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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Shortest Boat Ride Ever

~Wednesday, April 12, 2023~

Day 1,033

We still have a “Gimpy Sadie” this morning. Looks like we’ll have to find a happy medium between resting her but also keeping her moving so she doesn’t stiffen up too much. It’s so strange to be seeing her like this, since she’s such an active pup. Hopefully each day we see an improvement.

It’s hard to believe this is our last day in Florida. Our 2 month stay started back on February 5th, where we arrived in Santa Rosa Beach, and here we are 67 days later. It would be our longest time ever in the “Sunshine State”. During that time we’ve managed to have lengthy stays in the 10 cities: Santa Rosa Beach, Ruskin, Naples, The Everglades, Indiantown, Marathon in the Florida Keys, Tampa, Orlando, Melbourne, and lastly St. Augustine. As it is for many “snowbirds”, we are grateful to have had a warm, sunny place to ride out winter. But I think we’re ready for an altitude higher than 10. Time to strap on those big ‘ol hiking boots for some mountain time as we’re eager for a change of scenery.

No easing into our day this morning…..we needed to get to Fort Matanzas to pick up our ferry boat tickets before 11:00. Apparently that’s the magic hour they tend to sell out for the entire day. There was no parking to be had, so I continued to drive around in circles while Jeff ran in to see what was left. About 5 minutes later, he walked out with the most disappointing look on his face. “They’re all sold out”. Well we tried. “Just kidding!”, he said. “We have the 1:30 tour.” He got me there. A 2-½ hour wait isn’t all that bad. Having only eaten a bowl of Cheerios, it didn’t take long to figure out what to do with our time…..breakfast out! The place…..A1A Beachside Diner.

Even though it was a bit breezy, we chose to eat on the outside patio. And it’s always a good sign when the tables are nearly full. Our waitress was so sweet and prompt with taking our order. She seemed like she’d been there for years (no I didn’t find out her life’s story). and on the coffee refills. It was one of those breakfasts where you don’t need to eat the rest of the day. Jeff had the 2, 2, 2, 2 which was 2 breakfast sausages, 2 pieces of bacon, 2 pancakes and 2 eggs, scrambled. I had the Florentine Eggs Benedict (not as good as ours but solid).

By the time we returned to the fort parking lot, it had really emptied out of all the people rushing to get tickets. With about 30 minutes left before our 1:30 tour, we decided to check out the 1⁄2 mile nature trail that was at the visitor center property. It wouldn’t give us too much cardio, but at least we could burn off SOME of that high calorie breakfast. The trail took us on a raised boardwalk that meanders through a maritime forest. Our handy laminated maps pointed out stops along the way of various plant species or animal tracks we should be on the lookout for. There wasn’t too much to see other than the beauty of the forest, but it was the perfect thing to do while waiting for our ferry tour.

Our tour group was of about 10. As we loaded up onto the boat, we could see the fort just across the Matanzas River.

No wonder the ferry ride is only 5 minutes long. Our captain gave us the safety lowdown while the deckhand untied us from the dock and we were off. Our energetic park ranger, Kristy, told us to keep an eye out for a few dolphins and ospreys they had spotted earlier in the day. The ferry, named after Jean Ribault’s flagship, Trinité, smoothly brought us over to the opposite shore where the 283-year old fort stands. After our short introduction, we were left to tour the site on our own for about 30 minutes.

The exterior has been reinforced in many places, with the goal of keeping as much of the original construction intact, as possible. Special rulers are used to measure changes in cracks so that repairs can be done in a timely manner. The interior consisted of 2 floors with a “lookout balcony” above. The first floor was for the “resting” crew, and the second for the captain. The “lookout balcony” obviously had the ammunition.

Cannons have since been restored and returned to their original spot on the balcony in lieu of the trees that grew from the abandoned fort. The crew consisting of 2 gunners and 4 privates was rotated every 30 days, rowing over from Castillo de San Marcos (built years earlier). If they weren’t working directly at the fort, they would inspect the inlet on foot or kept busy with maintenance, guarding supplies or aiding shipwreck victims.

But why was the fort built in the first place? Although the main threat to St. Augustine was from the north by sea, the city was also vulnerable from the south by river. So to cover the “back door” the Spanish military had built a series of wooden watchtowers, all eventually succumbing by the forces of nature…..wind, water and heat. What they needed was a masonry fort. They began construction on the Matanzas fort in 1740. In 1742, 12 British ships led by Gov. James Oglethorpe attempted to enter from the southern end. Before they could even enter the inlet, the Spanish troops repelled them with cannon fire from the fort's gun deck. The fort would never again fire its guns in battle having proved itself as a futile means to keep the enemy out. Though a short tour, it was very worthwhile to see, allowing us a complete picture of the Spanish empire’s nearly 300-year occupation of Florida.

For once, it was nice to get back to the campground at a decent hour that allowed us to get a few things done before our departure tomorrow, i.e. breaking down camp (to make the morning easier) and laundry. A maintenance guy was working on repairs of one of the two washers which always makes me wonder if I’d have to feed the machines extra quarters to get the job done. I was successful in completing my task of 3 loads of laundry without costing me extra! And somehow around 8:00 p.m., Jeff found the energy to give Billie Jean a bath. Since it had been over 6 months since her last one, it would be nice to see her shiny exterior once again. A few hours later, she was back to her sparkly clean self, at least what we could see in the dark.

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