of no-see-ems (bugs). Her window was open and the bugs could fit through the screen. When her door opened, they flew into the rest of the boat. Everyone went into my room to sleep while I went on a bug killing spree. I think I got most of them.

February 27, 2023

Today is a travel day. We are slowly making our way to Savannah, GA, which will take two king days of boating. We went for 8 hours today and expect to do another 7 tomorrow. We did stop at Two Way Fish Camp for cheap fuel ($4.99/gallon). The attached bait shop was interesting as it housed an old canoe, taxidermy animals, crocodile skulls, and other rustic items.

We are anchored in the middle of nowhere in a river surrounded by grassy marshes. There was an attempt at fishing which resulted in catching a small sting ray. The ray was released.

We’ve come along ways on this journey. Here’s a screen shot of our map from the FindPenguins app.

America’s Oldest City

February 18, 2023

This day had two events that were terrifying.

First: I have to wrestle a boat and ball

We arrived in St. Augustine Saturday early evening and reserved a mooring ball in the heart of the old town. Securing to the mooring ball is its own story.

The wind was extremely strong and they recommended using two lines to secure the boat to the ball. As we approached, I’d grab the mooring ball line and strung my two lines through the loop. This was a huge challenge as the boat is moving around from the wind, the rope is being pulled tight, the lines are getting tangled around the anchor (trying to do two lines is hard), and I feel like I’m wrestling the boat. Once I think I’m set, I realize I had the lines on the rails and had to release both lines and try again.

The second try, I cut myself when the line I’m holding suddenly pulls tight and slams my hand into the hull. The cut isn’t bad, but I’m bleeding everywhere. Boris is trying his best to get the boat steady, but I’m still having to physically pull the boat to the ball (with Boris’ assist) as we are bouncing around. I am finally successful and we are secure.

Second: The dinghy tried to sink itself

At the end of the evening, we prepare to take the dinghy back to the boat. All six of us get into the dinghy, just like every other time, but this wasn’t an ordinary night.

The strong wind produced strong waves that started to splash into the dinghy. The little bilge pump couldn’t keep up and we were filling up with water. Wave after wave we are getting fuller and fuller. We all start leaning forward to reduce the weight in the back that’s getting flooded, which causes are faces to meet the waves. Finally, we reach Lil Sudden and all pile out. Wet and cold, we wait for the dinghy to empty out (bailing with a bucket) and return to our boat to clean up.

Our takeaway lesson: make two trips on very wavy windy days.

We at least got to tour the Oldest House that day. The González-Alvarez House is the oldest surviving Spanish colonial house in St. Augustine, Florida. The site has been occupied since the 1600s, but the current house dates to the early 1700s.

February 19, 2023

St Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European established settlement in the US. It was founded in the 1500’s by Spanish explorers to protect its Gulf Stream shipping route and solidify its claim to Florida.

Ding Ding Ding. That’s the sound of the Old Town Trolly. 22 stops around the Historic Saint Augustine. We’d hop on, get to an interesting destination, and hop off to take a tour. Hop back on and onward to the next interesting site.

Some of the sites we visited include

  • Castillo De San Marcos
  • Fountain of Youth
  • Old Jail house, old store, and old school
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not
  • Old City Gates
  • Distillery
  • Winery
  • Chocolate Factory

Wooden forts were originally constructed, but in 1672, the stone fort of Castillo De San Marcos began construction. Due to its unique stone walls, the structure never fell in battle.

The stone, known as Coquina, is formed from seashells. The shell walls, when hit by cannon, would compress and absorb the shock. As a result, the cannon balls would bounce off or sink in a few inches.

We were able to tour the fort in time to see the cannon firing demonstration.

The Fountain of Youth is supposedly the location location where Ponce De Leon first saw Florida and discovered the healing waters as well as the Timucua village. We took a sip from the spring and toured the park. Interesting thing about the park is that the village outer wall had oyster shells imbedded to cut people who would try to climb the wall. The inside of the wall was smooth so children wouldn’t accidentally get cut. They also had peacocks that you could feed peanuts to.

We strolled past the old jail house, store, and school, but did not tour them. The jail house didn’t look like a traditional jail house. It was designed so it wouldn’t be an eyesore.

Once done with the tour, we walked through the old city gates and strolled along the cobblestone streets looking at shops and restaurants. The kids wanted to return to the boat and Matt had a friend who lived in St Augustine come out for a visit. We finished the night with a pub crawl and had dinner in an old ice plant.

February 20, 2023

When I was a kid, my parents took me on a tour around the country. One fun memorable stop was a Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Turns out, the original Ripley’s was founded right here in St Augustine! Boris and I ventured in and spent a few hours looking at the amazing wonders of the world.

Have you ever heard of Whetstone Chocolates? They produced chocolate for Disney for a very brief period of time and then had a commercial division where they provided chocolate for the big three companies. They sold that division and now focus on local, handmade chocolate. We were able to tour the facility and sample a variety of chocolates.

The day was wrapped up with some mini golf, a stroll around town, a stop at Flager College, and a delicious dinner at the Conch House.

February 21, 2023

It’s our final day in St Augustine and there were a few tours remaining to see. Boris, Matt, and I toured a distillery that is now housed in the old ice plant (it also houses the restaurant that we ate at) and a winery. The distillery was interesting as it turns out the chiller is in Auburn, WA. I also enjoyed learning the health benefits of the grapes grown in Florida.

I thoroughly enjoyed St Augustine. There is a great deal of history here. We spent the perfect amount of time to leisurely explore the area.

Palm Coast

February 16-17

While in Titusville, we met Platinum Loopers who recommended the Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast. We were happy to check it out.

The resort was amazing. A shuttle was provided taking us from the marina to the main resort. The resort had an indoor pool, outdoor pool with waterslide, lazy river, adult only pool, beach pool (with sand), many hot tubs, workout facility with classes, golf course, and pink sand beach.

The first night, we arrived late and decided to just swim and soak in the hot tub.

The second day, we spent the entire day at the pool, taking breaks to enter the slide, lazy river, eat ice cream, or walk the pink sand beach.

We had to leave on the 18th, but there was a European Village close by and we wanted to check it out. The village consisted of four floors with the bottom floor being shops and the upper floors being condos. The buildings surrounded a courtyard with all doors and shops facing inward. Unfortunately, we were there too early and the shops weren’t open yet.

The Most Dangerous Beach in America

February 15, 2023

According to Travel Lens, New Smyrna Beach is the most dangerous beach in America. Since 2010, there have been 32 shark attacks and 10 surf fatalities. It’s also a hot zone for hurricanes.  So we had to visit it!

But before I introduce you to New Smyrna, you have to hear about our final morning in Titusville.

We woke up bright and early to run a few errands and return the rental car. Boris drops me back off at the marina while he returns the car. I still need to fill our water tank and rinse down the boat (always take advantage of having access to fresh water).

Since I was doing laundry for the last couple of days, we had the water hose connected directly to the boat. This hose is necessary in filling the water tank. It’s my first time unscrewing the hose from the boat; it should be simple, right? Well, not for me.

I unscrewed the hose from the boat, the pressure regulator valve breaks and comes with the hose, detaching from the boat. I’m holding a hose, looking at this newly acquired white part that is now attached to the hose, and see hot water shooting everywhere!

Thinking quickly, the only solution I can think of is to screw the hose and the newly dislodged part back onto the boat and hope it sticks back on the boat (sounds reasonable right?). It doesn’t really work, but the spewing water is now a smaller stream (like a leaking hose from the faucet). This gives me the chance to run inside, turn off all water pumps, and have Michael get Matt to come rescue me (Boris isn’t back yet). Matt helps disconnect the hose and determine what broke so we can let Boris know what to buy to make the repair.

I finish my morning tasks: The water tank is full and the boat is rinsed off. We leave for a 5 hour trip to New Smyrna. Now that the boat is rinsed, it could use a good polishing and detailing, which involves leaning over the side while underway. I’m prone to accidents (see prior paragraphs on breaking the water pressure valve) and put on my inflatable life vest, informing Boris to keep an ear out for a splash in case I fall in.

Thankfully, I never fell in, but I did the next best thing: I accidentally inflated my life vest. The Pull tab was pulled while I was leaning over the transom.

I’m sure you’re curious what it’s like inflating one of these. You first hear a hissing sound followed by the sound of plastic quickly un-crinkling (like inflating a folded up air mattress or pool float). As you’re looking around for the source of the sound, you notice, it getting tighter and tighter around your body and neck. When you finally realize what happened, the vest is fully inflated and you’re sporting the bright yellow lining that’s makes you visible to rescuers. It was slower than what I originally expected, I expected it to be like a car airbag. Luckily I had an extra CO2 canister so Boris helped me fold the life vest back up and replace the canister. My vest and I are now ready for more seaworthy adventures.

The rest of our 5 hour journey was peaceful. We saw manatees and dolphins and found anchorage near the The Grille at Riverview, just to the side of the green and red stick thingies (channel markers).

New let me introduce you to New Smyrna. It’s a little beach town that is well known for its soft, sandy white beaches…and shark attacks.

We strolled the brick lined streets, admired the quaint shops, bought a scoop of ice cream, and took a short stroll on the beach. The sand is really soft and felt nice squishing between the toes. The water wasn’t too cold, but we only went in ankle deep as it was getting dark and chilly.

Returning to the boat, it was dark and I kept hearing a sound. Turns out a couple of dolphins were sleeping next to us and would resurface every few moments to breathe.

Roller Coasters, Ropes Course, and More

February 13, 2023

The day is finally here! We weren’t sure if we were could make it happen, but we HAD to do it!

It’s 5:15 am and we are awake (2:15 am for you West Coast peeps). Who wakes this early? Us crazy Looper people!! After an hour long drive, we finally arrived at our destination: Universal Studios.

This isn’t just any trip to Universal; it’s a red carpet trip. We splurged and signed up for the VIP Group Tour. Universal offers both a private tour and group tour. The main difference is there are other people in the group tour (max 12 people total) and you can ride each of the 12 preselected rides once whereas the private tour you pick what rides you want and can ride them as many times as you like.

Morning started with a breakfast buffet followed by joining our tour group of 10 people total (including us) and our tour guide. Over the next 8 hours, we were taken to 12 rides, served lunch, and saw a special access locations including under the Mummy ride tracks and mingling with aliens at the Men and Black attraction. After our tour, we chilled in Diagon Ally and let the little wizards play with their wands.

I must say, Universal does a great job with keeping the magic alive, especially in the Diagon Alley and Hogsmead (Harry Potter sections for you Muggles). We purchased wands three years ago on our first trip to Universal and brought them on this trip. While our little wizards were eager to cast some spells, we realized the wands weren’t behaving property. A quick trip to Ollivanders’ Wand Shop and they were repaired (i.e. replaced). The wizarding staff member took the wand in the back stating that sometimes wands just need a new core; that the feather or hair needed replacing to reenergize the wand. The staff member reemerged with the magic fully alive in the wand and stated repairs are guaranteed for the life of the wand.

VIP Group Tour is the way to go. We hit all the rides we wanted to see, were fed, and received express passes for after the tour. Additionally, for rides Michael didn’t want to go on, he was able to hang with the tour guide while we all went on them. The tour guide even held our bag for us.

A total of 10 miles walked and 13 hours were spent at the park.

February 14, 2023

Happy Valentines Day.

Lil Sudden surprised us with a box of donuts and a bucket. Why a bucket you ask? It’s handy and I lost mine. Where else can I put a freshly caught fish? Or water to soak our snorkeling masks in?

What did you do for Valentines Day? Matt, the kids, and I played in the trees.

Orlando has a ropes course/obstacle course in the trees at the Tree Trek Adventure Park. There are 4 total sections and each section has between 9-11 challenges. Challenges include zip lines, crawling through things, walking across things, and swinging across large gaps high in the trees. I was a cross between Ninja Warrior and Tarzan as I trapezed in the sky. After 3 hours, the courses were complete and our arms were done.

The day before was a lower body workout. Today is an upper body workout. You have to even it out, right?

3, 2, 1, BLAST OFF

February 11, 2023

It’s Sangria Saturday!!

What better place to spend this day than in Cocoa Village? We arrived in Cocoa first thing in the morning and found space on the city free dock. Can’t beat a free. Bonus points for also being walking distance to Cocoa Village.

I can see myself retiring here. Cocoa Village has a great vibe with lots of color and fun. The shops are unique with paintings and decorations. The local arts have great senses of humor. We stopped in a pirate shop with a pirate museum, a magic shop with demonstrations, a Gluten Free café with amazing Elderberry Lemonade, a theater, and so much more.

We picked a great day to visit. There was a live concert scheduled with Clay Walker.. I’m not familiar with his music, but I guess he’s a country singer with some hits. We could hear his music from the boat, which added to our fun evening. There was also a beer crawl with a costume contest and a Sip and Stroll.

Matt had friends visiting so we hunkered down at the local Biergarten (this is where I found the sangrias) and socialized into the evening. Michael played at the park most of the day/evening as it had a great climbing tree and Annette would go between us and the boat.

February 12, 2023

A launch was scheduled at 12:10 am. Alarms were set and Annette and I awoke ready for a show. Michael refused to wake, which he later doesn’t even remember.

We sat on the fly bridge wrapped in blankets. Off in the distance was an orange glow that reached the clouds like the end of a sunset. Shortly after that, a bright ball of fire could be seen shooting for the sky; as it got higher, it grew a tail and resembled a comet. It grew fainter as it got higher and eventually became a dot among the stars. A few moments after, a new sight could be seen: a lighter smaller comet caused by the fuel tanks returning. At the end, a deep rumble and vibrations could be heard, similar to thunder. It was an amazing experience and I’m thankful I was able to see it at night. There is another launch scheduled Thursday. We will be further north, but should still be able to see it at night. This time I’m going to make sure Michael wakes up.

We left Cocoa and headed to Titusville. It was another stern docking with the bow lines attached to pilons. I’m getting better at this. We intentionally arrived early as the wind was going to pick up. While docking, we met our boat neighbors who happen to be Platinum Loopers. They were so friendly and shared so much insight on our next few destinations. So thankful to have met them.

Seagulls kept following us

A rental car is necessary for all our planned Orlando adventuring, but first, we have one more local excursion to see: Kennedy Space Center.

I visited this place when I was 16, but don’t remember too much of it. I always wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. My plans in college was to be an Aerospace Engineer, but I didn’t get along with Physics and had to say goodbye to that dream. NASA doesn’t want people who don’t play well with Physics.

We toured around for a few hours. Saw Hubble, Atlantis shuttle, learned about Mercury and Apollo projects, and did the space shuttle simulation. It’s was a good way to Segway into our next homeschool science curriculum: Astronomy.

Is that a Man O War?

February 8, 2023

Vero Beach: We drew pretty pictures and went to the beach.

Interesting thing about this place: as you approach, they make you pump out. There’s a fee for pumping out as well as getting water ($5 each). The area was a bit narrow so we opted to pay for a mooring ball ($20) and it included pump out and water for free. Pretty smart of them huh? These mooring balls can hold up to three boats rafted, so Lil Sudden and Saga rafted together on one (still had to each pay the $20). At least we were able to enjoy the marina’s amenities.

Vero Beach has free public transportation, which is pretty handy except for when you read the routes incorrectly. Oh well. We walked to the beach and then rode the bus back to the marina.

While the kids innocently played in the water, I spotted two of these things on the beach:

Vero Beach was lovely. Wouldn’t mind spending a bit more time here in the future.

Each weekday we do homeschool. About once a week we do art and Matt joins in on that fun.

Melbourne, FL

February 9, 2023

So long Vero Beach, hello Melbourne.

One month in this adventure and we’ve already begun losing things in the water:

  • Matt lost his AirPods in West Palm Beach and dove after them. Locals told him to be careful and watch for sharks. They like to come to the marina in hopes of people dropping fish from their cleaning. He did not recover the AirPods.
  • In between Vero Beach and Melbourne, I was vacuuming and went to empty out the vacuum canister. While removing the filter, I see in slow motion, the holder for the filter fall from the canister and into the water. It promptly sunk and there was no way to retrieve it as we were under way. A new vacuum has been ordered.
  • Here in Melbourne, Annette sat on the edge of the dinghy, like usual, while we all tried to get in. I saw her phone plop out of her pocket and into the water. I reached for it, but was too slow. Donning my amazing snorkel gear, I jumped into the water (It was about 15 feet down). Visibility was terrible and I didn’t have time to search before running out of air. Boris even tried scuba diving for it, but it is gone. Apple Care is sending a new phone.

We need food and clothes! Off in the Publix and Ross we go. The Boys went to Publix while the girls went to Ross and Belles. Last words I said to Boris: “Don’t get too much stuff since you have to carry it back.” Matt sends me a photo after they’re done shopping. They had so much stuff, Publix told them to take the shopping cart.

February 10, 2023

Google tells me that Melbourne has a historic downtown. I’ve learned exploration is key to having fun, so we took a dinghy to the library and an Uber to downtown. Who would have thought a library would have a dock?

The town is cute! Lots of little shops on the street from cafes to clothing boutiques. The town is also scattered with lots of art and murals. We enjoyed wandering around for a few hours and then finished off with lunch at Squid Lips. I had an amazing coconut crusted fish sandwich. We also found bead shop where the owner informed us she used to have a shop in Washington called Shipwreck Beads. I remember hearing those commercials. She sold it and moved to Florida.