Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Florida’s First Coast

Fernandina Beach to St. Augustine
December 4‒7

Sea buoy outside
Fernandina Beach
Land ho! At 8 a.m., we made landfall on Florida’s First Coast, tying up in Fernandina Beach minutes before fog settled in. Finally we had arrived in the southernmost state.

After a long morning nap, we woke to a sunny, warm day and called friends John and Sally Ginn, whom we’d met through our Sunday morning community back home at Christ Presbyterian Church. They recently moved to Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, and we’d promised to connect when we got there. But there was a little complication: Sally’s appendix ruptured a week before Thanksgiving, and two days earlier she had been released after eleven days in the hospital. What a trooper! She and John came to meet us at the marina late that afternoon, and Sally looked great. They took us on a short driving tour of their new town and island before treating us to all-you-can-eat shrimp at one of their favorite restaurants. Wonderful conversation with friends from “back home” was good medicine for all of us.
With John and Sally Ginn

Fernandina Beach makes numerous claims to fame. It’s the northernmost city in Florida and the one with the first sunset (over the Amelia River). It’s the only American city that has had eight different flags flown over it since 1562 (but wasn’t continually settled since then so it can’t call itself the oldest city in the nation). It boasts the oldest continually operating bar in the country (during Prohibition it was converted to an ice-cream parlor). Mostly, Fernandina Beach is just downright charming. We look forward to our next stopover, even more so now that we have friends to visit there.

The next day, December 5, was Keith’s birthday. He chose our destination for the night: a roomy anchorage by Pine Island that we ended up sharing with eleven other boats. It was calm and perfect. Just like Keith.

Castillo de San Marco, St. Augustine
Entrance to the Bridge of Lions
Then it was a quick hop to St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, the next morning. As we approached by water, the most dominant feature of the cityscape, Castillo de San Marco, rose from the shoreline to stand guard over the inlet. Soon after Ponce de Leon’s arrival, in 1565 the imposing citadel was erected by the Spanish to protect military and missionary outposts on a new continent. Now it stands as an impressive monument to the town’s colonial roots. In the Old Town, narrow lanes and balconied homes more closely reflect Spanish colonial style than any other city in the United States.

The Bridge of Lions
Other distinctive landmarks, including the beautiful Bridge of Lions and the three ornate hotels built by Henry Flagler in the late 1800s to draw tourists to a new resort city, still draw tourists and impart an Old World flavor.

Originally the Ponce de Leon Hotel, now part of Flagler College
It so happened that the annual Christmas parade took place on Saturday morning during our visit.  Crowds lined the route to see police motorcycles, horse-drawn carriages, marching bands, young cadets in lockstep, twirling groups, church floats with carol singers, Scout troops, antique cars, bagpipe ensembles, a white Siberian tiger (caged), a large contingent of Newfoundland dogs, and much more. “Merry Christmases” were tossed out like candy.

Marching in the Christmas Parade

The Christmas parade

Sloppy Merry Christmas wishes
Young Cadets in the Christmas parade
That same evening, another exciting event played out: the British Night Watch and Grand Illumination Parade, a reenactment of the short-lived British rule in St. Augustine from 1763‒1783.  Revolutionary War‒era reenactors came from far and wide to encamp near the fort over the weekend. A “volley of joy”—the firing of muskets—seemed fitting on that day. It was the one-year anniversary of our nephew Matthew Bailey’s death. Matt loved historical reenacting, encampments, and firing muskets with his dad. We could imagine him there. In a festive and heartwarming finish to the evening, the whole community sang Christmas carols in the plaza.

The British Night Watch

The "volley of joy" -- great timing, Keith!

Our nephew Matt with his dad -- both now in heaven

Florida’s First Coast: our first landing, a first in history, first on our list of great places to visit in Florida.

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