We got off the Interstate north of Jacksonville and meandered - along with the flow of shipping containers riding the backs of semi trucks - toward the sea, the nearby skyline dominated by a pair of massive, narrow-waisted concrete cylinders- cooling towers for a coal plant that supplies power to the city just across the river. Other than the dense cumulus overflowing from the stacks, the sky was mostly clear and blue, a perfect Saturday morning. Rebecca and I were on our way to a Meetup.
The road followed the St. Johns River, finally turning north just near the end, and here we turned-off at Huguenot Park, a large city park occupying the north shore of the river’s inlet. Here, a jetty extends far into the sea, providing a straight, deep channel for all manner of ships, including the Navy fleet just across the river. We knew we were in the right place when we saw a kayak atop a car, and a moment later, someone waving to us.
We got our boats and gear together on a beach beside a large tidal lagoon, and after meeting everyone, headed upstream on the rising tide. There were four others, all guys, probably my age or older, and they all seemed to know each other pretty well. This would be the first (and shortest) of 8 “day” trips ranging from 13 to 77 miles, and in addition to acquiring some local knowledge, we hoped to meet a few other paddlers.
As we followed the turns of Myrtle Creek, we talked about favorite places to paddle and learned a bit about our companions. One had paddled the east coast of Australia. Another was training for the upcoming Everglades Challenge, a 300 or so mile endurance race. He shot out ahead of the group and stayed there for the rest of the trip.
The creek narrowed, and after a bridge, began to oxbow into tight twists and turns through a salt marsh. On our right was Little Talbot Island. The plan, if conditions permitted, was to paddle around Little Talbot, and it looked like that’s what we would do. Andy, the trip’s planner, had gauged the tide well, and we were soon propelled northward by outgoing current in the widening creek. At the creek mouth, we took a break on a sand spit. Rebecca and I had been here on a couple of previous explorations; it was beginning to feel like we were getting the lay of the land.
--> After lunch we headed out around the north end of Little Talbot, propelled by outgoing current. At the mouth, the current hits the incoming swell, creating a an area where waves steepen. We’d taken Cody here to get a taste of surf, but now we moved through it and soon enough the rough water gave way to calm seas. The group was a bit spread-out by now, and the ones in front seemed to be making a beeline for the south end, far offshore. Seeming to read my mind, Andy suggested that the scenery was nice closer to shore and we began moving that way.
We mostly paddled just outside of the surf zone, and since no protocol about catching an occasional wave had been established… well, I caught a wave and rode it in. The wave crumbled and I turned and bongo-slid sideways in the foam pile most of the way to the beach- a fun ride. As I turned back toward the open ocean, I saw an upside-down kayak, and a rescue in progress. I bounced through a few waves on my way out and when I got there, clipped-in and towed the rescue to deeper water, out of the surf zone.
We stayed in deeper water for the remaining miles, until we found our way back in through Fort George Inlet. We paddled against the outgoing current for a short distance and saw someone familiar on the bridge- the racer-in-training who had disappeared ahead of us while the rescue was in progress. Soon we made it back to the beach where we had launched- still early afternoon, and Rebecca and I explored a bit more in the car before meandering home.