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Cruising the St. Johns River

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Jacksonville Landing is a riverfront entertainment complex with dozens of retail outlets and restaurants. The Landing is also but steps away from the Central Station of the Skyway, an elevated, automated train that serves the north bank's convention center and business core and has a branch that crosses over to the south bank as well. The Skyway fare is a modest fifty cents. There's also a free trolley that circles downtown and stretches along the north bank to within walking distance of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Alltel Stadium (the former Gator Bowl and now home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars), and Metropolitan Park. If you can't believe these prices (or need more info) call JTA (Jacksonville Transit) at 904-743-3582. Phones are answered from 6 AM to 7 PM Mondays through Fridays but not answered on Sundays (and only from 8:30-4:30 on Saturdays) and transportation may be limited on the weekends as well, unless special events in the city require full schedules. The web site is always available.

Of course, you can also get close to these attractions with your boat — the municipal Metro Park Marina offers convenient transient dockage. The docks now have electricity and water and the maximum stay is 72 hours in any 30 day period (which also applies to the other municipal docks). But it's still convenient and a great way to attend a Jaguars game or any other event at Alltel Stadium. All City Docks (Northbank, Southbank and Metro Park) are available on a first come, first served basis except during special events when reservations are a must! All reservation requests must be in writing and it seems the newest way is quickest and easiest: just go to www.coj.net! (Or, the old-fashioned way will still work: fax to 904-630-3693 or mail to 1410 Gator Bowl Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32202.) Either way, include dates desired, your boat's description and registration number plus your name, address and phone.  For further info, you can call the City Dockmaster at 904-509-0588. For the dates of festivals or other events, call the Office of Special Events, 904-630-3690 or, check that out on the net as well.

Downtown Jacksonville is also bracketed by sheltered off-river facilities in the Trout River to the northwest and the Ortega (pronounced “or TEE ga”) River to the southwest — Seafarer's in the Trout — and in the Ortega, Lambs Yacht Center, Sadler Point Marina and the legendary Huckins.

Jacksonville's five bridges are clustered along the five-mile switchback the river makes through the center of the city, and if you can clear 40' you can pass through all five without concern. If you need more clearance, be aware that the 40-foot Main Street lift bridge opens on demand.  The Fuller Warren (I-95) bridge is fixed at 75'. There is one low railroad bridge that closes only when a train is coming, which unfortunately happens often and can take quite a while. Its operator will sympathize with you on VHF Channel 9.

Throughout the entire stretch of river from Mayport through Jacksonville, be alert for commercial traffic, especially barge tows and ocean-going ships. Monitor Channels 13 and 16 for Securit calls and give commercial vessels all the room you can. (With today's heightened security, you have to stay at least 100 yards away; farther, if possible.) Yield also to the excursion boats and water taxis that work the waterfront downtown. They welcome visitors in "Jax," but business is business.

As you leave Jacksonville behind, the river changes character and the second section begins with a 40-odd mile stretch of broad, deep estuary with alternating woodlands, beautiful homes and pretty towns.

From here all the way upriver, you are cruising past excellent fishing. The largemouthed black bass is king, but occasional saltwater species such as sea trout, redfish, snook and tarpon feed in the lower (northern) reaches, and the lower river supports the southernmost fishery for the saltwater striped bass. It's not unusual for a black bass fisherman to have his day made — or his tackle ruined — by a big striper. The river also supports the southernmost run of American shad, although the shad run is in the winter and the best fishing is upriver from Sanford, out of the reach of most cruising boats.

Happily for cruising anglers, fishing camps are everywhere, and tackle, bait, rental fishing boats, guide service and friendly advice are readily available.(Continue...)

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