Trent Severn Antique and Classic Boat Association

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Trent Severn Antique & Classic Boat Association

St Johns River Cruise in Florida
March 2015

Submitted by Past President Rich Hughes

For the last 25 years I’ve been wanting to do the Florida St Johns River Cruise. But as things go, the idea was put on the shelf until recently when Chris Bullen and I started talking about it. The original plan was to go in 2014, but since neither one of us had our boats ready, 2015 was selected as the year we would make the trip. The Sunnyland ACBS Chapter hosts the 150 mile run from Jacksonville up-river to Sanford over a four day period during the end of March. So with our contacts made, holidays booked and passports in hand, Chris and Julie Bullen, and Linda and I started heading South to find water that wasn’t frozen.

To say everything was ready to go would be a bit of truth stretching so I guess I better tell the real story. Both boats, the Bullen’s Clarion Gold Cup Riot” and our Greavette “Aqua Velvet” were tuned up in the fall, but neither one of us had a chance to test run them before winter came. Both boats had new shafts, couplings and prop changes. This doesn’t sound like much, but the wrong pitch in a prop could have drastic effects on the performance. But we were in the good hands of John Fuderer from Kawartha Propeller so there really wasn’t much to worry about. Our boat trailers were a different story. Up until two weeks before the trip, neither one of us could get the boats out of storage due to snow banks and just plain old cold weather. As luck would have it, both of us were changing out wheel bearings and brake components. There is a lesson here about using off-shore products compared to domestic parts but we will leave that for another story. By the night before departure came we were ready to roll, well almost. When plugging in my trailer lights I noticed they would flicker. Looking down the tongue with a flashlight I could see where Skippy the chipmunk had been sharpening his teeth last fall. There was no time and too cold to rewire, but nothing that a good roll of black electrical tape wouldn’t fix.

Next morning we met up with Chris and Julie at the Timmies in Grimsby. I’m sure there were a few confused looks from people wondering where we were going towing two boats in below freezing temperatures. But that’s ok because two days from now we should be basking in the sun. Other than a couple loose wheel bearings and some tense weather conditions through the mountains the trip to Florida went off without a hitch.

Our first three nights were spent at the Holiday Inn in Orange Park. It was a time to relax from the road trip and get acquainted with the other participants on the run. There were no shortage of Canucks on the trip, but then Florida is the 11th province during the winter months. The next day we decided to launch the boats at the Florida Yacht Club and take a test run into downtown Jacksonville. As mentioned earlier, both Riot and Aqua Velvet had a new shaft, coupling and prop pitch change. During the test run the numbers and performance were much better for both boats. Now that the technical was out of the way we could focus on enjoying the sights and watching for crab traps, a new hazard for us Ontario residents. After a short stop at the American Grill we started back toward the Yacht Club with our new found American friends in the Chris Craft and Riva. Chris couldn’t resist the opportunity to try out his new drone in Jacksonville harbour. He figured it should be safe to fly here as the middle of the harbour was out of gun range for most Americans. Soon we were back at the Yacht club to tie up the boats. Something new to us was we had to allow for a 20” tide. It took a bit of head scratching but we managed to figure out how much slack to leave in the ropes.

Arrival in Jacksonville

Uncovering the Boats

Riot on Test Run

Going to Downtown Jacksonville

Lunch in Jacksonville

New Found Friends

Chris Flying the Drone

Drone View of Crab Shack

Sunday was a day of moving trailers. The convoy of empty trailers left Jacksonville for the two hour trip to the ending point of the cruise in Sanford. Once we parked our trucks and trailers we had a quick lunch and enjoyed the 85 degree temperatures, almost 5 degrees warmer than in Jacksonville. As we got on the bus to go back to Jacksonville, it seemed a little uncomfortable leaving our vehicles so far away. Now we were completely reliant on our boats to make the journey. Hope they are still floating!

We awoke Monday morning to overcast skies and weather reports of rain. This was not a good way to start the first day of the cruise but that didn’t stop the sound of twenty-seven boats starting up and departing from the Florida Yacht Club. The river at Jacksonville is quite wide and prone to rough water conditions making the drive a bit more challenging especially for the smaller boats as we made our way to the lunch stop. After a nice meal at the Crab Shack the boats headed back out into rain threatening conditions towards Palatka, our overnight accommodation for the next two nights. We had dodged the rain up until this point but it caught up with us in a vengeance by the time we were docking at Palatka. The top and new side curtains worked well. Not a drop of rain hit us. But eventually we had to come out from under the roof to dock the boat. By the time we got into the hotel rooms, everyone was soaked but ready for a hot supper.

Tuesday was still overcast but the rain had stopped and we wouldn’t be bothered by it again util after the end of the cruise. The run this day would be down to the historic Sprague House located in Crescent City just off the river in Crescent Lake. This is a charming old Southern Bed and Breakfast that hosted our group for lunch. On the way back to Palatka, Les Rue guided a group of us through the Sisters Islands to look for alligators. We did see a set of eyes and a nose lurking in the lily pads, but the colder temperatures were keeping the big gators hidden from sight.

Docks at Palatka

The nicest weather day came on Wednesday for our trip from Palatka to Astor. In the past, the weather has played a critical role on this leg of the trip as we would be crossing Lake George known for its rough conditions and large size. But before reaching Lake George, the group would stop in Weletka for lunch at Shrimp R Us followed by a group photo to document the trip. The next stop after lunch would be one of my favourites. Half way down Lake George we stopped in at a little lagoon called Silver Glen. This is famous for its fresh water spring that pours crystal clear water into the lake. Seven of our boats anchored up together and a few of us jumped into the water for a refreshing swim. The spring water is a constant seventy-two degrees, cold for a Floridian, but bath-water for Canadians.


Astor would be our last overnight stop before ending the cruise and moving the boats to the Sunnyland Show in Tavares. Several boats pulled out at this point, but this is one of the nicest parts of the river. Its path narrows to a winding, twisting trail surrounded by greenery and wildlife. The farther into the South we went the more we got to see a Florida that wasn’t commercialized with amusement parks and urban growth. By mid-afternoon we had reached Sanford and started loading the boats on the trailers for the half hour drive to Tavares.

Passing a River Boat

Haul out Time

Friday kicked off the boat show festivities with a picnic lunch cruise through the Dora Canal into Lakes Eustis then Harris. The lunch was fantastic but we had to cut it short due to a rain storm moving in. But this time we made it back to the dock and got covered up before the rain hit. By the time show day came the skies had cleared and the sun was shining. There were an estimated one-hundred and sixty boats on display attracting large crowds of people. We met up with a number of fellow Canadians and couldn’t resist taking groups out for a ride through the Dora Canal. Sunyland is a two day show but things usually wrap up early on the Sunday. Arriving at the docks early Sunday morning we were surprised and honored to learn the Bullen and Hughes team would be taking two trophies back with us. Chris and Julie won Most Outstanding Contemporary Boat, and we won Most Outstanding Canadian Boat. We would have loved to stay longer but we had one last boat ride to do. This one was to the boat ramp. With a quick clean up and winterizing on the engine, we bid farewell to our Florida friends and ventured back on the road to Ontario. The cruise was a great experience and well worth the twenty five year wait. We would love to do it again, but hopefully before another twenty-five years rolls around!

Meeting up with Old Friends

Florida Watering Hole

The following photos show the Dora Canal

Boat Show Day

Riva Girl

Packing Up for the Trip Home

I think we should go back to Florida!

TSACBA Club members Rich and Linda Hughes (1968 - 22’ - Greavette Executive - “Aqua Velvet”) and Chris and Julie Bullen (1996 - 25’ Clarion Gold Cup - “Riot) both took awards at the Sunnyland ACBS Boat show in Tavares, Florida.

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