We spent almost a week at Marineland Marina, Florida, which is unusual for us… i.e. to spend so much time on a dock AND to spend that much time in one place on our return trip. However, the weekly rate was so great – about the cheapest marina we have stayed in anywhere – and the guys who run it, Chris and Eric, were amazingly helpful and friendly. We were able to take advantage of being on a dock for getting a number of chores and repairs done, and still had time left to enjoy everything the marina had to offer. Right off the ICW, the marina is shallow, so we had to come in and leave at high tide, and although we tied up on their newer, “deeper” floating dock, we were still sitting on the bottom at low tide – in the “love mud” as they guys call it!
On the chores side, the laundry was free so we caught up on all our laundry including the bedding, and Steve gave the boat a good fresh water wash. He also put teak oil on the cockpit floorboards, and repaired the dinghy (again) – this time clamping the patch, ensuring a better seal. The leak was in the inflatable floor which was awkward, but it seems to have held this time. Steve went up the mast and fixed the wind instrument, so we now once again worry, and have boasting rights, when the wind gets very strong during squalls! We checked our malfunctioning radio and tried a few things but were not able to fix it. We caught up on blogs, banking and correspondence. Chris lent us his car so I went to the Publix with people from 2 other boats to do some major reprovisioning.
On the fun side, the beach access at Marineland is great, so we went for a long walk along the beach. We enjoyed watching a comical family of wading birds running back and forth up the beach as each little wave came in. The beach is long with packed white sand, nice for walking and very lightly used as it is not a very built-up area of condos or apartments, so there were not too many people about.
It is also adjacent to a nature reserve with a 1.2 mile trail through the wooded maritime hammock, the real name for the band of tropical forest that develops almost exclusively on stabilized dunes of barrier islands. As we set out, we bumped into Sheila and Steve, the couple on the boat next to us, who are from South Carolina, and ambled along with them. Sheila is an artist and I enjoyed looking at her paintings afterwards.
We took advantage of the 50% discount on a sunset kayak eco-tour through Ripple Effects Ecotours which operated out of the marina. We were part a group of 6 in three double kayaks, with 2 leaders each in a one-man kayak. We were very lucky to come across a pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, females and young, in the ICW not far from the marina. We drifted quietly and watched them cavort around in the fading light, just a short distance from our kayaks. Very special.
We continued through the wetland reserve, and the guides were very knowledgeable, pointing out species of birds and plants in the mangrove and sedge grass marsh, and providing a lot of additional information on the unique qualities, the research and the value of the Matanzas River to Sea Preserve. We stopped on a muddy bank near an oyster bed so that our guides could turn on the lights in the bow and stern of each of the canoes after sunset. It was very cool to paddle back in the dark – the kayaks glowing red and orange reflected off the black water.
The dolphins also came into the marina a few times while we were there and one breached right beside our boat and caught a fish. I love dolphins and no matter how many we see, I still feel a thrill each time.
We had not had enough, so we took advantage of the FREE tickets to the Marineland Dolphin Experience that we were given by the marina.
The first ever oceanarium, underwater movie studio and original training facility for dolphins for entertainment, Marineland is now just a shadow of its former self, with a focus on education rather than just entertainment. They do sell ‘experience’ programs like swimming with dolphins, touch and feel and trainer sessions, but their main focus is teaching people about dolphins. We just had general admission tickets, which included watching feeding time and a ‘touch and feel’ experience programs, as well as a guided tour of the ‘under the sea’ exhibit – a typical aquarium facility featuring tanks of local marine life. Dolphins are such amazingly engaging creatures – they look like they are smiling all the time and having fun – and even look like they are laughing sometimes.
We said goodbye to the marina guys and to other friendly cruisers at happy hour on Friday night, and left early on Saturday morning, March 23rd, at high tide. A fitting tribute to our stay there, a male dolphin decided to escort us for part of the short 2.5 hour trip to St. Augustine.
We arrived in historic St. Augustine, and had to wait almost half an hour for the 11 am opening of the Bridge of Lyons, just as a terrific squall hit. The rain was so hard that we lost sight of the bridge and got pushed around by strong winds and current, but luckily it let up just as the bridge opened for us to transit and pick up a municipal marina mooring just North of the bridge.
View our photo journal for Marineland to see more dolphins!
View Tai Chi: Journey 2012 in a larger map