Cruising the St. Johns River

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One of the few north-flowing rivers in North America, the St. Johns flows deep and smooth from the wetlands west of Vero Beach past Jacksonville to its mouth at Mayport. The total drop from its sources in marshes south of Melbourne to its mouth is less than 30 feet,  making it one of the “laziest” rivers in the world. This slow current makes the St. Johns pleasant for all sorts of boating activity but it has some downsides.

For one, it is difficult for the river to flush itself of pollutants, most of which are concentrated in the more urban areas, although some result from agricultural runoff. So, unfortunately, the river water is not as clean as it once was (though improvements are in the works).

Salt water enters the river at its mouth and, given the range of tide (five to six feet), tidal current is often stronger than river current, causing a reverse flow that reaches to Lake Monroe — 161 miles upstream from the river's mouth!

But on the whole the St. Johns offers one of the finest river cruises to be found anywhere, and offers it in three markedly different sections:

The first is the five-mile side trip past Mayport and Mayport Naval Station to the Atlantic, starting from River Statute Mile Zero, at the junction of the Intracoastal Waterway with the St. Johns at the mouth of Sisters Creek. Just about half way between the ICW and the ocean on the north shore is the  St. Johns Boat Company. There's a striking contrast between the activity of the commercial fishing port and naval station on the south shore and the serenity of the beautiful windswept dunes of Huguenot Memorial Park on the north. It was on this stretch that the Spanish and French fought their war for a foothold on the North American mainland. And, mind you, this was in the 1560s — a good sixty years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

The lower St. Johns is wide and deep and often busy with commercial and fishing traffic. Here in the lower stretches the current can often be fast and the inlet rough, especially when the river and tidal currents work together on an ebbing tide. But the short side-cruise out to the ocean is usually a pleasant one.

Heading back toward Jacksonville the deep-water channel winds 15 miles upstream and through the city, where the riverfront and Riverwalk are beautiful and inviting. Residents and visitors alike seem to find pleasure in the city's reborn waterfront which offers every urban attraction you might desire.

Because much of the river is naturally devoted to commercial shipping (after all, Jacksonville is one of the southeast's largest deep-water ports) it is wise to remember thatsecurity regulations may be in effect most of the time.

Dockage is available at River City Marina on the south bank, a great urban cruising attraction, with restaurant  on site.

Riverwalk is where you'll find Jacksonville's Maritime Museum (904-398-9011) with scale model ships, paintings, artifacts and photos related to maritime history in Northeast Florida. And admission is free! The adjacent Museum of Science & History (904-396-7062) has excellent permanent and traveling exhibits plus a planetarium.

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The City of Jacksonville has fixed wooden docks at the Southbank Riverwalk just east of the Main Street Bridge, floating docks on the Northbank at The Landing between the Main Street and Acosta Bridges  (Continue...)

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